While the Auburn women's team began practice this week preparing for an overseas exhibition tour, the men's squad has been working out all summer with their coaches thanks to a new NCAA rule that allows full squad workouts this time of year.
"I think this will be the best group in terms of senior leadership I have had since I have been here," Barbee predicts, noting those players have been working in his system for two years.
Signing talented incoming freshmen like four-star prospects Shaq Johnson and Jordan Price should help a roster than is in transition.
"When you are at this level of competition in this league, which I think is the best in the country in the SEC, you have to have some horses to run in that race," Barbee says. "The one thing that this game has become is it has become a young game because of the NBA rule. Young players are expected now to come in and produce right away."
Johnson won a national slam dunk championship prior to his senior season at Milton High in Alpharetta, Ga., that featured a state championship run.
Noting 6-5, 210 Johnson brings athleticism like none he has seen on his roster since arriving at Auburn, Barbee says the Tigers need the small forward and shooting guard Price to be ready to contribute as freshmen.
Two more freshmen who have impressed Barbee are Jordon Granger and Brian Greene Jr. Barbee says Granger still has to continue to work hard, but Greene is "every coach's dream" since arriving on campus this summer from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
"He has really stood out as a guy who has an unbelievable work ethic," the coach says about Greene, who is originally from the Chicago area. "He stays in the gym. He loves it. He is a gym rat.
Brian Greene Jr.
"He will give us great depth at that point guard position with great size and great athleticism," Barbee says. "At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds he is as fast as Josh Wallace, jumps like Shaquille Johnson and has the ability to score and run the team from the point guard position."
Playing at less than 100 percent last year after injuring his knee prior to the 2010-11 season, Frankie Sullivan has made significant progress in recovering since last year.
"It is typical that the year back from the kind of knee injury he had, you are only going to be 75-80 percent, and that is what you saw last year which is still an 85 percent Frankie is fairly effective," Barbee says. "But there is no questioning him now two years removed from that injury, he is back to 100 percent."
Frankie Sullivan is expected to be a leader for the 2012-2013 Tigers.
Noel Johnson is another upperclassman battling back from an injury. After transferring from Clemson, the junior missed a large portion of the season due to an injury on his shooting hand. Barbee says those setbacks are behind Johnson as he continues to work out with his teammates this summer.
"None of us, including the fans, were able to see the true Noel with what he can do on the basketball floor," Barbee says "Once he hurt his shooting hand, he struggled with his confidence, and he really never gained his confidence back. If you are a shooter and you don't have confidence in yourself, then you lose confidence in every other part of your game as well.
"He has had a fantastic summer on the floor, and I am looking forward to Noel being 100 percent with his game and with his confidence this season in his senior year," Barbee says.
With six new additions to the team this year, the Tigers will have a new look in the frontcourt and backcourt. With a lot of depth from veterans and new players in the backcourt, Barbee says Sullivan playing at 100 percent with Price and Johnson also on the court gives Auburn more versatility.
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Shareif Adamu, two junior college post players, and Granger will join center Rob Chubb inside for the Tigers. "Kenny Gabriel will be missed with what he was able to get done in his senior year on the floor, but I think we have some guys who can help fill in that gap for him," Barbee says.
Dixon-Tatum, a seven-footer, is being counted on to score inside as well as block shots and rebound.
"I think Shareif is one of those guys who is 6-foot-8, 230 pounds that does a lot of things similar to Kenny, but also brings some things to the floor that Kenny couldn't do because of his physicality."
Barbee says Chubb is continuing to develop his skills heading into his senior season.
Rob Chubb shoots vs. the Kentucky Wildcats. "I think you are even going to see a different level of play with Rob," the coach points out. "He has really worked on expanding his game from more than just five feet and in. He has pushed his game out to 16 to 17 feet and in so we will do some different things with him, but I think you will see a different level of confidence from Rob Chubb.
"You have seen that increase from year to year since I have been here," the coach adds. "Now as a senior he should have the ultimate confidence in his ability because he has been through this league in a full-time manner now for two years. Now as a senior it is time to go out there and have fun and do what you do."