A workout fanatic who has transformed himself from a chubby freshman into a 6-8, 245-pound lean and mean junior, Auburn fans can get their first look at Killingsworth and the rest of the 2003-2004 Tigers this week. AU begins its preseason practices with a Midnight Mayhem evening that starts on Friday night in preparation for the Tigers hitting the floor at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The Tigers will have Ladies Night Out With Cliff Ellis on Friday followed by musical entertainment later in the evening for fans waiting on the start of practice.
Killingsworth has proven himself to be one of the better inside players in the SEC and he played a key role in his team's run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season. This year, the Tigers return six of their top eight players, but have to replace two key seniors from last year's team--swingman Marquis Daniels and guard Derrick Bird. Going back to the summer, Killingsworth and other Tigers have been testing the three newcomers who will look to fill the shoes of Bird and Daniels and so far the Auburn junior likes what he has seen.
Ian Young, a 6-3 guard, Ronnie LeMelle, a 6-5 guard/forward and Quinnel Brown, a 6-6 forward, have been on campus since early in the summer working out with their new teammates. All three are juniors who played the past two years in the junior college ranks. The returning Tigers, like Killingsworth, have tested the newcomers in the organized individual skills drills (four players allowed to practice together) and in the full-court pickup games.
"When they got here in the summer time we didn't know what to expect from them," says Killingsworth, who notes that he believes all three are going to fit in nicely to Coach Cliff Ellis' system. Killingsworth says the juco transfers have not backed down from being challenged by him and the other Tigers both physically and verbally. SEC basketball is known as being a league where strength is emphasized and Killingsworth and other Tigers have not been shy about banging the newcomers around during games and workouts. At times the returning Tigers have verbally challenged the newcomers to show their new teammates what they can do.
Marco Killingsworth scored in double figures 25 times last season as a sophomore.
"We have done a little bit of talking to each other out there, but it is all in good fun," Killingsworth says with a grin. "There are not any hard feelings. If somebody scores on me, I am like ‘good job,' I want you do to it again and they are the same way."
Ellis says the Tigers will really miss the leadership Daniels and Bird provided. Killingsworth agrees and adds, "Both of those guys were scoring threats and we will have to replace that. Marquis would get you about 20 points per game and Derrick about 10. I just hope the rest of the guys step up and try to take their spots as scorers."
Killingsworth is a candidate to carry more of the scoring load. He averaged 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds when he started 14 games as a true freshman. Last season he started 33 of 34 games and improved his scoring to 13.3 points per game and his rebounding average moved up to 6.3. His 55 percent shooting percentage from the field was the best in the Southeastern Conference. Those are very good numbers, but the power forward is not satisfied.
Auburn coaches say they really pleased with Killingsworth's offseason efforts to improve his game, but that is nothing new for the forward. "I don't know if I have had a player work harder than Marco Killingsworth," Ellis says. "At nine o'clock at night when you have gone through a three-hour practice he is probably going to be in the coliseum shooting and working."
Killingsworth says the extra work is part of his regular routine. "I lift weights twice a day every day," he says. "I watch what I eat. I try to get stronger."
Opening night for the regular season is a month away with College of Charleston coming to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Monday, Nov. 17th. Prior to that, the Tigers will play exhibition games on Nov. 7th vs. the EA Sports All-Stars and Nov. 13th vs. the Global Sports All-Stars.
The next month will be important for newcomers Brown, LeMelle and Young to fit in with the Killingsworth and the two other returning starters, 6-10 senior center Kyle Davis and 6-5 junior point guard Lewis Monroe. The Tigers also feature three other players with starting experience--6-8 junior forward Brandon Robinson, 6-3 junior guard Nathan Watson and 6-1 junior guard Troy Gaines. Additional depth will come from 6-0 senior point guard Troy Gaines and 6-8 senior forward Rodney Tucker. The Tigers could add another player, 6-9 freshman center Dwayne Curtis, in December if the signee qualifies academically.
Killingsworth, who has played pick up games with Curtis, wants to see the freshman from Chicago on the court soon. "I can't wait until he gets out there and plays in games," Killingsworth says of the 290-pounder.