"Coach (Shannon) Weaver's been running our conditioning program and I'm excited about what I've seen with the young players," Ellis says. "We've been able to spend some time with them. We're getting about eight hours a week with individual workouts."
The group includes 6-8 freshman forward Marco Killingsworth, 6-4 junior guard Derrick Bird, 6-4 freshman guard Dwayne Mitchell, 6-8 freshman guard/forward Brandon Robinson and 6-4 freshman guard Lewis Monroe. In addition, a specially invited walk-on, 6-3, 180 shooting guard Nathan Watson from Fort Payne High, is an All-State performer who turned down scholarship offers at other colleges to play for the Tigers.
"I'm going tell you, the young talent on this team can be special," Ellis says. "And, I'm excited about it. We've had a nice list of guys coming back. It's been strange how this year has really had some changes in it."
The Auburn coach says the biggest change is the surprising loss of Jamison Brewer, who on May 13th gave up his eligibility to play pro basketball. Ellis says his staff had no inkling that Brewer was going pro and hadn't recruited a point guard to replace him. "It really is the question mark with our basketball team," Ellis says about the point guard situation.
Complicating the situation at the point is the suspension of senior Lincoln Glass, however, Ellis indicates that the second-year juco transfer should be back on the team in good standing soon. Glass is the likely starter. If he isn't the man, one possibility is late signee Monroe from Madison, Wisconsin, who played prep school basketball in Maine last season. Ellis says that Monroe has been impressive in individual workouts.
Mitchell, another freshman guard, will also get a look at the point even though he was a two-guard at Kennedy High in New Orleans. Another possibility is that guard/forward Marquis Daniels could get some playing time at the point, a position he played as a high school junior. However, he has been slow to recover from a stress fracture in his foot suffered this summer and may not have enough time to make the transition. He was just cleared this week to return to practice and says he is ready to give it a try. "I will take it as it comes," says Daniels. "The main thing is that I just want to win."
Ellis says finding the point guards will be "the focal point of getting ready for the season" that starts with an exhibition game on Nov. 1 vs. the Global Sports All-Stars. "I really think that we're solid in all areas outside of that."
The other suspended Tiger, senior Mack McGadney, will move to center if he is allowed to return to the team, Ellis says. The coach says that if McGadney follows the plan set out for him by the coaching staff he can be part of the team. McGadney averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as a junior forward before being lost in the first month of the season with a knee injury.
Sophomore Kyle Davis, a 6-10, 220 sophomore, is expected to open the season as the starting center. He gives the Tigers an intimidating shot-blocking presence in the middle.
Ellis will look at a pair of returning sophomores at power forward--6-9 Abdou Diame and seven-footer Marin Bota. They are expected to be seriously challenged by a newcomer. "Marco Killingsworth is a freshman that I'm extremely excited about who has done some great things," Ellis says.
Ellis is hopeful that Daniels will maintain a clean bill of health whether he plays point guard, two guard or small forward, where there is a good possibility that he will land if Glass returns as is expected. Last year the injury to McGadney forced him to play some power forward, but that is not expected to happen this season.
Daniels missed the summer tour to Spain with his foot injury. "We thought he would be available September 15," Ellis says. High-leaping freshman Brandon Robinson will also play at the small forward spot. Ellis says he has "shown some tremendous athletic ability and skills."
Junior Adam Harrington returns at the two-guard spot and can swing to the small forward position. He averaged 15.5 points per game as a sophomore. He will share playing time with juco transfer Bird. Ellis has high praise for Bird. "There's a guy that really caught our coaches' attention with his ability to play, with his leadership, with his character and probably as impressive of a person I've seen in individual workouts--a young man by the name of Derrick Bird. He's from the state of Michigan. He played junior college basketball last year. He is really going to be a guy that is going to, I think, see valuable minutes and play an important role with our basketball team."
The Tigers will go on public display for the first time this week with the Midnight Mayhem practice. The coliseum doors will open at 10 p.m. and will feature music, the cheerleaders, an autograph session, introduction of the players, the pep band and at 12:01 a.m., the first minute practice can begin, the Tigers will play have a dunk contest and an intrasquad game.
"We want to make this a special night, we really do," Ellis says. "We're looking forward to a great crowd. We want everyone to meet our team."