Position By Position Basketball Analysis

Editor Mark Murphy does a position by position breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the 2001-2002 basketball Tigers.

When Auburn lines up for the opening tip of the exhibition season, look for a starting five that features just two returning starters from the 2001-2002 team--junior Adam Harrington and sophomore Kyle Davis.

While that doesn't sound promising, Auburn basketball fans might like what they see on a team loaded with young but unproven talent. Women's basketball coach Joe Ciampi used a one-liner earlier this fall noting that if he had to be one or the other, talented beats experienced hands down in college basketball. Coach Cliff Ellis can hope that is correct because he and his staff have put together what looks to be the most talented squad they have assembled in Ellis' eight AU seasons.

Kyle Davis at the 2001 NIT victory over Miami.

Starting guards Scott Pohlman and Jamison Brewer are missing from last year's team, which posted an 18-14 record and reached the second round of the NIT. Pohlman and reserve guard Reggie Sharp were the only seniors on last year's team.

The 2001-2002 Tigers open their exhibition season on Thursday at 7 p.m. vs. the visiting Global Sports All-Stars. The Tigers will play the Double Pump All-Stars on Nov. 9th in an exhibition and will open the regular season on Friday, Nov. 16th vs. Highpoint.

Based on preseason drills, here is a position by position preview of the Tigers:

Point Guard

This is the biggest area of concern going into the season with returning starter Brewer now in the NBA and his top backup, Lincoln Glass, still serving a suspension from games for violation of team rules. (Glass is practicing with the team.)

One of the pleasant surprises of preseason has been the way that freshman Dwayne Mitchell has adapted to the point guard spot. He is expected to start there for the exhibition game ahead of Marquis Daniels and fellow freshman Lewis Monroe.

Mitchell, a 6-4, 195-pounder from Kennedy High in New Orleans, has received extra point guard training from student assistant coach Reggie Sharp and is proving to be a quick learner. He is an exceptional athlete who is strong defensively, especially for a player who was a shooting guard in high school who averaged 28 points per game.

Junior guard Derrick Bird at preseason practice.

Mitchell will have to play well to hold onto the spot. Daniels is still not 100 percent physically as he recovers from a stress fracture in the summer, but he had 18 points in an intrasquad scrimmage. He can also play the two guard and small forward spots.

The staff remains excited about late signee Lewis Monroe, a quick 6-5, 190-pounder from Madison, Wisconsin. It won't be a big surprise if he wins the starting job sometime this season. A three-time All-State guard at Madison West High with a year of prep school seasoning, Monroe has the size, quickness and scoring ability to be a quality SEC point guard.

Monroe should be tough to keep on the bench, even after the return of Glass, who was the star player on Auburn's summer tour in Spain. (Teammates said he played a couple of Alan Iverson type games vs. Spanish pro teams.) Monroe's size will be a big advantage in his battle with 5-10 Glass for playing time. Glass has the advantage of extensive SEC playing time last year.

Auburn's four freshmen signees: front row (L-R) Lewis Monroe, Dwayne Mitchell and back row (L-R) Brandon Robinson and Marco Killingsworth.

Monroe comes to AU from Bridgeton, Maine, Prep, were he originally signed to play for Duquesne. Auburn was able to get him very late in the recruiting process when The Dukes fired their head coach. Monroe asked for and was granted his release from his scholarship and picked the Tigers over the Wisconsin Badgers. Normally, players with that much talent are not available to sign in the summer.

Daniels was a third team All-SEC pick as a sophomore. Much of the season he played out of position at power forward after McGadney was lost for the season in game eight. Daniels, who is 6-6, 200 pounds, averaged 15.7 points, seven rebounds and and SEC leading 2.2 steals per game as a sophomore. He missed the tour of Spain with a stress fracture in his foot, but has been cleared for action.

There is no doubt that Daniels will see significant action if he stays healthy. Just exactly what position or positions he spends his playing time at this season is still to be determined.

Two Guard (Shooting Guard)
Junior college transfer Derrick Bird, a 6-4, 180-pounder from Ypsilanti, Michigan, has a hold on the two guard spot. Bird is an excellent defender and is showing promise as a scoring threat both inside and from three-point range. The coaches are fired up about this player. The fact that Ellis is taking the newcomer with him as an Auburn representative to the SEC Media Days on Thursday speaks volumes about what they think of this newcomer.

Maturity, responsibility and leadership ability are words that are used to describe Bird, who wowed the coaching staff with his play at the national junior college tournament. He averaged 20.3 points and five rebounds per game last season at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, helping his team to a 32-4 record.

In addition to Marquis Daniels, depth at this spot comes from talented but at times undisciplined freshman Brandon Robinson, a 6-8, 215-pounder, who is also a backup at small forward. Originally from Buckhorn, Ala., High where he averaged 24.3 points per game his senior season, Robinson was a first team prep school All-American last year with averages of 17 points and 11 rebounds per game at Notre Dame, Mass., Prep.

Robinson has shown signs of being foul-prone and is so naturally talented he has been able to succeed without having to rely on fundamentals. He is a work in progress but he looks to be one of the more talented signees ever brought into the AU program.

Walk-on Nathan Watson, a 6-3, 180 freshman from Fort Payne, Ala., High is playing very well and is doing an impressive imitation of a scholarship player at Auburn's preseason practices. A Class 5A All-State pick last year when he averaged 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game, Watson is a good outside shooter and a good pickup for Ellis and his staff.

Small Forward

Adam Harrington will start at the small forward spot and looks primed for an improved season as a junior. He averaged 15.5 points and 4.3 rebounds as a sophomore at AU after transferring from North Carolina State. Ellis predicts that Auburn fans will see improvement from Harrington in all phases of the game from the 6-5, 200-pounder.

Robinson, Daniels and Bird can play the small forward position, too. All four players at the position look to have enough quickness to match-up with teams that prefer to play a three-guard lineup.

Power Forward

Freshman Marco Killingsworth, a 6-8, 240-pounder, is as good if not better than advertised. He will likely start ahead of senior Mack McGadney and sophomore Abdou Diame. Marin Bota, a seven-foot sophomore who was also playing power forward, quit the team but was not likely to play much at the position with Killingsworth in town.

Killingsworth has a surprisingly soft touch for a 240-pounder. He was a man among the boys last season at Central Park Christian Academy in Birmingham where he was a Parade All-American. He averaged 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks per game in just seven, yes seven, minutes per game. He led his team to a 31-1 record and a national runner-up finish to Mt. Zion Christian Academy of Durham, N.C., at the National Christian School Championship. He was the title game MVP with 37 points and 19 rebounds as his team fell 69-68 to Mt. Zion, a team loaded with college prospects.

With great leaping ability this guy has NBA potential and Tiger fans probably need to check him out early because the odds of Killingsworth playing four years of college ball are slim and none.

Diame, a high-profile recruit himself, averaged seven points and 3.3 rebounds as a true freshman who started seven games. The 6-9 sophomore has improved since last season and should be able to use his size and quickness to score on virtually anybody he faces.

Center

Sophomore Kyle Davis is expected to start at the position with center Mack McGadney in reserve. He is a great leaper with long arms and excellent timing.

Davis became the top shot blocker in AU history with 84 as a freshman, eclipsing Mamadou N'diaye's record and wowing everybody with 13 in one game vs. Miami in the NIT opening round. The only concerns about Davis are his improving offensive skills and his health. The 6-10, 220-pounder averaged just 4.8 points per game as a freshman to go with 5.9 rebounds. He has also experienced nagging injuries with the latest being bone chips on a knee.

Mack McGadney plays vs. Florida A&M as a junior.

McGadney averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds in eight games as a junior power forward before being lost for the season with a knee injury. At 6-7, 250 pounds, he should be able to mix it up inside with taller opponents. Bota, a backup center last year, didn't have the quickness to contend with most centers he played last season. Even though he had improved, Bota was not likely to match his average of 4.9 minutes per game he played as a freshman.

It will be a surprise if this team does not make a serious run at the SEC West title and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. It will also be a surprise if such a young group and talented group is not extremely inconsistent with unexpected losses and easy blowout victories part of this season.


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