Transition Continues For Lebo And Tigers

Auburn, Ala.--Jeff Lebo's first public appearance since being introduced on Thursday as Auburn's new men's basketball coach drew an overflow crowd to the Saughatchee Country Club.

A decade earlier, the last time there was a coaching staff transition, both the outgoing staff of Tommy Joe Eagles and the incoming staff of Cliff Ellis were no-shows on what turned out to be a less than festive farewell for the seniors like Wesley Person, Aaron Swinson and Aubrey Wiley following the 1993-94 season.

Three members of fired coach Cliff Ellis' outgoing 2003-2004 coaching staff--Shannon Weaver, Charlton Young and Jacob Ridenhour--presented awards to their players on Monday night while Lebo gave the group a short pep talk and called the returning players for a 15-minute group huddle after the banquet to discuss the transition to a new staff. Weaver served as associate head coach, Young recruited six of the top nine players on last year's Sweet 16 team and Ridenhour is the director of basketball operations.

"I think it was important," Lebo said when asked about making an appearance on Monday night. "It is really about the kids--the players and especially the seniors. That is what it has always been about for me. This is a special night for those seniors--players and managers. It is a nice way to get together again with a team that probably won't be back together again. I certainly remember my senior banquet and how special it was. I thought it was just a great night."

Lebo said he was pleased that Weaver, Young and Ridenhour were willing to share the podium with the new head coach. "They spent a lot of time and effort with these kids," Lebo tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "They recruited them, know them, practiced with them and were with them every single day. They are like sons to them and I know it is a hard thing. I know the kids appreciated them being there and I know the coaches wanted to be there for them also."

Weaver acted as interim head coach after Ellis was fired prior to Lebo being hired. In addition to thanking the players, the other staff members, athletic department officials and other AU officials, Weaver passed along a message from Cliff Ellis. "Coach Ellis wanted me to tell you that he loves you all and that his heart is here," Weaver said. "This tipoff club has been tremendous--what great support for Auburn basketball. Keep supporting, keep pulling, it's a wonderful thing. God Bless you and War Eagle."

Lebo is currently working on putting together a new staff from a very large number of coaches who are interested in working for the former Tennessee Tech and University of Tennessee-Chattanooga head coach. He also has one scholarship available to sign a player this spring to go with two early signees--guards Toney Douglas and Frank Tolbert.

"I am hoping maybe by the end of the week, maybe next week, we can get a staff in order or part of a staff in order," Lebo said. "For recruiting, this is a dead period right now. It is something that is very important for us. On Friday we can go back out on the road until the end of the month. We have one more scholarship that we have to fill and I want to spend some more time, especially this week while we are in town, with the players and do some workouts with them and get in the weight room with them."

Jeff Lebo

Lebo's speech on Monday night wasn't a long one, but he received an enthusiastic welcome. "Basketball teams are about the players," he told the crowd. "I have been fortunate to play on good teams and coach good players. I wouldn't have this opportunity if I wasn't around those type of people and I certainly hope and look and forward to being your coach here. I am very, very excited. We have got a lot of work to do, there is no doubt about that, but the foundation has certainly been laid here. These kids, I know, are excited

"For you guys who are coming back, I am certainly looking forward to working as hard as I possibly can so I can achieve a lot of goals together--not just individually, but as a team. War Eagle."

Seniors Kyle Davis, Rodney Tucker, Chris Lollar and walk-on Johnathan Lewis were honored at the ceremony. Junior forward Marco Killingsworth, a Tiger who Lebo certainly hopes is coming back, was named the 2003-2004 team Most Valuable Player at the 15th annual Auburn Basketball Awards Banquet.

Killingsworth led the Tigers in scoring at 13.7 points per game and rebounding at 6.9 per contest. He led the SEC in field goal percentage for a second straight season at 59 percent. A second team Coaches All-SEC selection, he became the 10th player in AU men's basketball history to score both 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds in three seasons.

Marco Killingsworth is shown in action as a junior.

"I don't think I have ever seen anybody work harder on his game and it showed," Weaver said.

Other award winners include:

*Junior point guard Lewis Monroe won the Paul Lambert/Tommy Joe Eagles Memorial Trophy for Leadership.

*Junior guard/forward Quinnel Brown was named the top defensive player.

*Junior guard Ian Young was named the top offensive player after scoring 10 points per game and leading the team in free throw shooting at 84 percent.

*Junior forward Brandon Robinson was named the top rebounder after averaging 6.7 per game.

*Junior guard/forward Ronny LeMelle won the hustle/playmaker award.

*Freshman center Dwayne Curtis won the sixth man award.

*Junior Nathan Watson, a former walk-on, won the Tiger Paw Award that goes to the player whose positive team attitude and hard work lead to success on and off the court. Watson averaged 7.5 points, 2.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds while starting 23 of 28 games for the Tigers.

*Tipoff club secretary/membership chairman Sherrie Stanyard got a standing ovation and the biggest cheer from the crowd plus hugs from all of the players as the winner of the Sixth Man Award for outstanding service to AU basketball.


Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories