The game is the second half of a doubleheader with the AU women's team playing Florida A&M at 5 p.m.
Both the men's team and women's squad signed prospects for next year's class on Wednesday, the opening day for doing that in the one-week long November signing period. Ellis has picked up two players while women's coach Joe Ciampi has four signees for the 2002-2003 season.
High Point has five returning starters back from last season's 8-20 team that won just three games in the Big South Conference. Jacksonville State comes in following a 9-19 debut season for head coach and former Auburn assistant Mike LaPlante. The Gamecocks have three starters returning but the most recognizable face for JSU will be former Tiger guard Jay Heard, who transferred to the TAAC school to be closer to home. His return to Beard-Eaves should bring some excitement to Sunday's game.
Coming off last season's 18-14 NIT team, Auburn is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons under the guidance of Ellis. With four starters returning, including leading scorers Marquis Daniels (6-6, 200) and Adam Harrington (6-5, 200), the Tigers have high hopes that this will be a seasom to make March Madness a reality once again. Ellis says he believes this team has a chance to be special if they play up to their capabilities. That theory gets a test this weekend as two very outmatched opponents travel to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum to open regular season play.
"I'm excited about the team," Ellis notes. "I think when you open up a series like we play this weekend, we feel pretty good about who we are but we know we have a lot of work to do. High Point and Jacksonville State are two games we look at that if we execute and do the things we need to do we should be okay."
With as many as 10 players who are expected to see playing time as the Tigers open the season, the depth concerns of the past few years seem to be a thing of the past. In addition to the nine returning players on this year's squad, Auburn also welcomes the nation's third-ranked recruiting class into the fold. Guards Dwayne Mitchell (6-4, 195), Lewis Monroe (6-5, 190) and junior college transfer Derrick Bird (6-4, 195) join forces with forwards Brandon Robinson (6-8, 215) and Marco Killingsworth (6-8, 240) to give the Tigers plenty of minutes to spread around this season.
Kyle Davis will start at center.
"Our basketball team is, I think, the deepest team that I've had at Auburn," Ellis says. "A lot of the guys we have coming back are making strides through some of the injuries they've gone through. I was real pleased with Mack McGadney this week and his progress coming off ACL surgery. He still struggles playing a lot of time but I think in spurts he's showing some of the tendencies of Mack McGadney. The same is true of Marquis Daniels, who is overcoming a stress fracture. His timing is the thing we are working on right now but his execution is coming around as is Kyle Davis (6-10, 220),who also had knee surgery.
"The thing that excites me is our depth," Ellis notes. "I don't think there is any one guy that is a guy that can necessarily take over a game but I think our strategy this year is going to try to wear people down. I don't think necessarily that this will come early, I think the depth will really stick its head up in February or March,. That's usually when it does…we'll be playing a lot of people and getting them playing time looking forward to this weekend."
With returning point guard Lincoln Glass (5-10, 195) still sitting out because of academic troubles encountered during the fall, Ellis has been forced to turn to Mitchell at the point and the freshman has delivered with solid play in each of the Tigers' first two exhibition games. Because of that he has earned the start for Friday night's game at the point with Monroe backing him up. At the shooting guard and small forward spots it will be a combination of three players, Bird, Harrington and Daniels, that will split time between the two positions. In the paint McGadney and Davis will be called on to hold down the fort with sophomore Abdou Diame (6-9, 210) and true freshmen Killingsworth and Robinson also receiving plenty of action in Auburn's rotating system.
After their weekend games, the Tigers will return to action on Saturday Nov. 24 when they travel to Piscataway, N.J. to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights from the Big East Conference.
The men's signees are teammates at Laurinburg Institute, a prep school in Laurinburg, N.C. Terry Licorish, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound power forward from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and Steve Leven, a 6-foot-5, 195guard from Sydney, Australia, signed with the Tigers on Wednesday.
Licorish averaged 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks per game at Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C., last year as a high school senior. He averaged 19.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks as a junior for West Hill High School in Toronto en route to earning first-team all-city honors by the Toronto Sun 1999-2000. He was also named the Toronto defensive player of the year.
"Terry should be an immediate impact player at Auburn," says Ro Russell, his AAU caoch for Grass Roots Canada. "He is a very athletic forward."
Leven averaged 17.8 points and seven rebounds for Coach Chris Chaney at Maryland state private school champion Newport School in Kensington, Md. Chaney is now the head coach of both Licorish and Leven at Laurinburg Institute. Leven, who is a senior in high school but is playing at Laurinburg to face better competition, has a very impressive 39-inch vertical jump, is a very good shooter and is a tough, hard-nosed player.
"Steve is a real good shooter," Chaney told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "He is very athletic. A lot of people compare him to Rex Chapman. He is a very hard-working kid who is just getting better and better each year. He is a very strong kid. He plays inside and outside. He is definitely going to be a two (shooting guard). His junior year in high school, he actually played inside. He is a very physical kid who doesn't shy away from contact."
Auburn's Ellis said, "We are very proud of the signees. Terry Licorish is a young man who has strength and power, runs the floor and rebounds. He should beef up our inside game. He has a chance to be an outstanding player."
"Steve really has a knack and an understanding of the game," Ellis said. "I like his savvy. I went to see Terry Licorish and saw Lavin and liked him through the course of watching Laurinburg play. Those were a great couple of trips I made this fall. Steve is an excellent shooter, has good size, comes to play hard and is an excellent player."
The women's team signed Mandisha Stevenson, Danielle Kubik, Nitasha Brown and Lee Durant on Wednesday.
Stevenson, a 6-3 center from Decatur, Ala., High, was signed by Auburn as a senior and placed at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla. She led Gulf Coast last season with 17.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Stevenson will be a junior when she enrolls at AU for the 202-2003 season.
Kubik, a 6-3 forward and center from Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga., led her team to the state championship with a 30-3 record last season. She averaged 14 points and eigith rebounds.
Brown, a 5-8 guard from Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Fla., was the county Player of the Year as a junior and averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals.
Durant, a 5-9 guard from Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, Minn., was named All-State as a junior, averaging 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists. She connected on 56 percent of her shots from the field, playing all three guard positions.
Ciampi said, "Mandisha has the ability to take over a game with her scoring abilities. She is an outstanding rebounder and can play inside and out.
"Dani has the versatility to play a low post game and face up and shoot the three. She has a great work ethic and will be an asset to our program.
"Nitasha has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. She really knows the game is always working hard on and off the court.
"Lee is an outstanding ball handler that can play either wing because of her ability and strength," Ciampi added. "She will bring a great deal of versatility to the Auburn program."