New Coaches Highlight Midnight Mayhem 2004

Photos and comments from Jeff Lebo and Nell Fortner are featured from the opening of basketball practice at Auburn.

Auburn, Ala.--A enthusiastic crowd of Auburn fans waited until 12:01 a.m. on Saturday for the start of basketball practice with a Midnight Mayhem session that featured new head coaches Jeff Lebo and Nell Fortner.

Jeff Lebo signs a shirt at an autograph session.

Lebo took over the men's program from Cliff Ellis, who was fired after the 2003-2004 season. Fortner took over the women's team from Joe Ciampi, who retired after 25 seasons as the only head coach of the women's team in the NCAA Era.

Lebo spins the ball on his finger during a game of horse vs. Fortner.

Lebo said he thought the evening was a success. "This is fun for the kids," he said. "The players look forward to it. It is nice for the fans to come out and get a little interaction with them. It was a fun night and an exciting time to start basketball. You don't get a lot out of it as far as basketball is concerned.

Freshman guard Toney Douglas is shown in action after midnight in the wee hours Saturday.

"It is hard for us because we will turn around and have a 7:30 a.m. meeting in the morning," Lebo added. "You almost have to waste a day to do it, but it is exciting. We have a new women's coach and a men's coach. I was surprised at how many people came tonight."

The Tigers will take the practice court for an 8:30 a.m. workout that will be more serious than the two five-minute periods they played at the Midnight Mayhem practice that attracted several thousand fans. The women also played two five-minute periods.

Members of the women's basketball team joined the men's squad for an autograph session prior to the practice.

Fortner said she enjoyed the evening and morning, too. "This is an exciting time if you are a basketball coach because you are about to get on the floor with all of your kids and start seeing what you are capable of doing.

"We will sleep a little bit tonight, but not a whole lot. We will practice on Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. We have a whole lot to do, a lot of teaching to do."

The two new head coaches, who have a good working relationship, played a friendly game of horse prior to the team practice. Lebo, a former star for the North Carolina Tar Heels, upheld the honor of the men's team with a victory, but Fortner, who played for the University of Texas, put on a good display of shooting. Both coaches went into their bag of trick shots for the exhibition.

Lebo just missed a spectacular attempt at running to the basket while spinning the ball on a finger and then head butting it toward the goal like a soccer player.

True freshman forward Ryan Daniel, the team's tallest player at 6-11, is guarded by senior Quinnel Brown (21).

"I had a lot of pressure to win that one," Lebo said with a grin. "Nell hit a couple of tough ones--two in a row from behind the backboard. Her range was a little suspect, and I had to work on that left hand of hers, but other than she gave a good fight."

Fortner said she is ready for a rematch. "The challenge is on. I am going to get him next year."

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