Lebo Talks Tigers At SEC Media Days

Jeff Lebo and two of his seniors talk about what to expect from this years' version of the Auburn Tigers' basketball team at SEC Media Days.

Birmingham, Ala.--The 2004-2005 Auburn basketball team under first year coach Jeff Lebo will have almost no resemblance of last year's forward-oriented team coached by Cliff Ellis. Thursday at the annual SEC Basketball Media Days in Birmingham, Lebo gave the rest of the league a taste of what they can expect to see from the Tigers this season.

Gone from last year's 14-14 squad are three players who finished their eligibility, Kyle Davis, Rodney Tucker and Chris Lollar, and four players who left the team after Ellis was fired, Marco Killingsworth, Lewis Monroe, Dewayne Curtis and Brandon Robinson.

Lebo, who says he is currently reading a book titled "The Five Man Open Post," has been working with his players to get them in top shape to help overcome the height and depth problems left by the defections.

"We're going to have to play an up-tempo style and we're going to have to be in terrific shape," he says. "We've only got 10 scholarship players and two of those (Nathan Watson and Brett Howell) were walk-ons at some point. We're going to have to get up and down the floor, offensively at least. We're going to have to be spread out and we've got to make some shots from the perimeter.

"If I put my first five out there, they'd all be 6-5 and under," he adds. "Our coaching staff is actually taller than the five we would put out there. That's the truth."

The leading returning scorer from a year ago, senior guard Ian Young, says that he is looking forward to the new style of play that Lebo and his staff have brought to Auburn. Young played point guard at the beginning of last season while Monroe was recovering from a broken foot, but after Monroe's return Young settled in at the shooting guard position down the stretch.

"Lebo is a players' coach, but being the point guard, he's real tough on me," Young says. "Last year I stood still and shot a lot of three pointers. I've never really been a three-point shooter. I can shoot the three, but that's not what I like to do.

"This year I'm going to be able to create off the dribble, find open people, get to the basket, get to the line and shoot the three," he adds. "I'm going to be more of a complete player. Everybody on the team will more of a complete player."

Ian Young will be a key senior leader on a Tigers' team that will depend on a lot of young players.

Young notes that he has lost more than 30 pounds since the arrival of Lebo due to his strenuous workouts. "We do a lot more running this year," he says. "Everybody had to run the mile in under six minutes. Everybody made itand now we're doing on-court running and more sprinting before practice and after practice. It's a lot more conditioning."

Even though Lebo didn't have much time to recruit by the time he came to Auburn, he brought in four new players--C Ryan Daniel and F/G Daniel Hayles, and two of Ellis' commitments G Frank Tolbert and G Toney Douglas.

And two of those freshmen came to Auburn in better shape than the veteran players. "The best time was Daniel Hayles then Toney Douglas," Young says. "I came in third at 5:35. It was two freshmen then me. They're young and they have fresh legs."

Not far behind Young was another senior guard and one of the leaders on the team Nathan Watson at 5:38. Watson played his freshman year as a walk-on, but has since earned a scholarship and has turned into one of the better defenders on the team.

"I was looking back at it the other day and I was thinking about how far I've come from being a walk-on to a scholarship player and being one of Auburn's main players this year," he says. "It's been a long road and I'm excited about it, being my senior year and I'm trying to finish it out strong."

Although Lebo is in his first year coaching at Auburn, Watson is a player that he was already familiar with.

"Nathan is a kid I tried to recruit when I was at Tennessee Tech," Lebo says. "He's just a great kid and was voted captain of the team along with Ian and Quinnel Brown. It's a unique situation where he came in as a walk-on and earned himself a scholarship. I think the guys on the team really responded to him and they really respect what he says.

"He's been through the wars of the league and understands it," he adds. "He's not a guy that is real, real vocal so when he says something, they believe it. His works habits in practice have been great."

Nathan Watson will be another key senior leader for Jeff Lebo's first Auburn team.

Brown is a 6-6 senior who played mostly in the shooting guard and small forward role as a junior, but will have to play as a power forward and center for this year's vertically-challenged team, as well as shoot from the perimeter.

Another senior who will have to play above his height is senior Ronny LeMelle, who will have many of the same responsibilities as Brown. "Ronny is going to have to score some points for us," Lebo says. "He's going to be athree-point shooter. Ronny shot a high percentage last year on the three. He has to work on his ball handling a little more.

"He's a streak shooter and he's had some big games in the past," he adds. "He'll play some of the three and the four. I think he's going to have to be a shooter and step it up defensively."

The obvious plan for the Tigers' half-court offense is to spread the court as much as possible and try to get open shots on the perimeter against bigger, slower defenders.

"We're going to utilize the three point line and my big question is, can we make some?" he says. "We're going to run and shoot, but we'd also like to run and make a few. So far in practice we've got a lot of shooters but not a lot of makers. A lot of that will come with conditioning and shooting at game speed, and just getting more comfortable with what we're doing."

Defending the paint is likely to be the biggest problem for the Tigers this season. With a guard-oriented team, presses and traps might be the answer to not being exposed in the paint, but lack of depth could hinder that strategy.

"We have to disguise as much as we can defensively," Lebo notes. "I'd like to get out and pressure full court, but we really only have 10 on scholarship. Our depth is going to be an issue. Teams are going to come in with a game plan against us to take the ball and throw it inside as much as they can."

Watson says he and his teammates will have to get the job done with on-the-ball pressure. "A lot of big men don't like little guards around their knees and ankles slapping at the ball," he says. "It's kind of irritating. We're going to double down on the post because it's going to be hard to play it one-on-one because of the size difference."

Another problem Lebo and his Tigers will face is working on game-type situations to prepare for opponents. "It's hard to simulate anything in practice of what you're going to get, because we don't have it. I've got 15 guys, five of which are walk-ons, and they're small also. You can't simulate a real legitimate low post player. We've got one young man on our team (Ryan Daniel) that's 6-10 and 215 pounds. He's a freshman and he's got a chance to be a good player, but he's a freshman in this league.

"So it's hard to simulate what we're going to see in practice because we don't have a true low post player," he adds. "I may put my associate head coach John Cooper in there--he's about 6-6--and try to let him bang aroundwith them a little bit. He's not real fond of wanting to do that but he may have to suck it up for the team. If I need to, I'll go in there. We'd be all right if we went half court. I don't know about the full-court stuff right now for the old guys."

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories