Tolbert showed his grit and overall basketball talent at different times in the same game Monday night when he scored 21 points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds in a win over Furman. Tolbert also had two steals and several times took dives for loose balls without regard for his own well being. Coach Jeff Lebo says that watching him play the game is just fun because of the energy he brings to the floor.
"Tolbert comes in off the bench and plays his tail off for 25 minutes," Lebo says. "He gave us a lot of energy."
Energy is something that Tolbert doesn't have a problem with since arriving on the Auburn campus in the fall. Weighing 230 pounds, the Red Level native quickly began to change his eating habits and hit the running trail. Flourishing in Lebo's demanding off-season workouts, Tolbert is all the way down to 200 pounds and the extra energy he has now is transferred into the way he plays each night.
"Man, he never stops running around," senior guard Ian Young says. "I told him when he slows down the game is going to come to him. When he did that you see the results he had. He had better results than in the first half when he was running up and down the court. He's going to be a good one."
Tolbert dives for a loose ball against Furman Monday night.
With Tolbert and fellow freshmen Toney Douglas and Daniel Hayles all getting extensive playing time, the Tigers upset Temple in Philadelphia, Pa. in the season opener and came back with a win over Furman on Monday night. Young says that the trio has really been impressed and they haven't played like freshman so far this young season.
"I'm impressed, even at this level in the non-conference and going up to Temple, coming back after a big win like that and to come in the way they've been playing is great," Young says. "We didn't know where the scoring was going to come from, but they've come in and done a good job."
An early signee to former Auburn coach Cliff Ellis and his staff, Tolbert didn't waiver in his decision to come to Auburn when Lebo was hired. With some prior experience playing on the court at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum during the Henry Harris Classic last year, Tolbert says it felt good to wear an Auburn uniform and play at home.
"It was a real good experience," Tolbert says. "I was real excited coming into it. It's my first game actually on the Auburn team at home. I was real hyped and ready to go out and play."
The biggest player on his high school team, Tolbert was often asked to play the center or power forward position for Red Level. Although he was a guard in summer ball and AAU tournaments, in high school rarely did he get the chance to show his skills outside of the paint. While it was a hindrance at the time, Tolbert has quickly learned that his time spent on the block in high school makes him a dangerous player for the opposition to defend.
"It helps a lot because I'm a more well-rounded player now," Tolbert says. "I can post up or step out and shoot or take it to the hole. Playing the post and everything in high school has made me a better player once I stepped into the collegiate level."
Counted on to play the small forward and even power forward positions some for the Tigers, Tolbert has his work cut out for him this season. Despite the early success he's had there are going to be growing pains for Tolbert and the rest of the freshman class this season when the SEC schedule begins. One thing you can be certain of is that nobody is going to outwork or hustle more than Auburn's version of "The Human Bruise".
"It's paying off big time that we ran a whole lot in the preseason," Tolbert says. "That's got us in better shape so we can run up and down on teams because that's what we're going to have to do this year. We're not going to be able to match up to people with size so we're going to have to use our quickness and speed to try to tire them down so we can score more points."
Tolbert and the Tigers will be back in action on Wednesday with a 7 p.m. tipoff vs. Nicholls State. The Colonels are 0-1 with a 98-69 loss to Mississippi State on Sunday.
Nicholls is led by 6-6 sophomore guard Stefan Blascycnski from Australia, who scored 21 points and added six rebounds in the opener. Like Auburn, the Colonels don't list a starter taller than six-foot-six.