Douglas Adapting Nicely to College Hoops

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn men's basketball team may lack height and depth, but first-year head coach Jeff Lebo and some talented young players have brought excitement back to the hardwood.

"A lot of people have told me that this reminds them of the Coach (Pat) Dye's first year of football (in 1981), where I don't know of they won an SEC game that year," Lebo says. "They didn't have the talent and they went out there and played off guts and hard work. The fans really appreciate that.

"Each game we've got to be able to put things behind us and just focus on the game," Lebo adds. "That's our season. You just hope the kids can and because they're young and they have to understand that. I appreciate the guys coming out. We know that this isn't the most talented group in the world, but those people came out and cheered (Wednesday against Florida) and appreciated the hustle and dedication of the guys."

As Auburn heads into a 4 p.m. home game vs. Ole Miss on Saturday, a young player who has shown flashes of greatness for Lebo is guard Toney Douglas, the SEC's leading scorer at 19.7 points per game. Douglas dropped in his third 30-plus point game of the season against the Gators. He also made the ESPN's SportsCenter number three play of the day to send the game into overtime.

Trailing by three points with 1.5 seconds remaining, Douglas caught a long in-bounds pass from Quinnel Brown, pivoted and sank a long range jumper to force the extra period.

It shocked the Florida bench and sent the crowd into a frenzy, but was Douglas shocked he made the shot?

"No, not really," he says. "I've hit a lot of those in AAU and high school. It wasn't a first time thing. One time like that in AAU I hit it from half court running. It was at the AAU nationals.

"I've been practicing on stuff like that when I'm by myself," Douglas says. "It came to real life. I thought in overtime we were going to take it but we have a few turnovers hurt us."

Toney Douglas has shot well on offense and rebounded well, too.

Lack of depth also hurt the Tigers as Douglas, Brown, Nathan Watson and Ian Young played more than 40 minutes in the 84-78 loss. Douglas finished the night with 32 points.

In the third game of the season Douglas tied a school freshman record with 38 points against Nicholls State. He followed it three games later with 33 points against 24-ranked Virginia. At 6-1, 190 pounds as a freshman, there were questions if he would have the same kind of success in the SEC.

Douglas admits that was a bit surprised to have that strong a game against Florida. "(I didn't know if I could score) like that because the SEC is pretty tough," he says. "I just go out there every day and work hard. Hard work pays off so I just go out there and play. I'd rather five points and the win. I don't really care about the 32 points to tell you the truth."

Douglas was a commitment to former Auburn coach Cliff Ellis out of Jonesboro, Ga., High School and decided to honor his commitment to the university after Ellis was fired and Lebo was hired.

"When Coach Ellis was here (current Ole Miss assistant coach) Tracy Dildy had recruited me," Douglas said. "I knew I could come in and make a great impact right away. Once he got fired I stayed with my commitment and gave Coach Lebo a shot.

"Auburn is close to home and outside of basketball I like it here," he adds. "It's like a family and everybody is together. I wanted to build a good relationship with Coach Lebo like I did with Coach Ellis. Other people were telling me that my situation might be even better because he was a guard and because of his style of play."

Lebo knew he'd be getting a good player in Douglas, but he says he didn't think he'd be as great of a player as he has shown so far.

"He has the ability to make the tough ones," Lebo says. "He'll have more problems making the open ones. He had a couple of open ones (Wednesday) night that he missed. Then he makes the driving one with the guy hanging on him, maybe fouling him, and he'll make a 12-footer off the glass.

"That's what makes him unique in a lot of ways," Lebo adds. "You just don't see that mid-range game. You see a lot of guys taking it to the basket or shooting a three, but very rarely in today's game you see a guy with the middle part."

Douglas says he practices individually on his mid-range game and his dribbling even after practice with the rest of the team. His commitment to the game and extra hours have paid off as he's shooting 53.2 percent inside the three-point line, a high percentage for a guard, and 79 percent on free throws.

"Toney can flat-out score," Lebo says. "I hate that he has to play so many minutes and you hate to put that kind of pressure on a young man who's a freshman to come in and score so many points for us but that's what he does. That's what he's good at."

If Douglas keeps up his scoring pace he has a chance to become the first freshman to lead the SEC in scoring since Chris Jackson of LSU in 1989. He'll also have a chance to win a load of postseason awards.

"My goals were to take my team to the NCAA tournament, be SEC freshman of the year and make a big contribution to Auburn basketball," he says. "All those awards--I like it. It's cool but it's a team thing really. If I get it then I'm happy and it's a goal I want to have. Beyond that I focus on my team because one man doesn't make a team."

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