Wounded Tigers Limp Into Road Test At Arkansas

Fayetteville, Ark.--The hits keep coming for the Auburn basketball team. At 9-7 overall, 0-3 in SEC play, the Tigers lost one of their seven regulars to an illness, which has even forced the coaches in action at practice.

Playing on the road at Arkansas can be demanding enough, even with a team at full strength. When the Tigers and Razorbacks tip off at 1 p.m. in a game television regionally on JP on Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, the Tigers will be playing another man short.

"We lost Brett Howell, who's been quarantined from them for eight days with mono," head coach Jeff Lebo says. "So he's not even been able to be around the team. Where it hurts us is obviously our lack of depth. And in practice our point guard is Ian Young and our backup is also the starting two guard, Toney Douglas.

"When we practice, we had Brett playing a lot there at the point on the (second) team and Michael O'Connor, who is a walk-on, playing behind Brett," Lebo adds. "O'Connor has been hurt also. What that means now is the old bald-headed guy has to get out there and run around a little bit."

Brett Howell (left) is out for an undetermined amount of time.

Lebo (the old bald-headed guy), a four-year starter and All-ACC point guard at North Carolina in the late 1980s, along with associate head coach John Cooper, who averaged 20.8 points per game as a forward at Wichita State in 1990-91, have been scrimmaging with players in order to simulate real game action.

"John Cooper and I did a little bit at South Carolina (in the mid 1990s)," Lebo says. "The year we won the SEC Championship (1996-97), Coop and I practiced a lot with the second group. Our claim to fame was that we played a 20 minute scrimmage against those guys and we were up 20. That was many years ago though.

"I told the guys when I went out there, I said, ‘I'm going to practice and I want you to play hard against me, but if you hurt me I'm going to take your scholarship,'" he adds. "The scary thing is that I had about 14 or 16 (points). I can still pass it and I know how to play. I can score occasionally."

Auburn senior forward Quinnel Brown says that it's going to help him and his teammates out just like it helped Lebo's players at South Carolina. "I think it's kind of a good in a way," Brown says. "It keeps us more focused on the floor and we try to run things better with him on the floor. We're more comfortable with him out there with us.

"It's not weird. It's really just another guy out there. He can play, but you tell he's kind of old. He doesn't move quick, but you can tell he could play back in the old days."

Howell was one of only seven Auburn players to average more than 10 minutes per game, and he was also one of six players to play in all 16 contests. Lebo didn't mention a timeframe for Howell's return, but the Tigers will be without him when they take on the Razorbacks.

Auburn lost four players who transferred during the offseason and Ronny LeMelle is out for the season with a knee injury. With Howell, the Tigers are down a half-dozen players as they prepare to face the Razorbacks.

"I think Arkansas is very talented as they always are," Lebo says. "They started out the season with a lot of wins at home and they played Illinois tight, who is No. 1 in the country. They've fallen on some hard times and had some bad luck lately. They had a tough loss at LSU on a questionable three-point call and had Alabama--possibly the most talented team in the league--and had a chance to beat them at home."

Arkansas (13-5 overall, 1-4 SEC)opened conference play with a 23-point win over Ole Miss but have since lost four straight.

"They've had some tough L's and they've struggled a little bit on the road," Lebo says. "We know how good they play at home and this is a game that they really need to play well in. I think we'll take the best shot they have Saturday."

Auburn will enter the game on a three-game losing streak to start conference play. "Our challenge is going to come Saturday against another type of team that plays the way we do, except they've got big guys," says Brown.

"We need to get back to playing the way we were playing when we were winning--that's more of a fast-paced, up-paced game and try to get the ball out quick and try beat their big men. Try to make them go to a smaller line-up and go inside a little bit."

Quinnel Brown goes to the hoop in Auburn's exhibition victory over Lee University to start the season.

Along with Lebo and Cooper helping out in practice, Lebo says the Tigers have gotten a boost from a pair of other big bodies inside recently. Emmanuel Willis, a 6-7 1/2 forward transfer from Southern California who must sit out this year, has helped in practice situations in recent weeks.

The Tigers have also added Kyle Derozan, a 6-4, 254-pound forward, who is a reserve tight end on the football team.

Derozan played in 12 games this year as blocking tight end on the 13-0 football team. "He's practicing a little bit," Lebo says. "You don't know much he'll play early for us. He's got to get in basketball shape. In basketball we don't play for 5.7 seconds and then get back and talk about it for 30. We've got to play both ends.

"He's a great kid and once he gets in basketball shape he can be an anchor and can move people out (away from the basket)," Lebo adds. "He doesn't know what we're doing yet, but I think he can help us out a little bit being a big body in there. He's not tall but he has some weight and he's wide and he's hard to get around. It's going to take him a little while to learn what we do and how we do than get into basketball shape."

Commenting on the visiting Tigers, Arkansas coach Stan Heath says, "Auburn is unorthodox in the way they play, and it is going to be a challenge for some of our bigger guys to move their feet and defend."

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