SEC Honors Improving AU Freshman

Guard Frank Tolbert, who along with AU women's team center Marita Payne gave AU a sweep of the SEC Player of the Week awards, discusses his adjustment to college basketball.

Auburn, Ala.--For Auburn University guard Frank Tolbert, less has been more for his freshman season of basketball.

The 6-3, 206-pounder was named SEC Player of the Week on the strength of his impressive performance on Saturday vs. Mississippi State as his Tigers won their second SEC game of the season.

Tolbert joins junior center Marita Payne, who was named SEC Women's Player of the Week, to give Auburn players a sweep of the conference awards.

Tolbert hit 10-14 field goals vs. Mississippi State on his way to a 29-point performance. He hit 4-7 three-pointers in what was just his fifth start as a college player.

Tolbert signed a scholarship to play for Auburn in November of his senior season at Red Level High School. However, Coach Cliff Ellis and his staff were fired and replaced by Jeff Lebo and a different coaching staff before Tolbert arrived at AU.

"When I first saw Frank he was about 240 (pounds) so my impressions weren't real good," Lebo remembers. "He had been hurt. His senior year he put on about 40 pounds. He couldn't move real well.

"What I am most proud of with Frank is that in a really short period of time he has really changed his body," Lebo adds. "He has gotten back down to about 200 pounds. I had seen film of him in high school when he was a sophomore before he got hurt. He was playing at about 190 or 195 pounds. He was extremely athletic and played above the rim. When he first got here, I don't know if he could get to the net."

Tolbert improved his scoring average for the season to 7.0 points per game after hitting for three more points in one game vs. Mississippi State than he did in his first seven SEC outings.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," Tolbert says of his performance in Auburn's 90-76 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday. "Coming into the game I was real hesitant to shoot, but I got the open looks and I just took the shots when I was in and they just started falling."

Tolbert says he feels much quicker than he did last year and at the same time he notes that he has held on to the strength he displayed in high school that earned him the nickname of "The Manchild" at Red Level High School, where he shattered a backboard with a power dunk.

Tolbert says when he arrived at AU as a freshman last August that he wanted to prove himself. "I didn't see myself starting," he says. "I was just working hard trying to get a position. Coming into my freshman year I just wanted to play ball. That is all I wanted to do--get out there and show coach what I could do. I have been doing that for the past games that he has put me in the starting position."

Lebo says that he had noticed signs of Tolbert improving, even prior to the breakout game vs. the Bulldogs last Saturday. "Now we are starting to see, at this time of the year, the athleticism come out in him," the coach says. "His decision-making is sometimes like a freshman. I tell my coaches when we watch tape, when he has the ball something is going to happen. It is going to be good or bad, but something is going to happen. We are trying to get it to be more good than bad."

The coach says that he believes Tolbert is becoming more confident as he gains more experience as a college player. "He is one of our stronger guys," Lebo notes. "He has a body to play in this league. I really love his demeanor. He really wants to learn, wants to spend extra time watching film, wants to get better.

"He is just a great kid," Lebo adds. "He has a long way to go, but it is nice to see him have a game like this. You can go a whole career and not have a game like this. Hopefully, we will see it more often and more consistently."

Tolbert and the Tigers will return to action on Wednesday night at LSU. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and there is no television coverage planned. "We are going to try to take this win to motivate us and push us to go to LSU and get a win," the freshman says.

Marita Payne

The Auburn women's basketball team will be shooting for its third straight victory on Thursday at Vanderbilt in a game that will be televised regionally starting at 8 p.m. CST.

Payne helped the Tigers to victories over Arkansas and South Carolina as Coach Nell Fortner's team improved its record to 12-9 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. Auburn defeated Arkansas 62-51 at home on Thursday and won on the road Sunday at South Carolina, taking a 56-47 decision.

Against Arkansas, Payne became the first basketball player in Auburn history, woman or man, to post a triple-double. She was credited with 15 points, 13 blocked shots and 12 rebounds. Her 13 blocks is a single game SEC record.

"It is always exciting to break a record and to be honored by the SEC for doing so is special," Payne says. "The thing that makes it all that much better is the fact that by breaking the record I helped the team win some very important games for us."

Payne has 111 blocked shots this season, which is more than nine other SEC teams have as a group. The previous high in a single season at AU was 82 blocks that Payne produced as a sophomore. She leads the nation in blocked shots this season at 5.0 per game. In SEC games she is averaging 7.0 blocks.

The six-foot-five center has 240 blocked shots in her third season with the Tigers. The old career record was 199 by Linda Godby from 1986-1990.

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