Marshall: Future Looks Promising For Lebo's Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at Auburn's better than expected basketball season.

It wasn't the way anybody at Auburn wanted it to end. It was have been much more fitting for Auburn's basketball team to go out defying the odds once again, at least taking LSU to the wire in the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament.

It didn't happen because LSU, with Brandon Bass and Glen Davis inside and some deadly shooters outside, presents bigger matchup for Auburn than probably any team in the SEC.

But you don't have to be an expert to see where Auburn basketball is headed under Jeff Lebo. If Auburn can hold on to Lebo--and athletic director Jay Jacobs needs to make sure that happens--good days are ahead.

It may not happen next year. Really, it probably won't. Instead of the shortest team in the SEC next season, Auburn will probably have the youngest. But it will happen.

Records of 14-17 overall and 4-12 in the SEC won't ever look like much in the Auburn record book. But the truth is Auburn had no business winning any SEC games. The Tigers played in the SEC with a lineup smaller than those at many high schools.

Yet, they won four SEC games. They won one in the tournament. They took some of the better teams to the wire. They played with effort, devotion and determination. Their coach gave them all the tools he could to help them have a chance.

Auburn certainly did have some good players. Ian Young and Quinnel Brown had talent and experience. Nathan Watson is far from the most talented player to come Auburn's way, but I don't know that I've seen one who played any harder. Toney Douglas and Frank Tolbert were exceptional freshmen who will do big things in this league. Daniel Hayles, another freshman, is the kind of hard-nosed player who, surrounded by a good team, will help you win games.

It's too bad, in a way, that Marco Killingsworth, Lewis Monroe and Dwayne Curtis decided to leave and that Brandon Robinson decided to abandon his effort to make his grades. If all those people were still around, Auburn's season would not be over.

They made their decisions for their own reasons, but in the long run, it might have been best everybody. For all they could have done for this season, the pure guts of the guys who stayed might have done more for the future of Auburn basketball.

Brown and Watson were studies in unselfishness. They moved inside and guarded taller and stronger players. They weren't always successful, but it wasn't from lack of effort.

If Lebo, when he has enough talent and experience at his disposal, can get those players to play with the same drive that he got these players to play, Auburn will soon be a force again in the SEC.

With an excellent early signee class already in hand and more signees to come, next season's Auburn team will look much more like an SEC team. There'll be big men inside and help off the bench. The problem is that, other than senior Ronny LeMelle and the team will be made up of freshmen and sophomores.

If I had to guess, I would say Auburn will be an NIT kind of team next season and an NCAA Tournament team the next.

Hal Baird, who was then athletics assistant to the president, had to work hard to convince Richardson that Lebo was the man for the job. He was convinced and he convinced Richardson. Auburn is better for it.

All three of Baird's hires--Lebo, women's basketball coach Nell Fortner and baseball coach Tom Slater--have their programs headed in the right directions. Baird, a man of unquestioned integrity and class, will be greatly missed at Auburn. He was there to with a steadying hand at one of the more difficult times in the schools athletics history.


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