Douglas Situation A Strange One

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Toney Douglas' strange situation and what it means for Auburn basketball.

If Quinnel Brown and Nathan Watson read Harry Douglas' comments earlier this week, they must have laughed out loud. If they didn't, they should have.

Brown and Watson won the hearts of Auburn basketball fans last season. Brown, who would have to stretch to be 6-foot-5, spent the season battling Southeastern Conference centers. Watson, at 6-foot-2, played power forward. Both Brown and Watson came to Auburn to play guard. Neither ever imagined his senior season would be spent in such a way. But when four players left the program before the 2004-2005 season, first-year coach Jeff Lebo had little choice.

Toney Douglas

Watson and Brown played routinely against players half a foot taller and 50 pounds eavier. Instead of complaining, Brown and Watson played with ferocity and dedication. They helped Auburn win 14 games, a remarkable accomplishment under the circumstances.

One of the big contributors to those 14 wins was freshman guard Toney Douglas. Like a lot of players, Douglas was called on to do what was best for the team. Douglas came to Auburn to play point guard, but that position was held by senior Ian Young. Douglas spent much of the season at shooting guard, not much of an adjustment compared to what many of his teammates had to do.

Douglas led the SEC in scoring for much of the season and finished as the league's top-scoring freshman. He broke the 30-point barrier three times, tying Eddie Johnson's freshman record with 38 against Nicholls State. Along the way, he proved himself a loyal teammate who played to win. Toney thrived at shooting guard. He averaged 16.9 points per game and almost six rebounds. He had more rebounds than any other guard in the SEC. He was a coachable and seemingly happy player. But Tony's father, who coached him for most of his life, wasn't so happy. Harry Douglas complained frequently that his son should be playing point guard.

It all led to last Tuesday when Toney announced he was making himself eligible for the NBA draft. He said he would not hire an agent and would return to Auburn if he is not picked in the first round.

That decision was surprising. No projections have Douglas in the first round. It's questionable whether he would be chosen at all in the two-round NBA draft. At the same time, who could argue with throwing your name out there to see where you stand? But what unfolded was one of the more bizarre press conferences I have ever attended. Toney made his announcement in the usual way, thanking Auburn and Auburn fans for supporting him. He said he believes he is ready for the NBA.

Then Harry Douglas took the floor. With Lebo standing in the back of the room, Harry Douglas spent the next 15 minutes or so complaining that Toney had not played enough point guard last season. He said the previous staff had promised Toney he would play point guard and that Toney is a point guard and nothing else. Harry didn't have a lot to say about winning or what was best for the team. In fact, he insulted the entire Auburn team from last season by saying Toney could have averaged 30 points per game if he'd had a better "supporting cast."

Along the way, he made a truly amazing statement. He said Toney is the best Auburn basketball player since Charles Barkley. That would make Toney better than Chuck Person, Chris Morris, Wesley Person, Chris Porter and Doc Robinson, to name a few. Toney may get into that category. He's not there yet.

A couple of days after the press conference, Harry said in a radio interview that he never meant to bash Lebo. But before that interview was over, he was singing the same song, saying Toney would not be back unless he was going to play point guard.

Lebo, put in an exceedingly difficult position, has handled the whole thing with class. Toney will play a lot of point guard next season if he returns to Auburn and would have whether his father had complained or not. I have no idea what Harry Douglas thought he would accomplish with his diatribe. But all he did was embarrass himself and his son.

Toney Douglas is a fine person with an opportunity to become a great player. He can help Auburn win a lot of games. But if he leaves, Auburn basketball will go right on. Winning next season would become more difficult, but Lebo's long-term plan won't be derailed by one player.

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