Sophomore guard Frank Tolbert says he believes the 2005-2006 Tigers will have better team chemistry than last year's group did when they finished the season with a second round SEC Tournament loss to LSU.
"My goal for the season is to win more," Tolbert says. "Last year, we won some games, but everybody wasn't happy at the end of the season. We got a little bit away from each other as a team. Guys weren't really liking each other. This year, I think we are going to win and be happy as a team."
Although Auburn was considered a team that significantly overachieved by posting a 14-17 record without players on the court taller than six-foot-five, Tolbert contends last year's team could have done even better. The Tigers had a chance to post a winning record, but lost six of their final eight games.
"We had some egos last year that became a problem," says Tolbert, who didn't want to mention any players in particular. "This year, I don't think we are going to have that problem. We have young guys with good attitudes and the veterans who are coming back, we have good attitudes, too."
Frank Tolbert is one of the few players on the 2005-2006 team with significant SEC experience.
There are lot more young guys than there are veterans, even if you count sophomores Tolbert and Daniel Hayles as veterans, which Tolbert says he and his fellow guard are.
"We had to grow up real fast last year," the six-foot-three Tolbert says. "I feel like I have been here as long as Ronny, Brett and Moses." Ronny LeMelle, a 6-5 forward who was injured last year, is the team's only senior. The only two juniors are players who walked on, 6-1 guard Brett Howell and 6-6 guard Moses Edun. Neither has seen significant playing time.
Joey Cameron should help the Tigers on the boards this season.
Much of the playing time this year will go to true freshmen 6-8 forward Joey Cameron, 6-7 forward Josh Dollard, 6-7 forward Korvotney Barber, 6-5 guard Rasheem Barrett and 6-3 guard Quantez Robertson.
The Tigers will also be looking for help from 5-11 juco transfer point guard Michael Woodard and 6-8 forward Emmanuel Willis, who will be come eligible as a sophomore in December after transferring last year from Southern Cal. Another transfer, 6-8 guard/forward Quan Prowell, will have to redshirt this season.
Tolbert and Hayles, a 6-4 guard who played forward and even center at times last year, are the only two Tigers returning who played a lot of minutes for Lebo. LeMelle was injured in the preseason and tried to come back, but re-injured his knee early in the season. He had surgery and received a medical hardship redshirt.
The Tigers must replace most of the their scoring punch from last year with 2004-2005 seniors Ian Young (13.3 points per game), Quinnel Brown (12.8 points) and Nathan Watson (11.3 points) gone along with leading scorer Toney Douglas, who averaged 16.9 points per contest. Douglas, who was a freshman last year, is sitting out this season after transferring to FSU.
With so many new players on the roster, Tolbert says it is tough to get a read on what type of team the Tigers will have this season. "I don't really know," he says. "I expect good things, but you know how that can be sometimes. We are going to be pretty good as long as we can stay together as a team. If we play together, we will be fine.
"We are a lot better athletically this season," Tolbert adds. "We have at least five or six guys who can really sky. Last year, we only had me and Daniel Hayles who could really jump. Plus, this year we have height."
Looking at the newcomers, who have been on campus since the summer, Tolbert says he has had a good chance to get a feel for their games. Among the freshmen, he says one player in particular has stood out.
"I would say Josh Dollard is the guy," Tolbert notes. "At times he has his points where he just loves to shoot and dribble, but the way he gets to the goal, and the way he can pull up and shoot from outside, he has really impressed me."
Mike Woodard is expected to make a strong push for a starting assignment at point guard.
The Tigers have been doing conditioning workouts and in recent weeks there have been individual skill drills with the coaching staff. However, Friday evening's practice will be the first full team workout of the season.
Last year, the Tigers had a "Midnight Mayhem" practice. However, with no home football game this weekend, Lebo decided to skip the public practice and have a closed session earlier in the evening, taking advantage of a new rule this season that doesn't make teams wait until 12:01 a.m. on Saturday to hit the court as has traditionally been the case. Instead, they can have a Friday night practice.
Tolbert notes the Tigers should be in good shape physically for the start of team drills. "It is pretty intense, but it isn't really tough for me because I have been here, but it is tough though," he says of the conditioning workouts. "I am ready for the team practices. These guys think the individual workouts are hard, but they haven't got a taste of Jeff Lebo's team practices yet."
Tolbert, who arrived at Auburn as a freshman weighing 240 pounds, was put on a diet and conditioning program last year. This season he expects to play at 200 to 205 pounds, which he says is a good size. "I have lost a ton of weight," says the guard, who notes that it has made him quicker and has helped his jumping ability.
"I think I have improved a lot," Tolbert adds. "I have improved my ball-handling and my shooting and my decision-making. For me to be successful, I have to improve on every aspect of the game. The coaches want me to be a leader and I feel like I had to improve my game in order for me to do that."
One of his jobs as a leader is to make sure the Tigers are a close-knit team and he sees that happening. "Everybody gets along like we are brothers," he says. "We are really a family. Last year we were together, but we weren't like a family."
Last season the Tigers were generally fun to watch with an up-tempo style and lots of hustle on defense. Tolbert predicts that the 2005-2006 edition of the team will play that way, too. "Just come out and watch and the fans will see interesting things happen," he says.