Lebo Says Tigers Will Look The Part In 2005

Coach Jeff Lebo talks about the preparations for his second season as Auburn's head coach and trying to play with an almost totally new cast.

Birmingham, Ala.--Auburn head basketball coach Jeff Lebo went through a 14-17 season in what he calls a survival year in his inaugural season on the Plains. Losing nine lettermen from the 2004-2005 squad, Lebo says his second season will be a true rebuilding year.

"I don't really know what to expect right now with so many new faces," Lebo says. "I think we've got nine (new players) who didn't play for me last year. This is the building stage of a program. We're moving slow with so many new and inexperienced guys.

"We've got one season in Ronny LeMelle who didn't play for us last year, a junior in Brett Howell who didn't play much for us last year because he was sick, and a junior college point guard (Michael Woodard). And then we go all really freshmen and sophomores. Who knows what to expect. I've like our effort in the first couple of days of practice."

Ronnie Lemelle is the only experienced upperclassman for the Tigers this season.

Lebo adds that practice has been much different so far this season with more quality bodies to compete. With only six players who made significant contributions from the beginning to the end of the season a year ago, there has been much more competition in practice. Lebo says it should help the development of sophomores Frank Tolbert and Daniel Hayles, the only two returning major contributors from last season.

"Hayles and Tolbert, especially, there's competition in practice now," he says. "Last year in practice they could tiptoe through and they knew they were going to play. Now every day in practice they're getting pushed. They're going to have to step up and get better.

"Frank is in way better shape," Lebo adds. "It's not even close. He doesn't even look like the same guy. He's got to do a better job defensively and taking care of the ball. Last year when he had it something was going to happen. Sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad."

Last season Lebo and assistant coach John Cooper had to lace up the sneakers just to help simulate live action. They didn't have a way of giving an inside presence to work against, but that will be different this season with incoming forwards Korvotney Barber, Joey Cameron and Josh Dollard. Emmanuel Willis, a 6-7 transfer from Southern California, practiced with the Tigers during the second half of the season and will be eligible once fall semester starts at Auburn.

"Barber is a power forward," Lebo says of the McDonald's All-American. "He's an inside player. He can run and he's long and athletic. He's getting better. He's got a lot of expectations on him, but he's got a long ways to go yet.

"Joey Cameron is physically ready," Lebo notes. "He's strong. Rasheem Barrett is another one of our freshman from Atlanta who is physically ready to play. None of them are mentally (ready). Dollard is pretty physical but he's got to learn to be able to do it all of the time. I think it'll be interesting to see once they play against some other big guys, how they respond."

Dollard is a player who could fill in at the small or power forward position. Lebo says that he has the ability to face up a defender or score on the low post. Barrett will likely get most of his action on the wing at either shooting guard or small forward.

With the loss of last year's point guard Ian Young, Lebo will rely on Woodard, freshman lefty Quantez Robinson, and Howell, who was limited last season after coming down with mono.

"That's the hardest position," Lebo says. "I'm harder on those guys because I played that position. We call it the quarterback position. It's a difficult position.

"You've got to call the offenses, call the defenses," he adds. "They've got to be vocal and understand what I want out there. I'm certainly more demanding on that position than any other position. I've got to be patient this year with those guys because they're both learning."

With the first game of the season on Nov. 20 against Lipscomb, the Tigers have been practicing since Oct. 15 While the coaching staff has plenty of players to run five on five scrimmages this year, the first few weeks have been a learning process with so many new faces.

"We've got guys who pick up things faster than others," Lebo says. "I've been pleased with our young guys. You've also got to teach them how to pay attention for long periods of time, so we've had some lessons on that, too.

"A guy like Korvotney Barber is a tremendous listener," he adds. "That's been impressive in the first couple of weeks of practice. There's a guy, a highly recruited kid who could come in with an attitude but is really been a great listener.

"He's got a long way to go and he wants to learn, he pays attention and he tries to do what you ask him to do. When you come from high school you don't have any attention to detail. We're trying to teach that also the first few weeks of practice."

Lebo adds that he is also having to teach toughness to many of the new players for them to battle through nicks and scrapes.

Last season 6-5 Quinnel Brown was forced into the center role for the entire season, but Lebo says this year's squad will look much more like a college team than a high school team in the size aspect of the game.

"We're going to be able to go inside a little bit," he says. "Last year was unique because we played all five guards and we could shoot threes at every position. We're not going to be able to do that this year. We'll be able to rebound better. We'll be able to defend, hopefully, better especially in the post.

"People ask what it was like," Lebo adds. "It was kind of like going out and taking all of your clothes off, standing at mid court and letting 12,000 people make of you for an hour and you can't leave. Defensively we've got to get a lot better. I think with our size and depth this year, even though we're going to be young, we're going to be able to shuffle some kids in and out. I saw a dunk in practice, which was nice. I hadn't seen one of those by one of our player in a long time, and a couple of blocked shots."

Walk-on Moses Edun, who appeared in 23 games last year, returns for his junior season. Other players, Kyle Derozan, Toney Douglas and Ryan Daniel, have left the program since last season.

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