Tall Task For Tigers In SEC Opener at Vandy

Looking for their first road win of the season, Jeff Lebo's Tigers will try to upset a tall and talented Vanderbilt team at Memorial Gym in Nashville.

Auburn, Ala.--As the Auburn men's basketball team begins SEC play at Vanderbilt on Saturday, Coach Jeff Lebo is searching for leadership with only one senior on the team.

The Tigers closed out their regular season non-conference schedule with what Lebo says is an over-achieving 8-3 record, but he notes he will need senior captain Ronny LeMelle to take a larger part in leading the team through the always-tough SEC.

"He's not vocal and it's just not his nature," Lebo says. "He needs to become more vocal and we talk to him about it all the time. He's our only senior and when times get tough they're going to look for somebody who's a captain and he's got to step up and say something.

"I've got headaches trying to be captain and coach," he adds. "I told them (LeMelle and sophomore captain Frank Tolbert) they've got to take some of this off me because I can't do it all. They all respect Ronny--I just wish he would say more. He's never been in this role before so it's something new."

LeMelle, admittedly more of a cool and quiet type, leads the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game, but needs to show more leadership as he is only one of three players with any significant action in the SEC.

"Some games at halftime he (Lebo) comes in fussing at me telling me I need to get the team going and show some leadership," LeMelle says. "I'm not a vocal person and I'm more of a lead-by-example kind of guy.

"He wants me to be more vocal so he comes in and gets into me," he adds. "It gets me mad so I get into get everybody else and it gets everybody vocal. I don't yell at them, but I get them going. He yells at me and Frank to get everybody going because we're the captains."

The Tigers face a rugged start to the league schedule with games at Vanderbilt, home vs. Alabama, at Florida, home vs. Arkansas and home vs. Kentucky. The Commodores have built a 9-2 record with the two losses coming at the hands of perennial powers Cincinnati and Georgia Tech.

Vandy coach Kevin Stallings

"I like Kevin's (coach Kevin Stallings) team," Lebo says. "I think it's a very good basketball team and an NCAA tournament team, a team that's won on the road and showed some toughness. It's also a team that's coming off a loss at Georgia Tech so he'll have them ready to play.

"They are very athletic," he adds. "They can play small, they can play big, and I think they have two very good swing players in a transfer from Virginia, Derrick Byars, and an all-conference player in Foster (Shan Foster). They also have one of the most improved players in the league in Julian Terrell inside. They can hurt you in a variety of ways and they're always tough to play at home."

One reason why the Commodores are so tough to beat in Nashville is because of the design of the gym. Both teams' benches are on the baselines rather than the sidelines.

"It's very, very difficult to give calls and signals," Lebo says. "Your vision is just different, and the way the court is too, it's just a different place. The baskets are different. They kind of extend and come way out. There's a different look to it.

"It's nice when they're on your end because you can see everything," he adds. "When you're on the other end sometimes you can't see and you don't know what's going on. I coached there for a year (as an assistant during the 1992-1993 season) so I know what it's like. It's different and odd."

Shan Foster

Vanderbilt has four starters scoring in double figures with Foster leading the way at 15.6 points per game. The Commodores, as usual, go with the tall lineup with all five starters at 6-6 or taller. Senior guard Mario Moore is the first player off the bench and has played in more SEC games than the Auburn regulars combined. Moore is averaging 7.8 points per game.

Derrick Byars, A 6-7, junior guard, is averaging 11.5 points and 3.8 assists. Terrell, a 6-9, 248 senior forward, is averaging 10.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. Ted Skuchas, a 6-11, 250 junior center, is averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds.

The Tigers were successful through pre-conference action at defending their home court, going 8-0 inside Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum thus far. However, they are still looking to win their first road game after dropping all three decisions away from home to Colorado State, Pittsburgh and Texas A&M.

"It's a different game when we go on the road," LeMelle says. "It's not the same. We're comfortable here because we practice here every day. When we go on the road we don't have that many fans with us. We probably have about 20 people there cheering for us.

"It's a whole other environment and we have to bring our own energy," he adds. "We've got to do all of the little things right. We can't make some of the silly mistakes that we make here and take them with us. We have to execute everything on the road and be more patient on the road."

The game starts at 1 p.m. CST and will be televised on JP Sports.


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