Marshall: Men's Basketball Needs Stability

Columnist Phillip Marshall discusses the exodus of men's basketball players since Coach Jeff Lebo has been on the job at Auburn.

Another Auburn basketball player is gone. Barring something unexpected, two more will soon follow if they haven't already.

You know the story by now. Joey Cameron, a post player unhappy with his playing time as a true freshman, has obtained his release and will transfer. Forward Emanuel Willis, who transferred from Southern California, and rising fifth-year senior walk-on Moses Edun are also planning to move on.

Cameron was the eighth player to leave the program early since Jeff Lebo was named head coach in April 2004.

There is no way to say 10 defections don't matter. They do matter. Some of them have hurt and some haven't. But taken as a whole, they add to the dark clouds that have hovered over the Auburn basketball program since the NCAA came calling in the final years of Cliff Ellis' tenure.

Fair? Not really, but who ever said there was anything fair about life in the fast lane of college athletics? The defections don't mean that Lebo can't do what he came to Auburn to do, but they create a perception that can't be helpful.

The first four departures, really, were beyond Lebo's control. Marco Killingsworth, Lewis Monroe, Brandon Robinson and Dwayne Curtis left before Lebo ever coached a game.

Killingsworth wanted to dictate his role on the team. When Lebo, rightfully, rejected those demands, Killingsworth left for Indiana. Monroe followed him. Killingsworth had a big year at Indiana and bashed Lebo and Auburn at every opportunity.

Robinson stopped going to class before Lebo was hired and had no chance to be eligible for what would have been his senior season.

Curtis followed assistant Tracy Dildy, truly a father figure in his life, to Ole Miss.

Together, those players would have made Lebo's first Auburn team an NCAA Tournament contender. Without them, he had no inside game and no real chance.

Since that early rash of departures, guard Toney Douglas, forward Ryan Daniel, point guard Michael Woodard and now Cameron have left.

Douglas led the team in scoring and was a freshman All-American in 2005. His father, Harry Douglas, was unhappy anyway. Harry Douglas frequently emailed media members under an assumed name voicing his displeasure that his son was playing shooting guard instead of point guard.

Despite the obvious fact that he would have been the point guard in the 2005-2006 season, Douglas bowed to his father's wishes and transferred to Florida State.

Douglas' loss hurt. With him, Auburn would almost certainly have won more games in Lebo's second season, probably enough to get into the NIT.

Woodard was a junior college transfer who, no doubt, thought the starting point guard's job had fallen into his lap after Douglas transferred. Instead, freshman Quantez Robertson won it. Woodard left after the first semester. He later asked to return, but that request was declined.

Quantez Robertson was one of the surprises for the Tigers last season as a true freshman.

Cameron was a prized signee out of Leeds in November 2004. Lebo took him away from Tennessee, where he'd committed. But he never really got it going as a freshman.

Unhappy with his role and with his minutes, Cameron got his release last Monday. He says he's interested in Maryland and Memphis. He can go anywhere he wants outside of the Southeastern Conference. Who wants him is a question that will be answered in the weeks ahead.

Cameron will be missed. He is potentially a difference-maker inside. Why he chose to sit out next season instead of working on his game and trying to make a place for himself as an Auburn sophomore is a question only he and those advising him can answer.

Add it all up, and it's really not as significant the shock value of 10 players leaving the program would seem. Four of those players – Killingsworth, Robinson, Monroe and Curtis - never gave Lebo a chance. Daniel and Edun don't have SEC talent. Woodard was marginal at best. Willis simply never seemed to fit.

That leaves Douglas and Cameron.

Douglas would have been a star at Auburn and probably will be a star at Florida State. Cameron has the physical ability to play for anybody.

Certainly, Auburn basketball would look better today if both were still in the program. They are not so important as to significantly impact the direction of the program Lebo is trying to build, but it's time now for stability. It does no good to sign talented players if they don't stay around. It isn't easy to convince talented and confident players to accept lesser roles, but successful coaches do it in every sport.

Good news is coming on other fronts. In the weeks ahead, there will be an announcement that Auburn will either build a new basketball arena or build a state-of-the-art practice facility and renovate Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. There are talented young players in the program.

Lebo said from the start that his second season would be the toughest. He was right. Next season certainly should be better.

But, if Auburn basketball is to be a big winner again, the exodus must stop.

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