With Ronny LeMelle graduated and playing pro ball in Spain, Auburn's leading returning scorer is 6-5 guard/forward Barrett, who averaged 11.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest as a freshman.
"We feel real confident about this year coming up," Barrett says. "Over the summer break we went into the weight room, on the court and we worked hard and we bonded as a team and got lot better. For example, Korvotney Barber, who wasn't able to shoot that well, is now able to shoot...Quantez Robertson's jump shot has gotten better."
Barrett says he has improved all aspects of his game as he heads into his second season of college basketball.
The sophomore quartet of Barber, Robertson and Josh Dollard will be heavily relied on by Coach Jeff Lebo to lead a team with no seniors and just two returning juniors, guard Frank Tolbert and junior Quan Prowell.
Barber, a 6-7 forward, averaged 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds last season. Tolbert and Dollard each averaged 9.1 points. Dollard averaged 4.4 rebounds while Tolbert had 3.5 per contest. Robertson played well as an ironman at the point guard spot, averaging 8.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.64 assists per game, the third best average in the SEC. The freshmen guards should be able to play enough to keep Robertson more rested during the 2006-2007 season.
The Tigers will be counting on four freshmen signees and a junior college transfer to bolster the ranks, especially after 6-4 guard/forward Daniel Hayles, who averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, decided not to return to the team for his junior season.
"One thing we like about our freshmen is when they got here they listened to us," says Barrett, who worked out all summer with freshmen Lucas Hargrove (6-6 guard/forward), Matt Heramb (6-9 forward), Kelvin Lewis (6-4 guard) and DeWayne Reed (6-1 guard). The Tigers also brought in 6-4 junior college transfer Archie Miaway from Tallahassee, Fla., Community College.
"They (the freshmen) understand that we have a year under our belts so we know what it takes," Barrett says.
Rasheem Barrett drives to the basket vs. Arkanasas.
The freshmen will have a chance to see plenty of action, especially early in the season when Dollard and Prowell are suspended. "Josh should could in right after the tournament in Texas (Nov. 24-25) and Quan should follow it up for the Tennessee State (Dec. 19) game," Barrett says.
With Dollard listed at 6-7, 225 and Prowell at 6-8, 215, the already smallish Tigers will be very small until those forwards are cleared for action. Prowell sat out last season as a transfer from Furman. Last Friday, Lebo announced the two forwards would open the season under suspension for unspecified team rules violations.
Barrett says he and his teammates can deal with playing shorthanded for part of the season. "It really doesn't affect it at all," he contends. "We are all family. They are going to practice with us...They are going to know our offense, what we are trying to do, how we are trying to play."
The sophomore adds, "Josh should could in right after the tournament in Texas (Nov. 24-25) and Quan should follow it up for the Tennessee State (Dec. 19) game."
Barrett played well as a freshman, but had some problems with his back that have resurfaced this fall. He says that is the result of lifting weights, but notes the problem can be fixed with massages and he will be ready to go when the Tigers take the court Friday evening for their first team practice. Fans are invited to come to the coliseum and check out the Tigers beginning at 8 p.m. At 9:30 p.m. Lebo and the rest of the coaching staff are sponsoring a three-on-three basketball tournament for students that will go on late into the night until a winner is determined.
The practice will be an opportunity for fans to check out the new Tigers. "We all love them," Barrett says of the four new freshmen and one juco transfer. "Kelvin Lewis, he's as quick as Tez (Robertson). We have him going one on one in practice and no one can stop him. Dwayne Reed is quick and he has a little leadership. Lucas Hargrove is long, athletic. Archie Miaway can shoot the lights out of the ball and we also have Quan. He is a big guy who plays about every position. He is aggressive and good." The team's tallest player, 6-9 Heramb, is a good shooter, Barrett notes.
Despite its recent struggles, Barrett says he believes the AU program goes into year three of the Jeff Lebo Era on solid ground. "I believe it is. We are at the bottom of the rankings. We use that as motivation. As coaches and players, we all know what we can do so it is up to us to go out and show everybody the hard work we did this summer...My expectation is for us to get better every time we step on the court."
The Tigers will play their first exhibition game on Nov. 3rd vs. Faulkner and will play AUM four nights later in another exhibition game. The regular season opener is Nov. 10 when the Troy Trojans visit Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.