"This is my first year that I know what I'm going to get from seven of the players," says Lebo, who participated on Thursday at the Southeastern Conference's annual Basketball Media Days.
"That is a nice feeling to have," the coach says. "We still don't have any seniors, but we have a solid base. That took longer than what I expected. We have a great nucleus to build off of. We will be more competitive this year now that we have had the value of experience.
"This will be the strongest league in the country and that is not an easy with young guys," the third-year Auburn coach says. Last season, Florida won the NCAA title and returns most of its key players. LSU made the Final Four, too.
"Having teams in the Final Four tells a statement across the country that SEC basketball is for real," Lebo says. "We are always fighting the perception that we're a football league. Having played and coached in the ACC, I know that SEC basketball is just as good as the ACC, just a little different."
Lebo's team played well against both the Gators and Bayou Bengals last season. "Knowing that we had the chance to beat them (Florida and LSU) gives us a lot of confidence," the coach says.
"Our offense last year was inconsistent. We didn't have a lot of power around the basket, but we still played hard. We just weren't able to finish it at the end of those games."
The Tigers have two weeks worth of practices under their belts as they prepare for the Nov. 3rd exhibition opener vs. Faulkner. They will play AUM in a second exhibition game four days later and open the regular season Nov. 10th at home vs. Troy.
Quantez Robertson is a returning starter at point guard for the Tigers.
The Tigers will also be looking for help from five signees--four freshmen and a juco transfer, 6-4 shooting guard Archie Miaway. Freshmen include 6-6 forward/guard Lucas Hargrove, 6-9 forward Matt Heramb, 6-4 guard Kelvin Lewis and 6-1 guard Dewayne Reed.
"All new players come in and think that they will take the world by storm," Lebo says. "Last year, these guys didn't have any upperclassmen to show them how it will be in the SEC. It is nice for the freshmen to get beat in practice. They are being prepared for games. It is the start of the building blocks that we need. Vot (Barber), Rasheem and Tez (Robertson) are our leaders. They are the best workers on the team, the best players and leaders.
"Quantez is an ironman and a warrior," he says. "I have a lot of respect for that man. When we were voting for captain, he had the majority of the votes. He will come out of his shell this year."
Lebo notes that the Tigers will be smaller than he wants to open the season with 6-7 sophomore Josh Dollard suspended and 6-8 transfer Quan Prowell also suspended. He says the Tigers will have to play fast and smart to overcome those size issues.
Both players are scheduled to be action before conference play begins in January. Dollard is expected back after a Thanksgiving tournament at South Padre Island, Texas and Prowell, a transfer from Furman, is expected back for a game Dec. 19th vs. Tennessee State on Dec. 19th, one of 20 home games on the schedule.
Third-year Tiger Frank Tolbert is known for his hustle and physical style of play.
The Tigers have one junior returning starter, 6-4 guard Frank Tolbert. He averaged 9.1 points per game last year to tie Dollard as the third leading scorer on the team behind Ronny LeMelle (12.1), who has graduated, and Barrett (11.1). Daniel Hayles, a 6-5 junior who averaged 5.8 points per game as a reserve, left the team for personal reasons earlier this year.
We are a little away from the way I want us to be," Lebo says. "Next year the entire team will be back. I have had a difficult time teaching so much and going slower with as many new guys as I have coached. I am now fortunate to have real veterans next year. It is the beginning."