The Tigers bring back five starters from last year's team that advanced to the third round of the WNIT. However, they have abandoned their old offensive system and replaced it with a more up-tempo, run and gun style of play that produced 94 points in an easy exhibition victory over Carson-Newman.
"We are still adjusting to it and I think it will be a work in progress early in the season until conference play starts," Fortner says of Auburn's faster pace. "When you play that kind of style it is very taxing. It is fun, but at the same time it is tough. You have to be in great shape and be committed to it. We are learning how to stay committed to it and stay with our conditioning."
The Tigers are led by six-foot-four junior guard/forward DeWanna Bonner, who led the Tigers to a 21-13 record last season. Bonner, a preseason All-SEC selection, averaged a team-leading 15.1 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds as sophomore for the Tigers, who will tip off the 2007-2008 season at 2 p.m. Sunday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
DeWanna Bonner has two years of starting experience for the Tigers.
The Tigers will play without 6-7 center Keke Carrier, who is sidelined while trying to improve her academic situation. It is not certain she will play this season. Carrier averaged 7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds while blocking 61 shots.
Reneisha Hobbs, an athletic sophomore guard, was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon injury last month.
"It hurts our depth now having Reneisha," says Fortner, who notes she was hoping to see the talented young player develop into a key performer. "She hasn't been healthy since she has been at Auburn so we really weren't sure what she could bring to the table."
With two players missing, a trio of true freshmen is expected to take a major role. Cassie Moore, a 6-3 center from Montgomery who played well in the exhibition game, is expected to help the Tigers on the boards and as a scorer. Freshman guards Alli Smalley of Arab and Ruth Ketcham from Birmingham are also expected to see significant playing time. Ketcham plays the point and Smalley, a three-point shooting threat, can handle both guard spots.
Commenting on Smalley, Fortner says, "She is going to be a very nice player. She shoots the ball so well and is probably our most consistent shooter. It has been nice watching her progress.
"Cassie Moore is learning how to play with pain," says Fortner, who notes that the more demanding pace of college basketball has caused knee problems for the freshman.
"Ruth Ketcham is really working hard as one of our point guards," says Fortner, who adds, "We definitely have more depth this season."
Auburn's starting lineup is expected to feature Bonner, 5-9 junior guard Whitney Boddie (8.2 points, 4.8 assists, 4.3 rebounds), 5-11 junior guard Sherrell Hobbs (11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds), 6-1 sophomore forward Jordan Greenleaf (5.2 points, 5.2 rebounds) and 5-9 senior guard Tamela McCorvey (9.1 points, 3.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds).
"We want to have a lot more field goal attempts this season," says Fortner, whose team put up 77 shots in the exhibition game, 18 more than the Tigers averaged last season.
"Everybody has the green light when they have the open shot," Fortner says. "As long we can shoot the ball well enough to play that way, that is what we want to do. We want to push the tempo and take the first good look we have at the basket. If we have to create it, we will create it. Hopefully, we can push the ball and move it a little bit and get a nice look.
"Kids want to play that way," the coach adds. "They want to hear we are going to run, we are going to push the ball and we are going to press. It is hard to play that way. It takes a huge commitment. If you can get them to buy into it and really execute, it is a fun way to play."