Basketball Notes, Quotes, Photos

A preseason update on the men's basketball team is featured.

Auburn, Ala.-Men's basketball coach Cliff Ellis says he likes his 2002-2003 Auburn team that returns most of the key players from last season's squad that struggled in SEC and non-conference play.

Center Kyle Davis is shown shooting free throws with assistant coach Shannon Weaver during practice, which is in its second week.

"Our focus this year is to build on the defense we had last year," Ellis says. "I think defense is an attitude and it showed that the work effort was there. We definitely feel like that with more experience we should be a better offensive team."

The Tigers return all of their top players from last season with the exception of guard Adam Harrington, who is skipping his senior year to try to make a career in pro basketball. The team's top player, 6-6 senior Marquis Daniels, is expected to be a key performer for Auburn as he returns to his natural positions of shooting guard and small forward. Last season, he filled in at point guard and has also played power forward.

Junior Chris Lollar, who played high school ball in Birmingham, will challenge Lewis Monroe for the starting point guard spot.

"I am sure that we are going to have a better team this year," says Daniels, who averaged 11.6 points and 5.3 rebounds as a junior. "I am excited about this season and I want to do everything possible to make sure we are successful. We have been working hard as a team to make sure that happens."

Other returning starters include 6-10 junior center Kyle Davis, 6-4 senior guard Derrick Bird, 6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Robinson, a freshman All-SEC pick last year, plus 6-4 sophomore point guard Lewis Monroe. Two part-time starters also return--6-8 sopohomore forward Marco Killingsworth and 6-4 two guard and small forward, Dwayne Mitchell.

Newcomers include 6-8, 250 forward/center Rodney Tucker, 6-4 guard Steve Leven from Australia, 6-0 point guard Chris Lollar and 5-11 guard Troy Gaines. They join a team that posted a 12-16 record last year.

Junior college transfer Rodney Tucker has been impressive so far this fall showing good hands and a good touch from the floor. Here he shoots a free throw during practice.

"In our preseason work, our coaches have been tremendously impressed with all of our guys," Ellis says. "Our coaches feel that Rodney Tucker will give us some great playing time and he will push at the post position. He played at Florida State. The good thing about him-- you know he is coming juco--is that he spent a year playing Atlantic Coast Conference basketball so he is going to have an understanding of what the SEC is about. Our coaches have been extremely impressed with what he has brought to the table.

True freshman Steve Leven has shown the ability to make shots from the outside as well as drive to the basket. He'll likely back-up Derrick Bird at shooting guard when the Tigers open the season.

"Steve Leven, a foreign player, is going to give us depth at the two guard. Chris Lollar, a kid out of John Carroll High School who played junior college basketball, has had a great preseason. Troy Gaines is a combo guard at both the one and two so our depth looks good."

Auburn fans can check out an intrasquad scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Brandon Robinson has worked hard during the offseason to improve his overall game. It has paid off already this fall as the sophomore made 11-of-13 free throws in a scrimmage last week.

Auburn opens the regular season Nov. 22nd in a doubleheader with the AU women's team. The first game is a 5 p.m. contest matching AU vs. Troy State and the men will follow at 7 p.m. vs. Wofford.


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