Basketball Tigers Begin Play on Thursday

Senior Marquis Daniels talks about the Auburn basketball Tigers and the opening of the 2002-2003 season.

Auburn, Ala.—Coming off a disappointing 12-16 season, the Auburn Tigers open the 2002-2003 campaign Thursday night at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum with an exhibition game against the Global Sports All-Stars. The Tigers are led by senior small forward Marquis Daniels, who averaged a team-high 11.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Daniels returns for his senior season hoping to lead the Tigers back to the promised land of college basketball, the NCAA Tournament.

To do that the Tigers must improve in several areas on the offensive end of the court. After ranking among the top teams in the country last season on the defensive end, Coach Cliff Ellis and his staff spent the offseason working on ways of getting the offense back up to par. Daniels said that the work has already paid off this fall in practice with an improvement on the offensive end of the court for the Tigers.

Marquis Daniels at Tuesday's practice.

"Practice has been going great," Daniels said. "We're picking up right where we left off last year on the defensive end. We've been working hard and concentrating more on being consistent on offense. The new guys (Steve Leven, Rodney Tucker, Chris Lollar, Troy Gaines) have all come in and should help us out a lot. I think we'll be an exciting team to watch this year."

The newcomers join a still relatively young but experienced group of sophomores who got lots of playing time last season with injuries to several key players forcing freshmen into action. Guards Lewis Monroe and Dwayne Mitchell along with forwards Brandon Robinson and Marco Killingsworth all played an important part in Auburn's season as true freshmen and should see expanded roles as sophomores despite being integral parts of the team down the stretch.

"A lot of those guys, especially Lewis and Marco, they worked hard in the offseason," Daniels said of the group. Brandon and Dewayne as well. The guys from last year, they are going to come in and play hard. They know the ropes and the tricks of the trade in the SEC. They know what to expect and I expect a breakout season from a lot of those guys."

Rounding out the veterans for the Tigers are senior guard Derrick Bird and junior center Kyle Davis. Both defensive standouts, Bird and Davis have worked extensively on improving their offensive games during the offseason. A stronger and more physical player, up to 235 pounds, Davis has displayed improvement at both shooting from the field and the free throw line. If he can carry that over into the season it will make Auburn a tough team to defend for opponents with Daniels slashing from the perimeter and creating opportunities for his teammates from the small forward position.

Shooting guard Steve Leven has been impressive this fall both as a scorer from the perimeter and as a player who can take the ball to the basket.

"It's going to be more of an all-around game both defensively and offensively," Daniels said. "Last year we were mostly defense, but this year we're going to be concentrating on the offense and being a more consistent team scoring. Last year we had drops where we didn't score. We've been concentrating more on our free throws this offseason."

While he said that he's been impressed with everyone this fall and their commitment to the new season, Daniels singled out a few players to keep an eye on early in the season. Looking for solid play at the point and at power forward, the senior said he's been pleased with those positions in practice to this point.

"Marco has worked hard this offseason," Daniels said. "I think he's going to do real well this season. Lewis is also going to do well and Steve Leven is a freshman. A lot of people don't really know about him, but he's going to come in and play well also."

The Tigers should get a real challenge from Global Sports Thursday night as former Ole Miss stars Rahim Lockhart and Jason Harrison along with Georgia's Anthony Evans team with former Cincinnati players Damon Flint and Erik Martin to form one of the better exhibition teams to come through Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in years.

"This will be a good test for us," Ellis said. "It is still early in the preseason and Global has a very good team. Since this game is so early, I expect the veterans will be ahead of us because we are concentrating on execution. It will be a good gauge for us to see where we are in the preseason."

"In the exhibition games we're looking for the team that plays well together as well as what defenses play great and the offensive execution," Daniels said. "We want to know how things are going to look and how certain guys feel at certain spots. It's going to be an experimentation with players at certain spots. We're going to focus mainly on playing Auburn basketball. We want to play hard, get after people, get up and down the floor, and get some easy baskets."

Tip-off for Thursday's game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and there is no admission fee. The Tigers get back into action on November 15 when they are hosts to the EA Sports All-Stars in the final exhibition game of the season.


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