With Auburn students on a holiday break, AU officials have decided to make both games almost free for fans in hopes of bringing in a good crowd. The evening is called Team-Up for Education and fans can get into Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum by bringing a school supply.
Playing its regular season opener on Nov. 16th last year, the Tigers took a very nervous 63-59 victory over High Point in a game that was tied at 59-59 with one minute to play. Kyle Davis came up with the go-ahead basket on a layup with 56 seconds left and then the 6-10 center blocked a shot to help the Tigers put away the pesky visitors.
The Tigers won just 11 more times last season with only four victories in the SEC to finish at 12-16 overall during a campaign in which little went right for Ellis. Forward Mack McGadney's recovery from knee surgery didn't work out and he was ineffective before calling it a season at the halfway point. His backup, Abdou Diame, was off the team before conference play began.
Davis was injured and that was a major blow to the rebounding and defense. Without the tall center in the lineup, Auburn struggled in the paint.
Marquis Daniels, the talented two guard, tried to play out of position at point guard after Jamison Brewer caught the Tigers off guard by jumping to the NBA after the recruiting was done. Daniels was inconsistent in the role as a point guard and has moved back to his natural position as a senior.
The team's two other point guards were not major factors. Lincoln Glass, a star on an exhibition tour in Spain, wasn't with the squad on opening night because of academic problems. Backup point guard Lewis Monroe, a true freshman last year, was ineffective due to a back injury and Daniels ended up playing through a variety of nagging injuries.
Daniels, Davis and Monroe are back and are expected to start vs. Wofford. Daniels led the Tigers last season in scoring at 11.6 points per game. Davis averaged 5.6 points and 5.1 rebounds. Monroe averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 assists while playing with a back problem. He has played much better this preseason after getting the back problems treated. The only significant loss from last year's team is 6-5 guard Adam Harrington, who averaged 15.5 and 10.1 points the past two seasons. He is currently playing for the hottest team in the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks.
Guard Derrick Bird is shown last season in his first regular season Auburn game vs. High Point.
"What I have seen with our ball club is a step up with the guys that have been here," says Ellis, who will also start second-year Tigers Marco Killingsworth and Derrick Bird. Bird averaged 10.6 points as a juco transfer last year and was a standout on defense as guard. Killingsworth, a 6-7, 235 sophomore forward, averaged 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds.
"What I have seen with our ball club is a step-up with the guys that have been here," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said.
Opening night opponent Wofford is scheduled to start three seniors and two sophomores from a team that finished 11-18 overall and 5-11 in the Southern Conference. A pair of seniors are the leading scorers. Mike Kenzly is a 6-3, 180-pound guard who averaged 14.4 points per game last year. Lee Nixon, who is a six-foot-four forward, averaged 13.2 points as a junior. Wofford's tallest starter is 6-9 sophomore center Sam Daniels, who averaged 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds last season.
"They have most of their players back from a year ago," Ellis noted. "They were very dangerous a year ago when they were hot. They really rely on the three-point shot."
The Auburn women are scheduled to start four juniors and one sophomore vs. Troy State for the 5 p.m. tipoff. Nancy Derrick at 5-9 will open a the point after playing two guard in the past. Sophomore Natasha Brackett, a 5-9 sophomore two guard, may be the team's best scorer. Juco transfer Mandisha Stevenson, a 6-4 center from Gulf Coast Community College, starts at the post. The forwards are returning starters, 6-2 Tia Miller and 6-0 Le'Coe Willingham. Miller is coming back from knee surgery that shortened her 2001-2002 season. Willingham is moving from power forward to small forward.
The women's team dropped both of its exhibition games, losing 69-65 to Premier Players and 72-62 to Athletes In Action. Brackett led the Tigers with 21 points vs. Premier Players and Willingham with 15 was the leading scorer vs. AIA.
The Auburn men also played two exhibition games. In the first one, the Tigers were hot offensively and outshot the Global Sports All-Stars 90-70 with four players scoring in double figures led by 19 from 6-10 junior center Davis, who has definitely improved his offensive skills in the offseason. Ellis credits the fact that Davis was able to work on individual moves in the offseason with making a positive difference in his offensive game. The previous two years, Davis was limited in what he could in the offseason due to injuries, surgeries and rehab.
Ellis predicts the 2003-2003 edition of the Tigers will be better than many are predicting, but says that senior forward Daniels needs to stay healthy for the Tigers to reach their potential. He scored 18 points and contributed eight rebounds and eight steals vs. Global Sports. The senior sat out the second exhibition game to recover from a medical problem with his shin.
The other wounded Tiger is freshman Steven Leven, who made a nice debut with 15 points at guard vs. Global Sports in a reserve role. However, he has since been slowed by bone spurs and an Achilles tendon problem. He is considered questionable for the regular season opener. In his first Auburn game, the Australian scored 15 points and made three of his four three-point attempts.
Ellis says he was particularly pleased with the offense in exhibition one. "The team we played I thought was an excellent team. We played a very good basketball game--probably as good of an exhibition game as we have played since I have been here." Auburn hit 56.1 percent of its field goals and committed just eight turnovers, 10 less than the opposition.
The second exhibition game featured tougher defense by both the Tigers and the EA Sports All-Stars. Solid defense in both halves was the key as the Tigers cruised to a 72-56 exhibition men's basketball victory over the EA Sports All-Stars that were led by European professional Aaron Swinson, a former Tiger forward who scored 16 points.
Playing a different starting lineup without injured main man Daniels available in the second exhibition, Auburn got scoring from eight players, with four finishing in double figures, on the way to the victory at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
The visitors got 16 points from Swinson, the former All-SEC player for the Tigers, but Auburn kept the rest of the All-Stars in check. EA Sports managed to score just 28 points in each half and hit just 33.9 percent from the field.