Chantel Hilliard, a 6-2 forward from St. Martin High in Biloxi, Miss., 5-8 point guard Morgan Jennings from Douglass High in Atlanta and 6-0 guard Parrisha Simmons from Southwest High in Macon, Ga., are competing for playing time on a roster that is loaded with experienced players.
"They are doing well, but I could also say they are typical freshmen," Fortner tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "They are getting used to the tempo change from high school because college basketball is so much faster.
"You have to retain things quickly and keep your focus longer," Fortner adds. "They are having to adjust to all of that and get comfortable with it. They aren't comfortable with it yet, but they are getting better every day."
The Tigers will play Anderson University on Sunday in an exhibition game that starts at 2 p.m. The regular season will start a week from Friday in Huntsville vs. Alabama A&M for the Tigers, who are ranked 20th nationally in the AP Top 25 poll and 21st in the USA Today/Coaches poll.
"We don't even talk about it," Fortner says of the ranking. "We really hope our program is at a point where we want to be in the Top 25 every year. We believe we are a Top 25 program and we are looking forward to the season starting and climbing up that ladder, but it is really the end of the season that is important."
The Tigers are planning to return to their fast-paced style they implemented last season before having to slow the pace prior to the start of conference play after attrition hit.
Coach Nell Fortner
"We are ahead of where we were last year because they know it," Fortner says of the up-tempo system. "We are able to get through things quicker and add things to it. Now it is a matter of them getting comfortable playing with each other, knowing different things their teammates like to do."
All three of the freshmen are expected to play this season. The question is how much? A fourth freshman, point guard Cece Sims, dropped out of school last month. She could return next year, but that is still to be determined if she will come back after having problems adjusting to college life.
Jennings looks to be making a strong push at point guard, where senior Whitney Boddie is a second team preseason All-SEC selection. Jennings is likely to see plenty of court time in the exhibition game.
Hilliard, who runs the court well and has shown a good shooting touch, is expected to play both forward and center.
Simmons, who has shown excellent quickness, will add depth and defensive presence at guard.
On Sunday the newcomers scrimmaged for the first time as members of the Auburn team against another opponent as Samford came to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for a game-style scrimmage. The returning players had seen game action on a European tour in August, but the newcomers weren't allowed to make that trip.
"We got a lot of playing time for the players and hopefully we got some of the jitters out for the freshmen," Fortner says. "It was good preparation for us as we get ready to play Sunday's exhibition game."