Auburn basketball opens its first practice of the 2012-13 season on Friday at 5 pm Central in Auburn Arena with Coach Tony Barbee and a deeper, more talented roster than the previous two seasons.
In the early stages of preseason practice, the Tigers will place an emphasis on defense while also introducing the offensive sets and defensive transition.
"It helped to have the summer practices this year to work with some of the incoming guys," said Barbee. "For us, it was really important because we have four freshmen and two transfers that we expect to play and contribute. To be able to introduce the break, terminology, the offense and the defensive concepts was really helpful. Plus, the guys that I have returning have bought into the culture that we need to be successful. We're really looking forward to getting started."
Frankie Sullivan, a fifth-year senior, is the leading returning scorer after averaging 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists last season. He is ranked 25th on Auburn's all-time scoring list with 1,091 career points and graduated on Dec. 12, 2011. Sullivan was the first Tiger to graduate in 3.5 years since Marquis Daniels, now of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, earned his degree in 2003.
"It has been a great preseason for us," Sullivan said. "We have a lot of conditioning going and a lot of team chemistry with the freshmen and newcomers who came in. Everybody has been working hard, and that is a great thing. I haven't felt this good since my freshman year body-wise. My knee is getting back right. My knee is there, and I feel stronger and faster, and I have been doing a lot of stretching. As you get older, you find out the small things are what you need to do more of.
"My experience will help us out this year. I know the plays, and I can help Coach out when somebody is not paying attention. I can see things that he sees as a coach that I actually see now after sitting out on the sideline (with injury). Sitting out (in 2010-11) did a great deal for me. Especially last year, I went through the growing pains of trying to get myself healthy and trying to help the team. It is not only me, but the freshmen that have come in are unbelievable. When you have talent like that, it is much easier to help the coach out and be excited about the season."
Rob Chubb added 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds and a healthy Noel Johnson, who went 6-of-14 from 3-point range in the final four games of the season, will add scoring punch.
"We are excited for everyone to watch the freshmen to see how far they have come along," said Chubb. "They have a lot of skills, and I am looking forward to seeing what they bring to the team on the court. My last couple of years, we have been setting the foundation for where Auburn is going to go. All of the different recruits that have been coming in each year, they get better. They get bigger, stronger and faster. It is just going to be a matter of time before we are in the NCAA Tournament."
A recruiting class that was ranked third in the SEC will help Barbee's rebuilding project immensely as top 100 recruits and incoming freshmen guards Jordan Price and Shaquille Johnson both are from metro Atlanta. Guard Brian Greene, Jr., 6-foot-9 forward Jordan Granger, 7-foot center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and 6-foot-8 forward Shareif Adamu round out the highly-rated class. KT Harrell, a standout guard, will redshirt this season after transferring from Virginia but will be a vital scout team member.
"It has to be hands down Brian Greene," said Sullivan on who has impressed him the most in the preseason. "It is just not that he stands out, but you always see the guy. He is always challenging someone. He is always working hard. Josh Wallace has been pushing him in pickup games. He is not a guy who talks back and doesn't take anything negative if you say something to him. He is going to come back the next day, and he is going to work on it. Even in the drills, he is the one who is catching on the quickest."
Chubb, a senior center, also sees a lot of talent for the Tigers heading into the season.
"Asauhn has definitely stood out," said Chubb. "He is a big, long, tall shot blocker. A lot of people are going to like that. He can rebound. Once he gets a little weight on him, he is going to be a big contributor down low. KT Harrell is a great knock-down shooter even though he is going to be redshirted this year. He will be able to play next year and will be somebody to watch. Brian Greene is great and will definitely be good this year."
Auburn plays its first exhibition game in less than three weeks against Victory University on Oct. 30 before its final exhibition on Nov. 5 against Georgia Southwestern State. The Tigers play their season opener against IPFW on Nov. 9 in Auburn Arena before participating in the loaded Charleston (S.C.) Classic against the likes of Murray State, then either St. John's or the College of Charleston followed by either Baylor, Colorado, Dayton or Boston College in the third round.
Auburn's difficult opening month continues at Boston College on Nov. 21 followed by home games against Rhode Island on Nov. 25 and DePaul on Nov. 30 in the SEC-Big East Challenge. The Tigers close non-conference play against Illinois on Dec. 29 in the United Center in Chicago and vs. ACC Champion Florida State on Jan. 2 in Auburn Arena.
With the new 18-game SEC schedule, Auburn plays five teams twice, three of them NCAA Tournament teams in National Champion Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Alabama as well as Ole Miss, which went to the NIT, and Arkansas. The Tigers play the other eight SEC teams once with home games vs. Florida, Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU with road games at Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
The new five-day, 14-team SEC Tournament is March 13-17 in Nashville, Tenn., at Bridgestone Arena.
Auburn will practice twice on Saturday.