Auburn, Ala.--Kenny Gabriel, who is expected to be the lone senior in Auburn’s starting lineup when his team opens the basketball season on Friday night, says he and the Tigers are eager to play a real game.
“We have been talking about it since the last exhibition game,” Gabriel says. “I think we are all excited for the first game, just to play against somebody else.
“We just all feel like we are tired of beating up on each other in practice,” the six-foot-eight forward says. “We are just ready to take it out on another opponent.”
Tipoff time is 7 p.m. on Friday as McNeese State visits the Auburn Arena to open season number two under the direction of Coach Tony Barbee.
The coach says he is excited about having more talent and depth to work with this season, but Gabriel notes he isn’t sure how that will affect the playing rotation in games. Asked if he has a feel for that, Gabriel says, “No, not yet. I guess we’ll get a feel for it on Friday night and just go from there, but right now I don’t know. He might go 10 deep.”
How many players see action could depend on who is available. Freshman guard Cedrick McAfee injured his foot in a strength training workout and is questionable for the opener. He was held out of the exhibition game on Saturday night vs. Victory University.
Two other Tigers, sophomore forward Josh Langford and senior guard Tony Neysmith, have not emerged from Barbee’s doghouse. The coach is allowing the two to practice, but neither saw action in Auburn’s two exhibition game victories. Barbee is not saying when the two will be allowed to play in games.
Gabriel, winner of the team’s three-point shooting contest as well as the slam dunk contest at Hoops Madness last month, is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder. He averaged 10.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior.
A versatile performer, he can play both the four (power forward) or three (small forward) roles in Auburn’s lineup. The senior says it doesn’t matter to him which spot he lines up at because he feels comfortable at both positions.
Commenting on what his team has been focusing on in practice this week, Gabriel says, “Just defense and communication, and making sure that everybody is talking on the defensive end because that is going to help us win more than 11 games than we won last year.”
Last year the Tigers finished 1-1 in their exhibition games. This year Auburn cruised to lopsided victories over Paine College and Victory University. Gabriel says the Tigers can use those contests as learning experiences. “We can take that we need to keep playing hard the whole game instead of just one half and just keep playing defense the way we have in practice,” he says. “It will take us a long way.”
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