Auburn, Ala.--Tony Barbee’s new look 2013-14 Auburn men’s basketball team will be leaving the country on Friday to play a pair of exhibition games in The Bahamas next week.
The Auburn head coach said the early start to practice is a big deal for a team that will rely heavily on newcomers--at least six true freshmen, two junior college transfers and a transfer who will be a redshirt junior after sitting out last season.
“The biggest part of this is the bonding experience,” Barbee said. “Obviously, the 10 days of practice have been invaluable. That is probably the most important part of this to get these guys acclimated to how we do things in a casual, more relaxed atmosphere...then, obviously, to be able to take the guys to The Bahamas to give that educational experience.
“At the end of the day the biggest piece we can take away from this is the bonding and chemistry that is necessary than can propel us into the next season,” he added.
The Tigers will play a team called the Real Deal Shockers on Tuesday, August 6th at the Sir Kendal Isaac Gymnasium in Nassau. The Tigers will play The Bahamas All-Stars two nights later and return to Auburn the following day.
Asked if he knows anything about the opponents, Barbee said, “No, not one thing. I don’t even care who we are playing.”
Last summer the Auburn women’s basketball team played four games on its exhibition tour to Australia. Asked if he would prefer to play more than two times in The Bahamas, Barbee said, “We could have played more games, but for me it wasn’t about the games, it was about the 10 days of practice and the bonding experience.
“The two games will give us enough to gauge this team vs. some competition, whatever level that is, but more importantly it was the bonding experience of 10 days of practice can give us.”
Barbee will count on newcomers to improve a team that finished 9-23 last season.
The freshmen include 6-9 center/forward Matthew Atewe from Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts, whose home is in Brampton, Ontario. He is one of three international players in the freshman class along with 7-0 forward/center Benas Griciunas from Findlay Prep in Nevada and Silute, Lithuania. Dion Wade, a 6-5 guard/forward who played at Findlay Prep, is from Antwerp, Belgium.
The other freshmen are 5-9 point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen from Columbia High in Decatur, Ga., and 6-8 forward Alex Thompson from Houston Academy in Dothan.
Also preparing for the trip out of the country are a pair of juco transfers. Chris Griffin is a 6-7 forward from Wabash Valley College in Illinois, who is originally from Tallahassee, Fla., while 6-3 point guard Malcolm Canada from Austin, Tex., played at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa.
K.T. Harrell from Montgomery, a transfer from the University of Virginia, is a 6-4 two guard who will be a junior this season.
Another possible newcomer, seven-foot center Ronald Delph from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and Winter Haven, Fla., is still working on becoming academically qualified and won’t be making the trip this week.
“I think everything will be resolved by the fall,” Barbee said of Delph. “I anticipate him being here by the start of school.”
Denson, who averaged 11.9 points per game last season despite being limited by an injury, said the new players seem to be fitting into the team nicely.
“They are gelling well,” the senior said. “There are some things the guys have to work on making the transition from high school to college, but we are working on that and I can’t to see what we are about as a team in The Bahama.
Chris Denson is shown in action as a junior.
One of the prized recruits from the previous signing class, Shaq Johnson, was kicked off the team so the only experienced players on the roster are 7-0 senior center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, 6-6 senior forward Allen Payne, 6-8 sophomore forward Jordon Granger and 6-2 senior guard Chris Denson, the team’s top returning scorer.
Commenting on Johnson’s dismissal, Barbee said, “It’s like I tell all of my guys. Life is about decision-making. When you continually make the wrong decision in this program you are letting everybody know you can’t be a part of it anymore. That is basically what it came down to with Shaq.
“It was a pattern of behavior that wasn’t changing the way it needed to change for him to remain a part of the program,” Barbee added. “Unfortunately, he continued to make the wrong decisions and it was getting a point it was affecting the entire team--the entire program. It was time to cut the cord.”
Johnson was a candidate to start as a combo big-guard/small forward. Barbee said that the Tigers have plenty of candidates for that role including Payne, Harrell, Wade and Griffin.
“Chris Griffin has had a terrific start to camp,” the coach said. “He brings us great size, great presence. He has unbelievable shooting ability at that position. He has the ability to spread the floor.”
Asked about other players who are performing well in the summer workouts, Barbee said, “A bunch of guys are. The returning guys have all played well. Probably the surprise of the returning guys has been Jordon Granger. He has had an awakening from his freshman year. He has been the player I thought I recruited. He has been active, he has been rebounding, he has gotten stronger and he has really worked on his offensive game.
“All of the newcomers have been about what we expected,” the coach noted. “They are going to bring us so much.
“Benas just stepping off the plane from Lithuania, in two practices it has like he has been here for the whole month,” Barbee said. “We have got a good group. We look forward to continue to grow them and get them growing closer together.”
The coach said that Thompson, who originally signed with Stetson before deciding to walk on at Auburn, is off to a solid start with his new team.
“He passed on numerous Division I opportunities scholarship-wise to come here and be a part of the program,” Barbee pointed out. “Like I told him he is no different than any of my scholarship guys because he is that level of player.
“We got a steal in him,” Barbee said of Thompson, who averaged 25 points per game as a senior. “He is going to bring a lot to the table. He is competing in these early practices and he is a guy who could potentially earn minutes as we get close to the season.”
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