Auburn, Ala.--Veteran Lucas Hargrove and newcomer Kenny Gabriel both say that are eager to get started when Jeff Lebo’s Tigers have their first full squad basketball practice of the 2009-2010 season.
The Tigers will roll the balls out on Friday evening and Hargrove will be one of seniors the coach is counting on to lead the team along with guards DeWayne Reed and Tay Waller plus post players Brendon Knox and Johnnie Lett.
“It is important for the seniors to be good team leaders and that is a high priority for me,” Hargrove tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. “We had good leadership last year from our seniors, but those guys (Quantez Robertson, Korvotney Barber and Rasheem Barrett) are gone so it is time for me to take that role. Whatever Coach Lebo needs me to do for our team to be successful, that is what I want to do.”
The versatile Hargrove, a 6-6, 220-pounder, can play both forward positions and in a pinch can line up at the two guard or even defend centers.
Gabriel, a transfer from Paris, Tex., Junior College, says that Hargrove has been a big help in his adjustment to Auburn. “He has worked out with me a good bit and shown me things that I need to do to be successful,” says Gabriel, an athletic six-foot-seven sophomore who is expected to make a strong push for playing time.
The Tigers won 24 games and advanced to the quarter-finals of the NIT last season, but fell short of their goal of receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Hargrove says that is his number one goal. “For me it is now or never,” he points out.
“I think the older people on the team really know what it takes to make it to the NCAA Tournament,” Hargrove adds. “I really had no idea. You have to be a special team to make it to the NCAA Tournament, a real special team. Now that we know what it takes, I feel like we will have a better chance at getting a spot in the tournament.”
Lucas Hargrove will be counted on for scoring, rebounding and leadership this season.
Lebo says he likes what he has seen in the offseason workouts from Hargrove and other seniors. “I think we have some good leaders on this team,”the coach says.
One of those seniors, however, is still recovering from an ankle injury and Lebo says that Lett is only about 70 percent of full speed. The coach notes the Tigers will need his toughness on the boards and defensive ability.
Hargrove agrees and says he can see that Lett has made progress in recent weeks. “He is not where we need him to be yet, but he is working real hard. All of us are going to have to pick up his slack until he can get back right, which will be real soon because he is making a very fast-paced recovery.”
Other than Lett, the Tigers are looking good health-wise, Hargrove says
“Our strength coach (Bryan Karkoska) has done a good job of getting us ready during the offseason,” he notes. “We feel like we are in better physical condition than we were going into last season. Everybody is looking forward to getting started. We are in good shape and we are ready to run.”
This season will be Auburn’s last one at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum before moving across the street to a new facility that is scheduled to be completed in July.
Hargrove, Reed and Waller are returning starters for Lebo’s sixth season as head coach of the Tigers, who finished 24-12 last season. “We have a taste on what it was like to win,” says Lebo, who notes he liked the way his team played in the second half of the season and hopes to see a carry-over.
DeWayne Reed made a jump in performance level as a junior point guard.
”We had so many meaningful games coming down the stretch,”?he says. “Every game seemed to grow with importance, and we handled that very well coming down the stretch so for our guys coming back and being able to play in those kinds of games, I think that is going to be very valuable for our group.”
“We have a taste of what it was like, a taste of success, a taste of postseason and also a taste of not making it to the NCAA Tournament. They are hungry. We had a good offseason, and the kids have worked hard, so it is going to be very helpful for the guys that played for us last year.”
Lebo will be relying heavily on newcomers this year as well as his large senior group. In addition to Armstrong, the Tigers are expected to get immediate help from 6-5 guards Andre Malone and Earnest Ross, 6-9 forward Ty Armstrong and 6-10 center Rob Chubb. Another 6-5 guard, sophomore Tony Neysmith, is a transfer from Oklahoma who redshirted last year.
Frankie Sullivan is coming off a solid freshman season.
The Tigers also feature sophomore guard Frankie Sullivan, who had a strong finish last season. He is expected to challenge for a starting assignment.
Another player who had a strong finish, 6-10 post player Knox, will be a key to Auburn’s success, Lebo says. “He was too foul-prone last year and he needs to avoid the cheap ones,” the coach says.
More depth will come from redshirt freshman walk-on point guard Josh Wallace, junior walk-on guard Larry Williams Jr. and 6-5 walk-on sophomore forward Jake Drum.
“We have four freshmen, five newcomers,” Lebo points out. “Defensively, I think Earnest Ross and Andre Malone are physically ready. I think early, like most freshmen, they will struggle when we start to add things, but they've been good so far. They are physical. They can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but they have to work on the ball handling a little bit, and they have to work on defense.
“Kenny Gabriel is a guy who was coached well in junior college,” Lebo says. “He can really shoot the ball being 6-8. We'll be able to do some things with him like the ‘pick and pop’ and the three pointers. He has a good knack for the ball, but he just has to get stronger. He is long. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, so he can get his hand on a lot of balls.
“Our inside guys, Rob Chubb and Ty Armstrong, they will get better as the year goes on. They are both physical. Chubb can run. At 6-9 and 220, he ran the mile in 5:20. He can really move. They are a little farther away, but I think they'll get better as the year goes on. Both are 6-foot-9 and 220 so when we walk through the airport this year, we'll look like an SEC team. I hope we play like one.”
The Tigers play their exhibition game vs. Miles College Nov. 6h at the coliseum and open the regular season a week later with a home game vs. Niagara, a team that posted a 26-9 mark last season.
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