Auburn, Ala.--The general consensus around the Southeastern Conference is that the 2009-2010 season will be an up year for men’s basketball.
However, the consensus is also that the Auburn Tigers, who finished 10-6 in the SEC last year and 24-12 overall, will not be one the teams that is improved. Auburn was picked to finish last in the SEC West in the league’s annual preseason poll.
Auburn senior Lucas Hargrove says he isn’t concerned about that poll or any preseason ranking for that matter.
“We aren’t backing down for anybody,” he says. “We are ready to play. When the SEC starts we know it is going to be tough as it always is, but we are excited.”
Coach Jeff Lebo’s club must replace three seniors (Korvotney Barber, Rasheem Barrett and Quantez Robertson). Hargrove notes those guys will be missed, but says this year’s team has equally talented players and more of them plus excellent “chemistry.”
The Tigers are practicing in preparation for their Nov. 13 season home opener vs. Niagara as they start their final season at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. A week earlier they will play a home exhibition game vs. Miles College.
“Practice is going pretty good,” Hargrove says. “We have a great competitive aura in practice right now. Everybody is trying real hard and it is going real good.”
Hargrove notes that the Tigers have plenty of competition for playing time. “We have a lot of depth this year we normally don’t have,” he says. “It is very exciting to see people battle for spots and positions.
“In previous years we would play seven or eight guys in a game,” Hargrove points out. “This year we may get up to 10 or even 11 a game.”
Hargrove says not only does he not believe the Tigers are a bottom of the pack team in the SEC West, he contends the Tigers will make a run at the NCAA Tournament, an event they narrowly missed being invited to last season.
“I really don’t pay too much attention to the preseason polls,” he says. “It is just thoughts. Nobody has played a game yet, nobody has really done anything to inspire anybody to think they are first or last so I really don’t put too much thought into the preseason poll.”
Hargrove is shown in action in Auburn's victory over Missouri State last season.
He says the returning players have a strong desire to avoid getting on NCAA Tournament bubble again this season and coming up short. “That hurt really, really bad, but we just learned from it. Although we didn’t go to the NCAA, we went to the NIT, we learned how to play on a big stage and we learned how to win games. It is tough win games late in the year and learning how to close out games and win games is big for a team.”
Hargrove, a 6-6, 225-pounder who can play big guard and both of the forward positions, says he believes the team’s veterans “know what it takes” to get over the hump to make the NCAA Tournament field. He says that as a senior he is trying to get his new teammates to work hard to achieve the team’s goals and says he likes what he is seeing from the fresh faces.
“We have a large group of newcomers with Kenny Gabriel being one I really, really like,” Hargrove says of the 6-7 sophomore forward, who transferred in from Paris, Tex., Junior College. “I think he has a great talent level.
“All of the freshmen are doing pretty good,” Hargrove adds. “They are learning the plays fast and they are competing. You can’t teach somebody to compete and play as hard every day as they do and they have that mentality. I think they will be very big for Auburn in the next couple of years.”
Auburn’s new freshmen include 6-5 guards Earnest Ross and Andre Malone plus 6-9 forward Ty Armstrong and 6-10 post Rob Chubb.
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