Barbee's Better Built Basketball Backcourt

Varez Ward

Auburn basketball coach Tony Barbee explains why he is expecting improved guard play this season.

Birmingham, Ala.--Tony Barbee said on Thursday he is expecting to see his second Auburn team transformed from being "offensively challenged" at the guard positions into a squad that will feature one of the better groups of backcourt scorers in college basketball this season.

Barbee made that prediction on Thursday at the annual SEC Basketball Media Day where he noted that a pair of transfer guards, plus a trio of true freshmen, should have a major impact on the 2011-2012 Tigers.

Point guard Varez Ward, a transfer from the University of Texas, will be eligible to start the season after sitting out during the 2010-2011 season while transferring and healing from a leg injury. Barbee said he is excited about what Ward brings to the team.

The former Texas Longhorn will be joined in the backcourt by highly-regarded newcomer Cedrick McAfee from Melrose High School in Memphis, who will be competing for playing time at the two-guard spot with junior Frankie Sullivan, who redshirted last year due to an injury.

In December, when fall semester classes end, the Tigers will have a second transfer to put into games, former Clemson guard Noel Johnson. Barbee called Johnson "another big-time player coming out of high school" like Ward, Sullivan and McAfee.

"He is a 6-7 or 6-8 shooter," Barbee said. "Everybody knows how good Frankie is as a shooter. Noel might be a better shooter than Frankie.

"He is a winner who comes from a winning background in high school so all of the sudden we go from a very offensively-challenged backcourt last year to one that could become one of the most productive offensive backcourts in the country," Barbee added. "There is no question that we have upgraded our talent, which is what you have to do as a coach."

Noel Johnson

In addition to the guards, the other newcomers are 6-10 center Willy Kouassi and 6-8 forward Bernard Morena, who last season led Central Park Christian in Birmingham to the national title for the National Association of Christian Athletes organization.

"We are excited about the three freshmen," Barbee said. "They have a long way to go. They are like deer in the headlights right now because they are having to learn so much. Willy Kouassi, Bernard Morena and Cedrick McAfee they have a chance to be special over time."

Barbee is also excited about Ward, who is expected to see plenty of playing time at point guard. The coach said that the transfer has the offensive skills to play the two-guard position, too, and Auburn fans could see him on the court at the same time with junior point guard Josh Wallace, who started 26 games for the Tigers last season.

"Varez Ward from Montgomery, Alabama, was a starting point guard at Texas a few years ago," Barbee noted. "Everybody knows his story. He had 25 or 26 points against Duke in the NCAA Tournament that year as a freshman.

"You know what he is going to bring to the floor in terms of what type of talent he is, what type of point guard he is, but it is the same type of attitude he has, just like Frankie. He is a winner. He thinks everything he is supposed to do he is supposed to win at so when you have that type of production in your backcourt, not just scoring the ball but leading, that becomes contagious."

Barbee and the Tigers will play their first exhibition game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Auburn Arena vs. Paine College. The regular season starts on Nov. 11th vs. McNeese State.

"Practice is going well," Barbee said. "I don't think there is a coach in the country right now who is happy with his team. When you start getting into the dog days of practice kind of the newness of the season starting has kind of worn off. Now you want your players to understand how important things you are working on every day are."

Coach Tony Barbee

Barbee said he also wants his players to understand the level of intensity needed to change an 11-20 team last season into a winner in 2011-2012. "I am happy with where we at, but we still have to continue to get better," he said.

"At the end of the day yesterday, what I talked about with my team is that comes with winning and understanding how hard you compete in these early practices."

The coach added, "We didn't have a ton of success last year and so it is hard keeping these guys motivated to understand we have to keep working at a certain level because this is what will pay off in some of those closer games we lost last year."

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