Key Losses: F Quinnel Brown (12.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg), G Toney Douglas (16.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), G Nathan Watson (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), G Ian Young (13.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.0 apg)
Pickens, SC/Prince Andrew Prep
Cincinnati, OH/Laurinburg (NC) Prep
Mendenhall, MS/Transfer from USC
College Park, GA/Los Angeles (CA) Southwest CC
Auburn began signing players early and finished late, ending up with almost a completely new roster. The Tigers came away with a taller, more physical team. The headliners include Barber and big-timer Cameron, a pair of potential power threats inside. Willis, a transfer from USC, should make an immediate impact, and Woodard, a Georgia native who comes to Auburn via junior college, could be the starting point guard.
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Jeff Lebo must love challenges. The Auburn coach spent the offseason trading in the smallest starting lineup in Division I for what promises to be one of the youngest teams in the nation. Lebo has seven newcomers, just one returning player with more than 11 starts and has scheduled Auburn's most difficult non-conference schedule in many years.
We guess he wasn't kidding last season when he warned that the second year of rebuilding process could be more difficult than the first.
"It will be challenging in a different type of way," Lebo says.
The Tigers made headlines last season by being short. No starter was taller than 6-6, so Auburn was consistently out-rebounded and generally pushed around, though it finished with an otherwise-respectable 14-17 record.
Auburn will be taller this year, but the trade-off is having almost no experience. Only Daniel Hayles returns to the starting lineup. Throw in the walk-ons, managers, ticket takers and, yes, the defensive end who was recruited off the football team, and you've still only got about 21 points per game returning.
"We go from one extreme to another, from having a bunch of guards to having a bunch of forwards," Lebo says. "We'll have a bunch of question marks."
The experience comes at small forward, where Hayles gets to play his natural position for the first time. He hopes to build on his 6.0 points per game last season. Ronny LeMelle, who played in only four games because of a leg injury last season, also returns, as does Frank Tolbert, who averaged 6.9 points as a part-time starter. LeMelle and Tolbert will swing between small forward and shooting guard.
The untapped potential will come at power forward, a position that existed only in Lebo's dreams last season. Korvotney Barber, Auburn's first McDonald's All-American signee since 1983, will bring the Tigers some size at 6-7. But the early enforcer may be freshman Joey Cameron, who is also 6-7 and brings in a bigger body at 250 pounds.
Another freshman, Josh Dollard, will give Auburn a chance to mix it up inside. Emanuel Willis will be eligible in December after transferring from USC.
"We'll be able to block a shot or two. We may even have a dunk or two," Lebo says.
The Tigers were dealt a setback in June when leading scorer, playmaker and point guard-to-be Toney Douglas transferred to Florida State. That left Auburn scrambling to designate a new starter at the position. Lebo found Michael Woodard, who played at Los Angeles Southwest Community College last season, to fill that role. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.0 assists last year in a tough junior college league, "but he's never brought the ball up against any kind of Division I heat," Lebo says. We're thrusting him into playing major minutes.
Newcomer Rasheem Barrett could be a shooter at a guard spot, and July signee Quantez Robertson, a combo guard, will get a chance to help immediately.
Auburn will be able to play with the big boys, at least on paper, but a lack of experience has tempered Lebo's expectations.
"There are rebuilding jobs and massive rebuilding jobs. This was one of the massive ones," he says.
Barber, Cameron and a few other newcomers give Auburn hope. The Tigers' recruiting class was rated as one of their best in years. But there will be more hope than experience, which means the Tigers will have to grow up in a hurry.
"We're excited about the new faces, but show me a team that plays a lot of freshmen, I'll show you a team that struggles," Lebo says. "Hopefully, we'll get better as the year goes along."
It may be a stretch to expect a quick turnaround this season, but a late run could earn the Tigers some consideration for an NIT bid.
"Hopefully, we've got a foundation built. That's what you want," says Lebo.