AP Feature Story On Tony Barbee - UMass Athletics

AP Feature Story On Tony Barbee

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
The Associated Press has a feature on new Auburn head coach and UMass alum Tony Barbee. He has a massive challenge, which was emphasized when the Tigers dropped an exhibition game to Division II Columbus (Ga.) State on Monday night.

Barbee has a track record as an assistant for successful programs like alma mater UMass, where he played and coached under Calipari. He also spent six seasons with the current Kentucky coach at Memphis. Calipari says Barbee is "like a son," and predicts he'll have success at Auburn even if it doesn't happen immediately.

Auburn's Barbee embraces challenge of rebuilding basketball program nearly from scratch

JOHN ZENOR

AP Sports Writer

2:29 PM PST, November 10, 2010

advertisement

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn's Tony Barbee inherits a basketball team with the potential for long-term success and the makings for some serious growing pains along the way.

The good news is Tigers' first-year coach has a fancy new arena that he can show off to recruits. But he needs plenty of them.

He has virtually no returning experience on his roster and he lost two likely starters to knee injuries and a couple of key recruits were lost because of academics. The massive challenge was emphasized when the Tigers dropped an exhibition game to Division II Columbus (Ga.) State on Monday night.

On Friday night, the Tigers play their season opener with UNC-Asheville. Auburn hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2003 and have only one winning SEC mark in the last decade.

In March, the Tigers made Barbee its first black head coach in basketball or football after he led UTEP to a 26-7 season, Conference USA title and NCAA tournament berth in his fourth year.

He received a six-year, $1.5 million contract that nearly doubled ousted coach Jeff Lebo's $785,000 salary.

Chances are, he'll have to earn every penny this season. That's because he'll be competing against Southeastern Conference powers like Calipari and Kentucky with a roster that matches up poorly with any of them.

A former John Calipari protege, Barbee said he hasn't been around a team with this little experience nor found a peer who has.

"But it makes it fun. It makes it challenging," Barbee said. "Would I want to take over a team that won 30 games and has the starting five returning and the first four guys off the bench? Absolutely. Any coach would want to walk into that situation."

But if it's not a ready-built situation, he said, coaches would rather walk into a program they can shape on their own.

The only returning starter, guard Frankie Sullivan, had knee surgery in July. The only post player with any experience, Ty Armstrong, followed suit a few weeks later. No returning Tiger averaged even three points or three rebounds last season.

Top signee Luke Cothron and fellow recruit Shawn Kemp Jr. both failed to qualify.

Barbee has managed to stir up some excitement despite the challenges. A capacity crowd of 9,000-plus fans showed up for the grand opening of the $92 million Auburn Arena (tickets were free) even while Tigers fans are swept up in the football team's bid for a national title shot.

The arena is across the street from the aging, multipurpose Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Students will line up courtside to create a more difficult environment for visiting teams.

Barbee has a track record as an assistant for successful programs like alma mater UMass, where he played and coached under Calipari. He also spent six seasons with the current Kentucky coach at Memphis. Calipari says Barbee is "like a son," and predicts he'll have success at Auburn even if it doesn't happen immediately.

"It's not an easy start. He lost a lot of guys," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but when you look at it, you're going to say, 'This is the guy we want to coach our team and the direction we want it to go. This is what we want.'"

Barbee's biggest inroads have probably come in the community and on campus trying to drum up support for a program that takes a back seat to football. He has mingled with fans outside Jordan-Hare Stadium before football games, has visited fraternities and sororities and hosted a barbecue on campus for students.

"He is everywhere. He has spent a tremendous amount of time interacting with students," said Sherrie Stanyard, who has been with the Auburn Tipoff Club since it was founded 23 years ago. "He's really reached out to the students in a way I've never seen on this campus, ever."

Auburn freshman Tyler Welton, for one, is excited. He grew up following the Kentucky Wildcats in Louisville, and describes himself as "a big basketball guy."

"I'm planning on going to every game I can," Welton said. He went to the arena's grand opening and has heard Barbee talk a couple of times, but has no delusions about where the current focus lies.

"Right now, it's football," Welton said. "But I think it's going to be bigger attendance for the students. It sounds like people are going to be a little more into it this year. Everybody wants to see how the new arena's going to be. they've got it set up for us where we're down on the court, so everybody's excited about that."

Sullivan has been relegated to a spectator/mentor role, though he's still hoping to play this season. He likes what he has seen so far, though.

"He's going to take it to the top, because the practices are so intense," Sullivan said. "They're going so hard every play and every practice, practicing to perfection. When you instill perfection to the younger guys, in a couple of games it's going to be like a cakewalk to them."

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/12174

Leave a comment




CATEGORIES