In 2010 Auburn hired the Conference USA Basketball Coach of the Year. Tony Barbee came to Auburn with an impressive resume including having gone to the post season in 18 of his 19 years as a player or coach. He had averaged 20.5 wins a year as a head coach and had rebuilt the UTEP Miners into C-USA Champs.
With his history of winning, Barbee brought a new wave of enthusiasm to Auburn Basketball. Yet his first season on The Plains ended with disappointment.
Known as one of the best recruiters in the nation, Barbee had brought in the number one ranked player in the state in 6'7" guard and Huntsville native Josh Langford , Luke Cothron a 6' 9" power forward and the number 11 rated player in the nation, 6' 10"center Shawn Kemp,Jr.
After the season, I remember reading an article by Jay Coulter on Auburn Basketball's Hard Luck Year. But I have to ask, if the 2011 season was hard luck, what was 2012?
Auburn started the 2012 season losing two talented freshmen right out of the gate when Cedrick McAfee and Bernard Morena went down with preseason injuries. Then Allen Payne suffered a season-ending knee injury and the jewel in the 2011 recruiting class, Josh Langford missed most of the SEC season with complications from a concussion suffered in the Arkansas game.
And of course there was the recent revelation of his suspension from the team for ...
charges which are about as serious as can be made against a basketball player - point shaving. But everyone should remember that Varez is due a presumption of innocence till proven otherwise. Yet the allegations have to sting, especially coming when Barbee appears to be at the precipice of finally getting the Tigers over the hump.
And I do believe the Tigers are close to getting over the hump. They played every SEC opponent tough and lost four SEC games and one out of conference game this year by a combined average of 4.7 points. Change just two of those and the Tigers would probably be playing in New York this week. Change all five and an NCAA bid might have been in the picture.
While Injuries and discipline are part of the game - the Tigers did not seem to have an answer on offense late in the game when it mattered most. Defense for the most part won 15 games and kept them in 5-6 more. But to get in to the post season Auburn will have to find some shooters next season, especially since "Mr. Do it All" Kenny Gabriel will be graduating.
The answer to that is not only good recruiting but good luck in getting the recruits to both qualify academically as well as stay healthy.
At this point, Auburn has a promising class coming including 7-foot 230lb. JUCO center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. from Anderson, Indiana; Shaquille Johnson, a 6-foot-5 small forward from Alpharetta, Ga.; Jordon Grangera 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward from Florissant, Mo.; Jordan Price a 6-foot-5, 218-pound guard from Decatur, Ga. and Brian Greene, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound combo guard from Harvey, Illinois who has been playing at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
While recruiting is key in any sport, Barbee has already met some of his goals in rebuilding the Auburn program, including injecting a brand of enthusiasm in to Tiger basketball that has been infectious. The Tigers have played all year in front of big noisy crowds. Students have told me they have to get to the games early just to get a seat.
Yes Tony Barbee has the team moving in the right direction. Despite having a deficit in size, depth, and talent, the young Tigers have been exciting to watch and have made great strides in improving this season.
I for one am convinced that he's still the man to get the job done. After all he's done it before and he can and he can do it again.