Looking Up At Auburn

By Jeff Lippman - October 24, 2007

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Last season the Auburn Tigers didn't field a single player taller than 6-foot-9, and no starter was over 6-foot-7. Historically, the Tigers just haven't been a big-man factory.

But the Tigers don't feel they need to be to be successful, of course, they did go out and sign 7-foot-1 freshman true center Boubacar Sylla, who at 275 pounds is 30 pounds heavier than any other player on the roster.

"It's not a problem for us because we are used to it," said junior guard Quantez Robertson. "And now that we've got a true center in Boubacar Sylla, 7-foot-1, he'll contribute a lot. He's got to get used to the running conditions and the plays, but once he gets all that down and gets used to running, then he'll be just like everybody else. He's going to be a good player."

Coach Jeff Lebo agrees that Sylla will grow into a very solid post player for the Tigers, but knows that development will take time.

"We're not as big, but we've gotten bigger over the course of time," Lebo says of his team. "We can play Boubacar Sylla now, I think he's got a chance to be pretty good. He's a work in progress but he gives us something that at least when I get in huddles I have to look up at. I've been looking down or eye-to-eye with most of my guys. He's 7-foot-1, he's got the wingspan of 7-foot-5, so he'll give us a chance to be a little bit different."

But not too different says senior guard Frank Tolbert.

"Being taller is just on paper. If you are 7-foot on paper, that doesn't mean that you are any good," Tolbert explained. "Being tall has never really been a factor for us, we just work with what we have. With us, we have an advantage because our guys are 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, but they are also quick and agile around the rim. They aren't going to try to score over you, they'll try to score around you. That's our advantage right there."

Lebo agrees with his guard, saying the Tigers aren't gigantic, but what the post players lack in size, they make up for in speed.

"Yeahm we are 6-foot-8 in that range, but we've got guys who can run," said the fourth-year coach who is a North Carolina graduate. "I'll take that anyday over guys who are 6-foot-10 and can't get up and down the floor."

Expecting Big Things

When I approached the table where coach Jeff Lebo was being interviewed, the coach was in the middle of talking about the season prior.

"We were 25 seconds away from hanging a banner, which would have been amazing," the coach said of last year's March 3 loss at Ole Miss that would have given Auburn a three-way tie for first in the West if they'd won. "We talk about that, we've talked about that a lot in the offseason. I think we've got real good kids who have tasted a little bit of success, they like the way it tastes and we'd like to have a little bit more this year."

It seems Lebo was right, his kids did savor the flavor. And now all they can think about is getting back.

Our coaches don't have to worry about us playing hard," Tolbert said. "We're going to come out and play hard every night."

Quantez Robertson quantified Tolbert's words, saying that winning the West is not the only possible outcome he's interested in.

"I expect nothing but the best for our team," Robertson said. "We want to try to be the No. 1 team in the West and even try to win a SEC championship with the team we got now. That's what we are striving for, that's what we are working for. It was close last season, being that the West was so evenly spread out, so if we work harder than we did last season, and put out a better effort, then it is possible."

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 06:10 PM on October 24, 2007

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