I’ve interviewed plenty of coaches. Some at the top of the profession, some in the middle, and some who seem mired in the doldrums. Typically, a coach in a difficult situation will try to strike a balanced tone when discussing the upcoming season: walking the line between rah-rah jingoism and monotone defeatism. Nobody wants to set expectations too high or too low.
Almost nobody, that is. Tony Barbee, the John Calipari disciple who took over at Auburn two years ago, has endured more than his fair share of hardship at the BCS level, but he’s still spittin’ fire about his team’s chances in the stacked SEC next season.
“This will be the most talented team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Barbee told the Birmingham News last week during an interview in the men’s basketball offices. “Other people might be saying, ‘Well, we lost this guy, we lost that guy.’ Well, the players we brought in are better than the players that left. That’s why our program is moving in the right direction.”
Barbee’s passing mention of ‘lost this guy, lost that guy’ is code for a series of departures that rocked the program this offseason. The butcher’s bill currently stands at eight players gone: three in benign fasion as graduates, three more suspended and another two transferred out of the program. It’s not exactly the recipe for a healthy program.
Barbee says his team is becoming longer and more athletic in the bargain, with four freshmen and two transfers coming in. That may be true, but eventually, some form of team chemistry must emerge, or this team — just 9-23 in league play since Barbee’s arrival — will continue to go nowhere.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.