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February 28, 2010

Auburn baseball: Big names lead Wall of Fame induction

Here’s my story for today’s newspaper about Auburn’s Wall of Fame induction at Plainsman Park on Saturday:

AUBURN, Ala. — After arriving Thursday night, Gregg Olson, the anonymous face of Auburn’s inaugural Wall of Fame class, shot the breeze at his hotel with a few Missouri players in town for the weekend’s baseball tournament.

One player beamed about being in attendance with so many baseball greats.

“He goes, ‘Yeah, we’re pretty excited because Bo Jackson, Tim Hudson and Frank Thomas are going into the Hall of Fame this weekend,’” Olson said. “I was like, ‘Cool. All right. Fourth wheel.’”

Olson can still consider himself in an elite class, one of four players honored Saturday at Plainsman Park for putting Auburn baseball on the map.

Read the whole thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter (now approaching 500 followers!)

Men’s hoops: Tay Waller’s hot streak continues in Auburn’s 74-59 win over LSU

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s Tay Waller grew up with a shooter’s mentality, so he’s never shied away from firing away at will from 3-point range.

“I’ve always been told when I miss, there’s something wrong with the goal,” he said.

Nothing has been wrong with the rim of late for Waller, who scored 26 points to lead Auburn to a 74-59 victory Saturday against LSU in the second-to-last game at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum.

The senior guard has scored 84 points in the last three games, going 21-for-31 from 3-point range.

He’s the first Auburn player to score 25 or more in three straight SEC games since Wesley Person in 1994.

“You can’t count on that every night,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “It’s just insane how he’s playing. But we’re not going to complain.”

The win vaulted Auburn (14-15, 5-9 SEC) ahead of Alabama into fourth place in the SEC West with two games to play. DeWayne Reed scored 12 points and Brendon Knox added 10.

Bo Spencer led LSU (10-18, 1-13 SEC) with 23 points.

For once, the Tigers built a halftime lead even they couldn’t let slip away. Auburn, which has lost five SEC games after leading at the break, hit eight 3-pointers to build a 17-point halftime advantage that never dipped below nine the rest of the way.

Waller was the spark plug, making two 3-pointers in the first minute and a half as Auburn raced to a 9-0 lead.

“Reed told me once I get going, they can relax because they can always rely on me to hit a shot when they need it,” Waller said. “When I come out and make shots, our team plays much better.”

“When he makes them like that, it opens up a lot of things for us,” Lebo said. “It opens up things inside. It opens up for us on the perimeter, as far as driving lanes. You’ve got to guard him all over the court in a different way. … Even when he’s not getting shots, he’s getting shots for other people because of how they’re defending him.”

Auburn turned the tables on LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell, who torched the Tigers for a season-high 38 points in the teams’ first meeting in January.

With guard Frankie Sullivan in street clothes after suffering a concussion during Friday’s practice, Auburn freshman Earnest Ross got the start and the job of guarding Mitchell. He did so with some success last time against LSU, slowing the SEC’s third-leading scorer down in the final minutes in Baton Rouge and drawing a key offensive foul in a four-point Auburn win.

Ross rattled him again Saturday. Mitchell scored a season-low six points on 2 of 8 shooting before fouling out on a charge with 9:12 to play.

Ross, meanwhile, scored six points, grabbed six rebounds and notched four steals in 29 minutes.

“You always worry about putting a freshman on a fifth-year senior,” Lebo said. “We did a pretty good job on him. (Ross) was physical and quick.”

The Tigers, who have won four straight at home, are hoping to send Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum out on a high note. The 41-year-old arena will host its final basketball game Wednesday when Auburn takes on Mississippi State.

“A lot of players played in this gym and we’re going to be the last ones,” Reed said. “So that’s a great honor for me.”

Interviews from today’s Wall of Fame ceremonies

We’re covering a basketball game, but here are some quotes from today’s Wall of Fame ceremony at Plainsman Park that honored former Auburn greats Bo Jackson, Greg Olson, Frank Thomas and Tim Hudson.

BO JACKSON (1983-86)
(How was the weekend)

“Today was the first day I saw some of my old teammates. I haven’t seen them in 20-something years. It’s just the camaraderie that you have spending three or four years with guys, riding the Southeast on a bus and having a good time.”

(All four of you are good)

“Well, everybody is great within their own right. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Tim Hudson, Greg Olson and Frank Thomas, you’ve had to do something right. … It’s great to come back here and reminisce.”

(Talk about Hal Baird)

“I put Coach Baird in the same mold I put Coach (Pat) Dye in. Coach Baird is not as vocal as Coach Dye, but they got the same point across to their players, which is go out and play hard and everything will pay off in the long run.

(Talk about your Auburn baseball career?)

“A lot of people say, ‘Bo Jackson is just about football.’ I took just as much pride coming out on this baseball field.”

GREGG OLSON (1986-88)
(How great is it to be in the inaugural Wall of Fame class)

“I think it’s great. You look at the guys you go in with and that was probably one of my favorite stories from the weekend. A couple of Missouri guys were coming back from practice after Thursday night and we were just checking in. We started talking and it was late at night for practice, and they were out here at about 9 o’clock. He goes, yeah, we’re pretty excited because Bo Jackson, Tim Hudson and Frank Thomas are going into the Hall of Fame this weekend. I was like, Cool. All right. Fourth wheel. But to go in with these guys is great. I haven’t seen Bo and Frank for a while. So it’s a huge honor.”

(You ever get back to Auburn?)

“Everything’s changed. All the roads that I used to drive around on here are dead ends into buildings and sororities, so I’m completely clueless where I’m going here. I don’t get back enough. I’ve gotten back about once in the last eight years. I’ve got four kids and we live in Southern California, so it’s not real easy to get back. Planning on, oh, let’s go play to a football game this year. Something happens and I’ve got all three kids in sports and can’t make it. But it’s definitely something I need to do more. And every time I’m here I regret not being here more.”

(Why did you choose Auburn?)

“It’s funny. I look back and it’s one of those decisions that I don’t really know why I made it. And I’m not saying that negatively because I’ve been asked that question: would I change anything. And in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. Knowing what I know, I still would have come here. It was three of the best years of my life. It was an unbelievable decision that I don’t think I had all the information that I probably needed to have. It came down to Mississippi State, Arizona and Auburn. And the other two had some things that I didn’t necessarily like. And Auburn nothing … I’m trying to word this correctly. It didn’t have anything I didn’t like. A couple double negatives. But it was perfect, so the baseball team I thought was up and coming and I thought I could help right away, and those were two big points for me.”

(Baird said you helped this program turn the program in the late ’80s)

“I never really looked at it that way, but it was funny. While I was in the big leagues and going on a rehab stint, I ran into so many people that were major leaguers or minor leaguers that I recruited. So we brought a lot of people in here and it seemed like I took them all on recruiting trips and some of them came, some of them signed, some didn ‘t. I never looked at it like I had this influence on the program. It was just, I’m here and I’m doing well and it’s part of my responsibility to bring more guys here. So I never looked at it like I was the guy that made it turn the program. When he said it, I was kind of looking at him like, ‘Hal, come on.’ So it wasn’t a point I really thought about. “

FRANK THOMAS (1987-89)
(Does it feel nice to be back in Auburn?)

“Auburn is Auburn. I’m just happy to be back in the old stomping grounds. I spent so many days going to visit my parents back in Columbus and all the familiar roads. I made the bus go all the way down to Toomer’s Corner. I wanted to make sure it was still standing and it looks great still. I’m just proud to be back here.”

(How does it feel to be in the first class on the wall)

“It’s tremendous, especially with so many talented guys. They had a hell of college careers but also unbelievable pro careers. It’s a proud day for Auburn baseball.”

(What are your memories of Baird?)

“At the time Hal definitely pushed me. He would always compare and say, ‘Bo could go on top of that building out there in centerfield.’ I said, ‘Yea, you’re right.’ He said, ‘Maybe if you work out a little harder maybe you can accomplish some of those things.’ I was like, ‘Coach, there’s only one Bo Jackson.’ But he pushed me and got me ready to play at the next level. I’m thankful for that and it was so good to see Hal today.”

(What are you doing now that you’re retired?)

“I’m going to take it one day at a time. Nineteen years of this at the major league level, it took a toll on my life. I didn’t get to see the kids grow up like I wanted to see them grow up. You miss so much valuable time with the kids. I’m just happy to pause and take a break right now and just enjoy life a little bit.”

(Any chance you’ll get a job in baseball?)

“I’ve been offered a little T.V. work with Comcast Chicago so we’ll see how that works out. I just don’t want to get involved full time with anything right now. I would definitely love to get back in the next few years helping hitters or whatever else in major league baseball.”

(What are you most proud of in your career?)

“Staying clean and doing it the right way.”

TIM HUDSON (1996-97)

(Talk about being inducted to the Wall of Fame)

“It’s a tremendous honor. Just to be able to come back and be included in a group with Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson and Gregg Olson, it’s an honor. I’m thrilled to death that Auburn thought enough about me and my career to include me in such a group. It’s always great to come back to Auburn and I just feel welcome. It’s a big family and it’s great to be back.”

(Do you still have Auburn ties?)

“I do. I’m from only about a half hour from here so my mom and dad live in Auburn now and we’re building a house here in Auburn. We’re actually going to be living here full-time this coming offseason. It’s a place that we’re happy. We love it here and the people here are awesome. They’ve always made me and my family feel welcome and it’s a place I’m going to put down my roots.”

(How did the SEC prepare you for the next level?)

It was vital. Just playing at Auburn, this caliber of a conference in the SEC, it does nothing but get you better for the next level. After I got drafted, A-ball was a little bit of a step down from SEC caliber. Wasn’t quite as good as Double A but it definitely got you better and got you ready for what to expect at the next level. I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity to play here and play under coach Baird. It was obviously vital in not only my career but all the other pitchers that came through here.

(Are you healthy this season?)

“I feel tremendous right now physically. There’s no limitations. I came back last year and pitched at the end of the year and I felt pretty good. Didn’t feel like I was quite 100 percent but I was good enough to go out and pitch. Hopefully give Braves or whatever team that was interested in me to sign me and luckily the Braves thought that I came back strong enough and extend me a few years. Right now I feel the best I’ve felt in, gosh, I can’t remember how many years. It’s great to be able to go out and pitch and feel strong and not feel like you’re limited in any way physically. It’s something that a pitcher, as he gets through his career, later in his career, you feel like there are a few limitations. But right now I feel like I was when I was 25.”

February 27, 2010

Auburn baseball dedicates Wall of Fame

It’s a good crowd out here at Plainsman Park for Auburn’s Wall of Fame dedication.

Four players — Bo Jackson, Gregg Olson, Frank Thomas and Tim Hudson – make up the inaugural class, who’s who of Auburn baseball players.

The team unveiled pictures of each of the stars on the outfield wall at Plainsman Park to celebrate the occasion.

I’ll have more in a bit, but here’s each player’s bio:

Bo Jackson

From Bessemer, Jackson lettered for the Auburn baseball team in 1983, 1985 and 1986. An outfielder, Jackson hit .401 during the ’85 season, blasting 17 home runs and driving in 43 during his most productive season on the Plains, which concluded with his selection to the ABCA All-South Region Team. His .864 slugging percentage from that season remains an Auburn record, while his career slugging percentage mark of .715 is second all-time. A fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1986, he made his MLB debut that same season and would spend a total of eight years in the majors with the Royals, Chicago White Sox and California Angels. In 1989, he was voted to the All-Star game and named the game’s MVP.

Gregg Olson

From Omaha, Neb., Olson was a three-time letter winner on the mound at Auburn from 1986-88. As a 6-4, 210-pound right-handed pitcher, he is Auburn’s only two-time All-America selection. He was also a member of the 1987 USA National Team after going 11-1 with 10 saves and leading the nation with a 1.26 ERA in 42 appearances, all in relief. The following season, he led the SEC with a 2.00 ERA while also going 7-3 with 10 saves in 36 appearances en route to becoming Auburn’s highest-ever draft pick when the Baltimore Orioles selected him fourth overall in the 1988 draft. He would g on to enjoy a 14-year MLB career, six of them in Baltimore, which included being named the 1989 American League Rookie of the Year and a 1990 All-Star before finishing his career in 2001 with 217 saves.

Frank Thomas

From Columbus, Ga., Thomas played at Auburn from 1987-89 after coming to the school as a football recruit. Auburn’s first consensus All-America pick in 1989, he hit an SEC-best .403 while manning first base. He also drove in 83 runs and hit 19 home runs as Auburn won the SEC tournament and advanced to the Atlantic Regional. He finished his Auburn career with a .382 batting average, which is second all-time in Auburn history, and a school-record .722 slugging percentage. His 49 career home run are third in school history, his 104 extra-base hits are fourth and his 205 RBIs are fifth. The seventh overall pick of the 1989 draft by the White Sox, he was a two-time American League MVP (1993 and 1994) and a four-time All-Star Game participant, earning starts in both 1994 and 1995. The 21st member of the 500 home run club, he recently retired following a 19-year career.

Tim Hudson

From Phenix City, Hudson was a two-year letter winner (1996-97) at Auburn and was named the 1997 Rotary Smith Award Winner as the top player in college baseball. In 1997 he went 15-2 with a 2.97 ERA on the mound while also hitting .396 as the Tigers tied the school record for wins (50) and advanced to the College World Series for the fourth time in school history. His 15 wins led the nation and he was named a consensus All-American and the SEC Player of the Year. A sixth-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997, he is a two-time All-Star (1999 and 2004) and is entering his 12th major league season and sixth with the Atlanta Braves.

Auburn faces matchup problems against LSU

Auburn hosts LSU tonight in the second-to-last game at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Here’s how my story in today’s newspaper starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — In a season filled with defensive shortcomings, one type of player has been especially bothersome for Auburn defenders: the rangy forward capable of playing inside and out.

It’s a particular concern, considering perhaps the best of the bunch will visit the Plains tonight.

Tasmin Mitchell, the SEC’s third-leading scorer and rebounder, leads LSU into Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum against Auburn (13-15, 4-9) for a 7 p.m. game between two teams at the bottom of the SEC West standings.

The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Mitchell did it all when the teams last met, scoring 38 points on 15-for-22 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds in an 84-80 Auburn win in Baton Rouge, La., in January.

The senior has been a lone bright spot for LSU (10-17, 1-12 SEC), which snapped a 14-game conference losing streak with a win Wednesday against Arkansas. He’s averaged 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds and leads the SEC in playing time at 37.7 minutes a game.

Read the whole thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

February 26, 2010

Auburn one of 23 softball teams in Columbus for NFCA Leadoff Classic

The Auburn softball team won’t have to travel far for the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus this weekend. The Tigers, who are the de facto home team, will play five games in three days. Here’s how my story about the tournament starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — With multiple games running simultaneously for three days at the South Commons Softball Complex, this weekend’s NFCA Leadoff Classic is a softball fan’s dream.

“It’s a great atmosphere, this tournament,” Auburn coach Tina Deese said. “Everywhere you look, there’s a great ballgame or competition.”

Twenty-three teams from across the country will descend on Columbus for the tournament, which runs today through Sunday. The field includes several ranked teams, including co-No. 4’s Missouri and Michigan, No. 7 Alabama, No. 8 Georgia Tech, No. 18 Florida State, No. 20 Louisiana Lafayette and No. 25 Massachusetts.

To be invited, teams need to have qualified for a regional as recently as two years ago.

“So everybody’s a quality program,” Deese said.

Read the full thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

February 25, 2010

Auburn’s A-Day game to be televised by ESPNU

Auburn’s 2010 annual spring football game, A-Day, will be televised live by ESPNU on Saturday, April 17.

Kickoff is 2 p.m. ET at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Men’s hoops: Another second-half slump sinks Auburn at Ole Miss, 85-75

Auburn’s second-half woes simply won’t go away. The Tigers blew a 12-point halftime lead in an eventual 85-75 loss to Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., Wednesday night.

It’s the fourth time in SEC play Auburn (13-15, 4-9) has blown a halftime lead.

Chris Warren finished with 26 points, Terrico White 21 points and Murphy Holloway 15 points and 20 rebounds for Ole Miss (18-9, 6-7), which had lost five of six entering the night.

The Rebels out-scored the Tigers 63-41 in the second half and out-rebounded them 50-25 in the game.

Tay Waller kept his hot hand going for Auburn, scoring 29 points for the second straight game. He made eight of his 11 3-point attempts to match a career high.

He didn’t get much help. Everybody else on Auburn shot 27 percent (13-for-49). DeWayne Reed added 21 points but took 18 shots to do so. Nobody else reached double figures.

Auburn is back in action Saturday at home against LSU, which got its first SEC win Wednesday with an upset of Arkansas.

February 24, 2010

Report: Tyrik Rollison planning to transfer

AUBURN, Ala. — Quarterback Tyrik Rollison’s Auburn career might be over before it ever really began.

Wanting to be closer to home and have an opportunity to play immediately, Rollison plans to transfer to Sam Houston State at the end of the spring semester, his father, Michael Kelly, told various news outlets Wednesday.

“It’s a go,” Kelly told ESPN. “He was just unhappy there. I think that’s the reason they went out and got another quarterback.”

The reports came after Rollison hinted at a new start on his Facebook page earlier in the day, posting a message that read: “MOVING ON FROM AUBURN…I APPRECIATE EVERYONE WHO IS SUPPORTING ME.’’ The status update was later removed.

Rollison’s father said his son plans to finish the spring semester at Auburn before transferring, presumably allowing Tigers coaches an opportunity to convince the quarterback to change his mind.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik did not release a comment Wednesday. An Auburn athletics spokesman did not confirm or deny the report.

A 6-foot-4, 194-pound former U.S. Army All-American from Sulphur Springs, Texas, Rollison was considered the jewel of Chizik’s first recruiting class.

He came close to earning the backup job to Chris Todd last August. Although he redshirted, with the backup duties going to the more experienced Neil Caudle, Rollison figured to be a major player in the quarterback competition this spring.

That never happened. In early December, Rollison was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He did not practice or travel for the Outback Bowl.

“We have high standards that we have set and fully expect our team to meet,” Chizik said in a press release at the time. “When these expectations are not met, I will make decisions based upon what is best for the entire football team and the Auburn Family.”

Chizik said Rollison returned to the team in good standing last month, but Auburn’s quarterback situation had changed, with the Tigers adding five-star junior college transfer Cam Newton in late December.

Chizik declared the quarterback race “wide open” just days ago, but Newton, a 6-foot-6, 247-pound dual-threat quarterback who once backed up Tim Tebow at Florida, is the presumptive frontrunner in the competition.

In addition to Newton, Auburn has three other quarterbacks on the roster — Caudle, a senior, sophomore Barrett Trotter and redshirt freshman Clint Moseley. Onetime quarterback Kodi Burns will remain at wide receiver and be an option in the Wildcat formation.

Rollison also considered Texas Tech as a destination, according to ESPN, but did not want to sit out a year as required by NCAA transfer rules. Sam Houston State competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, a level down from the Football Bowl Subdivision, meaning Rollison would be eligible to play right away.

Sam Houston State is best know for being the landing spot for former Oklahoma quarterback and prized recruit Rhett Bomar, who was dismissed from the Sooners in 2006 after being paid for work he never did at a car dealership owned by an Oklahoma booster. Bomar was a fifth-round NFL pick by the New York Giants in 2009.

Located in Huntsville, Texas, Sam Houston State is less than four hours from Rollison’s home in Sulphur Springs.

Men’s hoops: Tigers hope to gain ground in weak SEC West

The Auburn men’s basketball team goes on the road for a game at Ole Miss tonight at 8 ET. Here’s how my story for today’s newspaper starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Five losses in six games hasn’t done anything to temper Auburn coach Jeff Lebo’s praise of Ole Miss.

“They are as talented as anybody in the West,” he said.

Although meant it as a compliment, it is perhaps more a stinging indictment of the SEC’s weaker division.

Auburn (13-14, 4-8) will attempt to climb back to .500 when it travels to C.M. Smith Coliseum for an 8 p.m. game against Ole Miss today, the first of four remaining games against SEC West opponents that will round out the seeding for next month’s conference tournament.

Read the whole thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter.