AUBURN, Ala. — Rob Chubb sat on the bench, enjoying the best seat in Auburn Arena to watch his brand-new teammates show off in their first exhibition in a Tigers basketball uniform.
Chubb, a senior center who’s been here longer than his head coach, feels something about this Auburn squad. There’s the right mix of productive veterans and eager freshmen, with both groups bringing unique abilities and a shared hope the Tigers can make some noise in the SEC this season.
“The freshman are all great and they’re just ready to go,” Chubb said Tuesday after Auburn’s 108-57 tuneup triumph over Victory University, the first time in any simulated or real game the Tigers scored over 100 points in nine years.
“We’ve got veterans that have been here and been through the war, so we’re going to shelter them, keep them on the right track, and so far they’re picking it up.
“Practice is great and games are looking great. It’s going to be a great year.”
Take guard Shaq Johnson, a high-flying freshman from Atlanta.
He made all seven of his shots (including one 3-pointer and a pair of “oooh, ahhh” dunks to please The Jungle student section) and handed out three assists.
But coach Tony Barbee isn’t easy to please. Asked about Johnson’s perfection, Barbee instinctively checked the stat sheet.
“He did miss one free throw,” Barbee pointed out. “Leave it to the coach to pick out the negative.”
Defense will be a series of stepping stones for Johnson, though it won’t be a high priority as long as he’s asked simply to come off the bench and provide an offensive spark.
“He is one of those guys that brings a different level of athleticism to the court,” Barbee said, of Johnson. “He is a guy that is electric. I know the fans are excited about Shaq, but he has to grow defensively. He does a lot of ball-watching. He got back-doored three or four times. We are working with him to correct that to help him grow as a player.”
When that was all Barbee could pick out from his young group — Johnson, Jordan Price and Jordon Granger, all coming off the bench, made 17 of 22 shots from the floor, with Brian Greene Jr.’s 12 assists setting the table — it was a good night holding much promise for when the games begin to count.
“We just try to go out there and ‘work hard and play hard’ like our theme,” Price said. “In practice, we actually play on the same squad, so we’re all very familiar with each other. What you saw out there was just something that we do in practice.”
Chubb recalls tough times his freshman year, and believes the experienced Tigers will use that to rub off on Johnson, Price, Granger and Greene.
“We were just the kids thrown out into the pit, and it was survive or die,” Chubb said. “With that type of leadership, the freshman coming in are starting to learn that intensity. With the skills and intensity that they have, the sky is the limit.”
Barbee already appreciates how his veterans have provided a compass for the newcomers to make his job easier.
“They have really bought into it. They can’t do it themselves and they know that,” Barbee said.
“We need them in order to turn that corner. That is part of building a program when your veterans are teaching your young guys. We haven’t had that since I have been here.”
Auburn’s next exhibition is Monday vs. Georgia Southwestern at 7 p.m. at Auburn Arena.
The season opens Nov. 9 at home against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.