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December 31, 2012

Report: Corey Lemonier entering NFL Draft

Auburn junior defensive end Corey Lemonier is foregoing his senior year and will enter the 2013 NFL Draft, according to a tweet by ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad.

Schad quoted Lemonier as saying, “I feel I’m ready for the next level.”

Lemonier projects to go in the earlier rounds, and possibly as high as the later part of the first round. 2013 has a deep crop of pass-rushing prospects, including Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and LSU’s Sam Montgomery.

Lemonier produced 5.5 sacks his junior year, but just half a sack for three yards in the last eight games of Auburn’s 3-9 season. He had two sacks each in nationally-televised close losses to Clemson and LSU. He was tied for fourth in the SEC his sophomore campaign with 9.5 sacks.

On Nov. 4, Lemonier was asked about his mindset regarding his senior year. He would only say “It’s all about performance. It’s self-explanatory. I’m still just trying to focus on the season.”

Lemonier’s 17 career sacks rank tied for seventh in Auburn history.

His departure leaves Dee Ford as Auburn’s most experienced defensive end, under the tutelage of new D-Line coach Rodney Garner. Ford will be joined by Nosa Eguae, Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens.

December 28, 2012

Auburn hoops: Tigers return to action in tall task against No. 12 Illinois at the United Center

Grambling St vs AuburnAUBURN, Ala. – Frankie Sullivan has been itching for this game.

Wiping away the stink of a bad home loss last Saturday is one thing. But hey: it’s the house Michael Jordan built.

“A lot of kids grow up wanting to play in an NBA arena, but it is special when you know Jordan played there,” Sullivan said. “It is going to be a great experience, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to showcase my talent, and our team’s as well at the United Center.”

Auburn (5-6) has a tall task Saturday afternoon in Chicago, taking on No. 12 Illinois (12-1) at the United Center tipping off at 2:15 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network. It’s technically a neutral site, but Illinois plays in Champaign, two hours south of the Windy City.

The Tigers already played one Chicago-based squad this year, when DePaul prevailed 80-76 at Auburn Arena Nov. 30.

The Fighting Illini, which won its first 12 games before going down to Auburn’s new SEC colleague Missouri last Saturday, will be an even mightier test.

“The entire team is capable of making 3-point shot and can go off,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “They have a nice complement of an inside-outside game. They are a very talented team.”

The Illini put up 76.6 points per game, helped by a team average of nearly 10 3-pointers every time out. They’re led by veteran guard Brandon Paul, who broke out last year in a stunning 43-point outburst to defeat eventual Final Four crasher Ohio State.

Paul’s been more consistent his senior year under new coach John Groce, developing into the Big Ten’s No. 2 leading scorer at 19.2 points per game.

Auburn has nailed 65 triples all year. Paul has 35 by himself.

“He has the ultimate green light, has NBA range and can get to the basket,” Barbee said. “We need to keep him out of the paint and guard him beyond the 3-point line.”

Three other Illini starters alongside Paul return from last year’s disappointing outfit, which cost coach Bruce Weber his job.

The Tigers went 3-3 on their latest homestand, and had created some momentum with a three-game winning streak (stunted by a lackluster loss to Winthrop) behind the scoring spree of Shaw product and junior guard Chris Denson. “CD3” is averaging 17.0 points and shooting a sizzling 57.5 percent from the floor in four games since being ruled academically eligible.

Sullivan, a senior guard, is good on 17 consecutive free throws, somewhat saving him from a shooting slump. He’d love nothing more than to snap out of it on one of basketball’s biggest stages, against one of Auburn’s toughest opponents this season.

“It is very exciting,” said Sullivan, whose 16.9 points ranks fourth among qualified SEC scorers. “We have an opportunity to put a good win on our resume. It is going to be a great challenge, and we will be up for the challenge.”

It’s a homecoming for Auburn freshman Brian Greene Jr., a Chicago native who played high school ball at Thornton Township in Harvey, Ill.

Senior forward Chubb has averaged 7.3 points and 5.5 boards in December, seeing his scoring and rebounding average dip one full point and rebound this month. He finished the cupcake part of the non-conference schedule – battling small-ish opponents – with 9.2 points and 7.4 boards.

December 27, 2012

FAMILY GUY: Rodney Garner represents a true son, brother and father of Auburn football

AUBURN, Ala. — Rodney and Kim Garner’s five daughters between the ages of 8 and 15 years old have never lived anywhere but Athens, Ga.

They make a point to visit Auburn twice a year, when Rodney and Kim can show their girls where their parents met and attended college.

“When we come through here, we’re doing a drive through: that’s where Mommy used to live, that’s where Daddy used to live,” Kim said. “Now we actually get to walk the campus and see the traditions — they’ve never seen Toomer’s Corner rolled.”

Kim Garner was still struggling to wrap her mind around leaving Georgia after 15 years, moving back to Auburn.

Her husband felt the same way, formally introduced last week as his alma mater’s assistant head coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.

This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill football hire. Most assistant coaches get barely 15 minutes of fame in a brief press release before drifting straight into work.

Not Rodney Garner. A multitude of teammates and former colleagues were invited to watch Garner’s showcased press conference, which rapidly ascended into a sermon of reflection on Auburn memories, his father, his family, his second father, and his family again.

“When he talks about family, it’s the real deal,” Lee Marke Sellers, former Auburn tight end and Garner’s teammate, said after the soliloquy. “One of the finest fellas I know.”

Father figures

Three and a half years ago, Rodney Garner’s father died. And the Auburn family lost one of its own.

“Mr. Earl, he loved Auburn,” Rodney said. “He’d come down here and tailgate all the time. I know he’s riding around Heaven today in his blue truck with his Auburn flags flowing. He’s tooting his horn yelling ‘War Eagle,’ messing with all the Alabama fans up there and (ticking) them off.

“I know it would be a very proud moment for him to see me get here.”

An honorably discharged Army veteran and man of faith, Earnest Earl Garner Jr. molded his son’s love for Auburn, no doubt.

So did Pat Dye, the head football coach from 1981-92.

“I look to (coach Dye) as a second father,” Garner said. “Sitting in my grandmother’s house, in the middle of pictures of Jesus and Martin Luther King, there was Pat Dye. He was in some heavy company.”

It was Dye who gave Garner his first opportunity both in the fields of college playing and college coaching. After finishing his playing eligibility as an offensive guard in 1988, Garner was brought on staff in 1990 where he served Auburn as a recruiting coordinator, tight ends coach and assistant strength and conditioning coach.

“He has definitely meant a lot to me. I definitely love Coach Dye. I think every one of these young men would tell you that,” Garner said, gesturing to his teammates. “I think he helped make us the men that we are today.”

Band of brothers

Rodney Garner had three sisters. No brothers.

Well, not unless you count his hundreds of Auburn football teammates. Which he does, joyfully and instinctively.

“An Auburn man is a special man. It is an unreal fraternity. It’s a very real fraternity,” Garner said. “All my brothers, whether I saw them last week or 10 years ago, we have the same love for one another as we had when we played here back in the ’80s.”

That’s why more than two dozen Auburn lettermen from 25 years ago were happy to come welcome Garner home to fix this fractured program.

“Being physical, thinking physical in everything you do and how you approach the game; I think that’s what we’ve been lacking the last couple years,” Sellers said. “This is one of the guys that knows how to get it done and bring it back. Hopefully, we’ll get that swagger back that we lost.”

Pack up the family van

Not everybody was thrilled about the Garner family moving from Athens to Auburn.

Kai Garner, one of Rodney’s six daughters, did as 10-year-olds do when they don’t get their way: they whine and stomp their feet.

“This morning, she’s crying. I’m sitting there trying to counsel her and talk her (into it),” Garner said. “I said, ‘Hey baby, it’s going to be all right. You can go recruiting with Daddy. You’re the reason I got Big John (Jenkins, Georgia’s 351-pound nose guard) because you went on that trip. Don’t you want to go with me and get another Big John?'”

Responded Kai, ‘No, I don’t want to go.’

“Now I’m trying to recruit my kids along with trying to recruit for Auburn,” Garner said, adding a chuckle of indication he and Kim will get the job done one way or another.

Heck, Kim’s got her own prerogatives. Her mind’s been swirling from which schools to enroll the girls, to how Rodney will adapt to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme, to her 30th wedding anniversary a few years down the road …

“Oh, honey,” Kim said to her husband, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to renew our vows in the university chapel?”

Rodney smiled and shook his head.

“Kim, I can’t take any more. Stay on one subject for longer than a minute,” he said.

For now, Kim’s job is to manage the transition for a sophomore in high school, a fifth-grader, a fourth-grader and two third-graders. Sooner and later, college decisions will beckon.

Rodney Garner hopes those won’t be complicated.

“We always talked about our goal in life, if we were blessed, was to have our kids go to Auburn,” Garner said. “No matter where I was coaching, I wanted that legacy to continue.”

The girls attended their first game at Jordan-Hare Stadium this year, watching Daddy help the Bulldogs hammer Auburn 38-0.

It was during the course of that rout when Garner began seriously considering whether this was the right time to come home and help restore his alma mater’s program.

“When I left here before,” Garner vowed, “I said I may not coach at Auburn, but I’ll always be an Auburn man. I paid the price to do that, and my blood, sweat and tears are out there in Jordan-Hare Stadium.”

Now he will be too, every week, starting this fall. With his family of all generations rooting him on.

December 26, 2012

These are SEC-seasoned defensive coaches

AUBURN, Ala. — Look, I wasn’t here covering Tigers football when Gene Chizik hired Tommy Thigpen to his original staff in 2009, or when Mike Pelton came home to Auburn in 2011, or when Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez hopped on in a transition offseason of 2012.

I don’t know how long each of their replacements will be here.

But what I do know is Gus Malzahn clearly wants continuity on this coaching staff – Rhett Lashlee, Kodi Burns and Ryan Russell, anybody? Should Arkansas State’s caterer start househunting in Auburn? – and he clearly gave Ellis Johnson the rope to do the same.

The former defensive regime had six decades of coaching experience: two each for VanGorder and Martinez, who each bounced around in the NFL, mid-majors in Michigan and high school ball, and one each for Thigpen and Pelton.

The current defensive regime has ten decades of coaching experience: three for Johnson, two each for Charlie Harbison, Rodney Garner and Melvin Smith, all with extensive experience coaching here in this very Southeastern Conference.

The former defensive regime’s combined SEC coaching years going into 2012: 17.

The current defensive regime’s combined SEC coaching years going into 2013: 68.

Seventeen times four is sixty-eight.

Symmetrical, no?

NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE

The rundown of Auburn’s defensive staff for the 2013 football season

Coach              Hire date     Position                 Age     Coach years   SEC years

Ellis Johnson       Dec. 6      Def. Coord./LBs      61          31               16

Charlie Harbison  Dec. 9    Co-DC/safeties         53          21                11

Rodney Garner    Dec. 20  Asst. HC/D-Line       46           23                23

Melvin Smith       Tuesday   Cornerbacks           54           23              18

TOTAL                                                                        98                   68

Here’s another eerie nugget which might have a lot to do with Malzahn/Johnson’s hirings, or might not:

Mississippi State beat Auburn in but one football game from 2001-11. That’s one win and ten losses for the Bulldogs. The lone victory was in 2007: MSU 19, Auburn 14, at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

On staff for that Mississippi State team, under Sylvester Croom? Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, safeties coach Charlie Harbison, cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.

All four are now in orange and blue.

What’s next in the parade from Starkville to Auburn? Is the War Eagle flight going to be accompanied by cowbells?

(Don’t answer that.)

December 25, 2012

Auburn adds Melvin Smith; Tigers’ 4 defensive coaches have 68 SEC years of experience

AUBURN, Ala. – The Christmas Day presents keep rolling in for Gus Malzahn.

Earlier today, Auburn’s head coach signed the nation’s top available junior college offensive guard to a national letter of intent.

Then Malzahn fortified the defensive side of the ball by filling out coordinator Ellis Johnson’s staff of assistants.

Melvin Smith was hired as Auburn’s cornerbacks coach Tuesday, bringing nearly two decades of SEC experience with him from Mississippi State.

“Melvin is an outstanding secondary coach and is one of the top recruiters in the Southeastern Conference,” Malzahn said. “He has a reputation for his ability to develop players and his 31-year coaching resume speaks for itself. We’re excited to have Melvin join our staff.”

Smith, 54, will have a young position to group to work with – freshman Joshua Holsey played all 12 games and started six at corner, while sophomore Jonathan Mincy and freshman Jonathan Jones also factored into the starting lineup. Junior Chris Davis, who battled concussion syndromes late in 2012, is also scheduled to return.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to work for Coach Malzahn and Auburn,” Smith said. “I’ve admired Gus’ work from afar and have always loved his offenses.”

The hire likely will lock in co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison to lead the safeties, and Johnson will guide linebackers. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner fills out a mega-experienced group of defensive assistants.

 

“When we discussed this job, Gus told me that he was looking for men of character and integrity who were excellent coaches,” Smith said. “When I saw who he hired to his staff and having worked previously with Ellis, Charlie and (offensive line coach) J.B. (Grimes), I knew that’s exactly that was the type of men he was hiring. This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family.”

Johnson, Harbison, Garner and Smith have logged a combined 98 years of college coaching experience – including 68 in the SEC alone.

For comparison, Auburn’s 2012 defensive assistants (Brian VanGorder, Willie Martinez, Tommy Thigpen, Mike Pelton) had a combined 17 years of SEC coaching experience going into the season.

Johnson, Harbison, Grimes and Smith were each on the 2007 Mississippi State team that went 8-5 with a Liberty Bowl victory. That was also the only Bulldogs team to defeat Auburn in 11 tries between 2001-11 – a 19-14 MSU win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Smith mentored Jim Thorpe awardwinner (the nation’s top defensive back) Johnthan Banks and all-SEC second-teamer Darius Slay in 2012, one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. Smith was at Mississippi State the past seven seasons, as well as a stint from 1995-2001.

A native of Taylorsville, Miss. who grew up in Magee, Miss., Smith also coached at Ole Miss (1992-94), Alabama (2002) and Texas A&M (2003-05).

Smith graduated from Millsaps College in 1982 and earned a Master’s degree in administration from Delta State in 1992. He and his wife, Sheilah, have four children.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Kenny Gabriel back from Israel, after witnessing war conflict

AUBURN, Ala. — When the Israel-Palestinian conflict flared once again in November, former Auburn basketball standout Kenny Gabriel began waging his own personal, emotional war.

Just five games into his professional career with Maccabi Ashdod, situated on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea halfway between Tel Aviv and the Gaza Strip, Gabriel witnessed firsthand how religious violence has become a way of life for his Israeli teammates and their countrymen.

Originally, Gabriel waited it out. The last thing he wanted to do was renege on his first professional contract.

But every time a missile alarm bellowed, or CNN broadcast raids, invasions and explosions within striking distance of Gabriel’s apartment, the 23-year-old living by himself in a foreign country couldn’t stop thinking of his family, young and old.

“It stressed me out, knowing it was stressing them out because they knew how close I was to Gaza,” Gabriel said recently. “I told them …”

His deep, raspy voice trails off.

“I just wanted to let them know I was OK. But it came to a point in time where I felt like I had to leave.”

Another pause. Kenny stares into space, standing in Auburn Arena, picturing little Kenny.

“That’s why I’m here now. I didn’t want to put my son in jeopardy, of me possibly being killed over there. It was time to come on home.”

“I could say that I have been in danger but nothing has happened to me though. Just hearing sirens go off you don’t know if the Israel Defense Force is going to shoot the missile down or if its going to land next to your apartment building.”

Kenny Gabriel email to the Ledger-Enquirer, Nov. 19

“You could see the streaks in the air”

Gabriel started all 31 games for Auburn his senior year, averaging 12.2 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 2011-12. He was named the Tigers’ team MVP in March.

After a knee injury hampered his short stay with the Sacramento Kings’ summer league squad, Gabriel retreated home to Charlotte to work out and evaluate his options. He had never given serious thought to continuing his career overseas.

His agent found him a landing spot in Israel, which accommodated Gabriel’s interest in warm weather and nice people. He arrived in Ashdod on Aug. 28, with the Israeli Basketball Super League season beginning in mid-October.

Gabriel averaged a respectable 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in 27.0 minutes over five games. He got along well with his teammates, a mix of culture from Israel and the United States.

Then, reality of the Middle East intervened.

Over eight days of warfare followed by a ceasefire brokered in part by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an estimated 175 soldiers and civilians were left dead, the product of more than a thousand rockets launched.

It was the most vivid, frightening period of Gabriel’s life.

“I heard two missiles collide. That was really tough,” Gabriel said. “You could see the streaks in the air. It was pretty crazy.”

“I am every bit of 30-40 minutes from Gaza so anything that could happen to a random civilian in Ashdod or other smaller southern cities could also happen to me. Being in Tel Aviv now is a little safer but I’ve still heard a few missile alarms go off.”

Kenny Gabriel email, Nov. 19

“Life is more valuable than a contract”

Back in North Carolina, Kevin Gabriel trembled every time he watched the news.

A US Airways manager at Charlotte Douglas International Airport the past five years, his heart tugged while staying supportive of his son’s courage to remain loyal to the 1-year commitment he inked with Maccabi Ashdod.

It wasn’t fair, that Kenny had overall enjoyed his Israel experience, that Kevin and his new wife had made plans to visit Kenny and tour Jerusalem in January, that ultimately the Gabriels felt only one choice was clear.

“He didn’t want to burn any bridges,” Kevin Gabriel said. “He wanted to honor his contract, but he knew life is more valuable than a contract.”

Kenny Gabriel cut ties with Maccabi Ashdod on Nov. 21, a week after the bombings commenced.

During the uncertain time, Gabriel was competing with hordes of travelers trying to return to the United States. Kevin used those airport resources to find him a flight on one of the few available seats.

Gabriel made it home for Thanksgiving, where he was showered with personal relief but expressed his professional worries based on the way he departed Ashdod.

“His main concern was he wanted his good name, his good character still out there,” Kevin said. “He wanted to make sure people weren’t looking at him as a bad guy because he had to leave. He didn’t want to be judged by what happened in Israel as far as him leaving.”

Kevin imparted optimism on his son — there will be another opportunity. As it is, Gabriel’s agent is zeroing in on sending Kenny to Europe, working on potential deals in Greece, Belarus and Bulgaria.

“I met and took some pictures with a few soldiers and one of my teammates wife is in the army. Being in Israel let me know that it is very different because in the states you don’t have to worry about anything like this happening.”

Kenny Gabriel email, Nov. 19

“He strives to be a good dad”

Kenny Gabriel Jr. — or “KJ” for short — was born Jan. 24, 2011, two weeks after Auburn’s football national championship and in the thick of Kenny Gabriel’s junior season.

“His baby pictures look exactly like Ken’s baby pictures,” Kevin said. “So it’s pretty cool to see another generation.”

KJ lives with his mother in Dallas. Whether he’s halfway across the country or halfway across the world, Kenny hasn’t distanced himself from his infant son — in fact, he strengthens the relationship any chance he gets.

That’s a lesson taught by his own father.

“He strives to be a good dad. I instilled in him early, you don’t want to be one of these guys with children all over the place,” Kevin said. “If you have a child, it’s on you to be a man, step up and protect your children. Teach your little boy how to grow up and work for what they want.”

Kevin is hosting the holidays in Charlotte with his 1-year-old son and 101-year-old grandfather, as well as his own father and Kenny.

That’s right — five generations of Gabriels wolfing down turkey on Christmas. Doesn’t get better than that.

Behold the bright side to Kenny’s hoops career being put on hold, even via dangerous circumstances.

“Aw, man, every time a missile alarm went off, I thought about (KJ). I just didn’t want my son to grow up without a dad,” Kenny said.

“That was one of the main reasons I came back home, to be with him, to see him smile, to see him cry, to see him run around and be a little kid.”

“My first Christmas Eve wit baby boy”

 

Kenny Gabriel tweet, Dec. 24

Tigers unwrap another junior college present; Devonte Danzey, the nation’s top available OG

AUBURN, Ala. — Merry Christmas, Auburn football.

Auburn signed Devonte Danzey, rated the No. 1 junior college offensive guard by 247sports.com, to a National Letter of Intent Tuesday, announced by head coach Gus Malzahn. Danzey, out of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, has three years of eligibility remaining.

Immediately, Danzey (6-foot-3, 303 pounds) would seem to fit right in as a potential replacement to outgoing senior John Sullen, who played 50 games and started 23 over the past two seasons. Highly-touted recruit Christian Westerman would have been a logical next-man-in, but he transferred to Arizona State this month. Sophomore guard Chad Slade is a returning two-year starter.

Christmas came early when Cameron Artis-Payne, the nation’s top available running back, signed with Auburn on Dec. 19. With Tuesday’s news, Auburn has now inked a pair of top-50 juco players overall based on 247sports.com’s ratings.

A native of Tampa, Fla., Danzey was named a first-team All-Jayhawk Conference as a redshirt freshman in 2012 after helping Hutchinson to a 9-3 record and a No. 12 national ranking.

Hutchinson was also the previous stop for Chris Todd, a former Auburn quarterback in 2008-09.

Danzey was a starting offensive tackle for a Hutchinson offense that scored the second-most points in team history and three times broke the 700-yard mark for total offense, including 724 yards against Air Force Prep. Danzey blocked for running back Terrell Lane, who broke both the HCC single-game rushing record (308 yards) and single-season rushing record (1,632 yards).

Previously promising he would make his official decision on Christmas Day, Danzey was also considering Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia.

December 24, 2012

Tigers in the NFL: Week 16 edition

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: Passed for 170 yards and a touchdown while also running for 60 yards and a touchdown as Carolina earned its third-straight victory, a 17-6 win over the Raiders. Newton has passed for 7,672 yards in his first two seasons, second-most behind Peyton Manning (7,874, 1998-99). He has thrown for 3,621 yards with 19 touchdowns and rushed for 707 yards with eight scores in his second season after being drafted with the top overall pick in 2011. Newton has 62 total touchdowns in 31 career games. Newton had his streak of 176 passes attempted without an interception end on the final play of the third quarter. His streak of 176 attempts is a new Panthers record. VIDEO: Newton’s Two Scores: Passing | Rushing

Karlos Dansby, LB, Miami Dolphins: Posted double-digit tackles for the third time in 2012 with 10 in a 24-10 win over the Bills while also forcing a fumble. Has recorded 121 tackles in 2012. A nine-year veteran, Dansby has more than 850 stops in his career and a career-best 121 this season. He’s one of just four active NFL players with at least 30 sacks and 10 interceptions. VIDEO: Dansby Forces Critical Fumble

Pat Sims, DT, Cincinnati Bengals: Had five tackles (four solo) in the Bengals’ 13-10 win over Pittsburgh. Sims has played in seven games this season with 3 tackles and one interception after returning from injury. A five-year veteran, he has played in 59 games with 23 starts.

Ronnie Brown, RB, San Diego Chargers: Started at running back and carried five times for 31 yards as San Diego defeated the Jets, 27-17. Brown’s 13 rushing yards during week 6 put him over 5,000 for his career. He has played in 105 games in his career with 49 touchdowns.

Ben Grubbs, OG, New Orleans Saints: Has started all 15 games at guard for New Orleans this season, including Week 16’s 34-14 win over Dallas. Grubbs has played in 89 games in his six-year career with 85 starts. He has started in every game he has played since 2008.

Ben Tate, RB, Houston Texans: Totaled four rushes for 17 yards with a long carry of 13 yards in Houston’s 23-6 loss to the Vikings. Tate has 272 yards rushing and two touchdowns this season for the AFC’s top club. For his career, the Maryland native has run for 1,214 yards and six touchdowns.

Neiko Thorpe, DB, Kansas City Chiefs: Had a season-high three tackles in the Chiefs’ 20-13 loss to Indianapolis. Thorpe is in his first year in the league after signing as an undrafted free agent over the summer. He has totaled five tackles in eight games in 2012.

Carlos Rogers, DB, San Francisco 49ers: Had six tackles and a deflection as San Francisco fell to the Seahawks, 42-13. In his eighth season after being drafted No. 9 overall by Washington in 2005, Rogers has 54 tackles in 2012. He’s started all but three of the 97 games he played in since 2006 and was a 2011 Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection.

Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions: Placed on injured reserve on December 19 with a shoulder injury. The 13th overall pick in 2011, Fairley has played in 23 games with seven starts in two seasons with the Lions. He totaled 34 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2012.

Lee Ziemba, OT, Indianapolis Colts: Released from injured reserve by Carolina and subsequently signed by the Indianapolis Colts to their practice squad on December 18.

December 22, 2012

Auburn hoops: “Huge step back” in 74-67 loss to Winthrop, Tigers finish 3-3 on homestand

AUBURN, Ala. – Nothing about Auburn’s final game before Christmas made coach Tony Barbee feel jolly.

Barbee was openly worried about this sixth and final game of the homestand, and his fears were founded when Auburn slogged its way through a 74-67 defeat to visiting Winthrop Saturday night at Auburn Arena.

The execution was bad – Auburn shot 38 percent from the floor, including 3-for-23 from 3-point land (previously a strong point), and Winthrop made 49 percent of its field-goal attempts.

The effort was far more naughty than nice, at least in Barbee’s eyes.

“This game is always scary for coaches around the country, the one right before Christmas,” Barbee said. “You saw it all around our conference and the country today – teams get beat at home, because the team that’s locked in about winning first and then thinking about what you are doing for the holidays after the game is usually the one that wins.”

It was a tough day for the SEC indeed, with No. 8 Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss also suffering poor losses.

But all Auburn can control is Auburn, and a chance to finish the home stretch on a four-game flurry was thwarted when Winthrop reserve Christian Farmer got ridiculously hot from 3-point land late, scoring 13 of his 15 points after halftime.

The Eagles (5-5), who won at Ohio and gave No. 7 Ohio State a tough game last week during this road trip, shot 52 percent in the second half. Following a 39-all tie, Winthrop soared on a 20-4 run.

“Obviously, we didn’t think about winning,” Barbee grumbled, “because we didn’t think about defending. We weren’t interested in guarding. That’s why they won the game.”

Auburn did close both halves well, but it wasn’t enough. The Tigers erased an early 8-point deficit to tie the game by halftime, and after trailing 70-60 with one minute remaining, Auburn drew within three points before Winthrop free throws sealed the victory.

“At times, we make coffee nervous,” Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. “Sometimes your mentality is to hold on for dear life.”

Shaw graduate Chris Denson had ensured his fourth consecutive double-digit performance to open his season by halftime. Denson, with 18 points, once again enhanced his team-leading scoring average to 17.0 points per game.

Frankie Sullivan had a game-high 22 points, but was just 4-of-17 from the floor while sinking all 12 free throws he tried.

Nobody else produced more than eight points, and Barbee wasn’t even that thrilled with Denson and Sullivan.

“They were ball stoppers tonight. As soon as the ball hit their hands, everything came to a stop,” Barbee said. “Our offense was stagnant. Nobody was moving. Guys weren’t playing together.

“Huge step back. Huge lack of maturity. Huge lack of leadership. It’s like we were running in quicksand out there.”

Sullivan and Denson didn’t disagree with their coach. At all.

“It’s very disappointing,” Denson said. “To come out and play bad and people didn’t show effort and give up, it’s just disappointing to coach Barbee, the fans and everybody else.”

Sullivan specifically said Auburn (5-6) came out “real flat” – the Eagles led 19-11 from the opening tip.

“It has to be the players. Coach Barbee is not out there playing with us,” Sullivan said. “It’s just bad going into the break like this, especially having Illinois coming up. It’s not a good sign for us. We just have to pick it up.”

THREE POINTERS

1) The Tigers finished the homestand 3-3, seeing its three-game win streak snapped. They have a week off before taking on No. 10 Illinois next Saturday at the United Center in Chicago.

The Fighting Illini (12-1) lost their first game of the year Saturday, to No. 12 Missouri in St. Louis.

2) Jordan Price will have to settle for sharing the SEC individual record of 11 consecutive 3-pointers made, with Vanderbilt’s Kevin Anglin in 1992.

After going perfect from downtown against Grambling State, Furman and Tennessee Tech, Price was tentative from the outset Saturday. He did not attempt a shot of any kind for the first 25 minutes, until he clanked a 3-point try off the back of the iron to end his streak.

Price was later called for a flagrant foul when he inadvertently swung an elbow into the face of Joab Jerome trying to create space. The freshman finished with two points.

3) Barbee himself drew a technical foul – his second of the year – in the first half. Center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum put himself in position to draw a charge, and when it wasn’t called, Shaq Johnson was forced to take a defensive foul. Barbee’s unfavorable reaction crossed the side official’s line.

Final thought: Auburn was thinking ahead to Christmas, Illinois and Florida State. A losing record in the cupcake part of the schedule … well, like Sullivan said, it’s not a good sign.

Next up: vs. No. 10 Illinois (12-1), United Center, Chicago, Dec. 29, 1:15 p.m. Big Ten Network

Four days later, Winthrop basketball coach Pat Kelsey receives “overwhelming” response from passionate Newtown statement

AUBURN, Ala. – Pat Kelsey’s team had lost a basketball game. But all he could think about was how fathers like him, fathers he didn’t know, recently had lost so much more.

Kelsey, the 36-year-old rookie head coach of Winthrop, was asked Tuesday night about defending high-powered Ohio State, hampering Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft and nearly upsetting the Buckeyes before losing by 10.

He answered in his usual thoughtful, eloquent manner. But when the hordes of reporters had finished asking questions, Kelsey was struck numb.

“I was getting out of my chair,” Kelsey recalled, “and something … something from above, I think, just made me say, I do have one more thing. I just spoke what was on my heart.”

Kelsey launched into a powerful, sentimental statement on behalf of the 20 families in Newtown, Conn. who lost their schoolchildren in last Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He took advantage of what he admitted to be the most significant pulpit of the year – “maybe the rest of my life” – and pleaded to America’s leaders to step up and usher in change for the better.

Within hours, Kelsey’s e-mail inbox filled up by the thousands. 95 percent, Kelsey said, was positive, lauding Kelsey for saying exactly what they felt.

“It was overwhelming. I couldn’t get over the response,” Kelsey said before Saturday’s game at Auburn, his first time on a basketball court since his now-viral speech.

“Like every American citizen, it was on my mind and heart. I was sick to my stomach. As a father of a five-year-old and four-year-old, it hit home even more, because I tried to put myself in the shoes of those parents and what they were going through. You can’t even fathom what they can possibly be dealing with.”

Perhaps the most poignant segment of Kelsey’s closing statement Tuesday was his description of what he would do next. He was set for an 8-hour bus ride back to Rock Hill, S.C., where he’d go home and hug his young daughters – Ruthie is in pre-kindergarten, and Caroline is not in school yet. Kelsey and his wife, Lisa, are expecting their third child in March.

“It was awesome. My girls are early risers,” Kelsey said of his return home, about 5:45 Wednesday morning. “I walked in, and they actually woke up. There’s nothing like when they’re so excited to see you and they jump in your arms and they yell ‘Daddy!’ That’s what it’s all about.

“That’s the most disgusting thing, is those people don’t get to have those moments with those children anymore.”

A former Wake Forest and Xavier assistant, Kelsey actually took a year off from coaching after the untimely fatal heart attack of his mentor, Skip Prosser. Prosser used to tell people, “All I am is a ninth-grade history teacher from Wheeling, West Va.”

Kelsey’s never forgotten that.

“I spoke just like an Average Joe American,” Kelsey said. “That’s all we are. I just happen to coach basketball, and people care what basketball coaches say.”

In the aftermath of Tuesday night, Kelsey appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, MSNBC’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and Fox News’ “Fox & Friends”, continuing to spread his message.

After Saturday’s game, the Golden Eagles take their 350-mile bus ride back home to Rock Hill. Kelsey will spend Christmas with his family of four.

And he’ll remember the sadness he feels that 20 families in Newtown can’t do the same.

“This isn’t a society that makes us the greatest in the history of civilization,” Kelsey said. “We want to leave that for our kids, when we’re all long gone. We want to leave them a safe society where they can grow up and be proud of the country they live in.”