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January 31, 2013

CV Sports Hall of Fame: Told he may never walk, Lewis Colbert ended up an NFL punter

Lewis Colbert

By DAVID MITCHELL — dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com

It seems a story fit for Hollywood, though no one seems to be writing it. Perhaps, the story seems a tad far-fetched: A man born without a right foot goes on to use that leg to punt a football, earning All-America honors at Auburn University and even spending time in the National Football League along the way.

Even the man who lived the story, Phenix City’s Lewis Colbert, finds the experience hard to believe.

“It’s kind of one of those things that just came about that kind of blows your mind,” Colbert said.

Colbert was born with a club foot, a deformity that had doctors questioning when he was born whether he would ever be able to walk. Sports, it seemed, were out of the question.

Colbert had other ideas.

After being cleared by doctors, he played his senior season at Glenwood School as a punter, averaging 42.1 yards per punt. He walked on at Auburn the next year, eventually earning the regular punting job as a redshirt freshman in 1982.

Over the next four years, he became arguably the most successful punter in the school’s history, earning an All-America nod in 1985.

He was selected in the NFL draft the following year and played three seasons as a professional with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.

And on Saturday, he will be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center along with Willie Bowman, Charles Ragsdale, Eugene White and Joe Lee Dunn.

Not bad.

Looking back, Colbert takes note of all the things throughout his life that put him on that path. He discusses this in his book, “The Unlikeliest Auburn Tiger.”

“I talk about fate and things that are meant to be, and that God has a plan for us and sometimes we aren’t listening,” he said.

Because, whether it was circumstance, luck or a higher power, Colbert says, something was pushing him toward football.

Twists of fate

Colbert loved football, but wasn’t allowed to play.

Though he tried early in high school, the sport became too dangerous for a child with his condition.

“He would take a beating in practice,” said Sammy Howard, a coach with Glenwood during the late 1970s when Colbert attended the school. “Finally, we just said we couldn’t do it anymore. Lewis was really upset about it.”

It was another setback for an individual who had suffered ridicule and the inability to do things he would like in his life.

Fate, it seemed, had dealt him an awful blow.

Colbert was admittedly angry.

At what? Life or God, perhaps, for making him different than others.

Still his love of sports was too strong to keep him away from fields of play.

He became Glenwood’s manager for football and played baseball in the spring. He was pretty good at both, too.

“He was a great football manager,” said Leo Ellerbee, one of Colbert’s coaches at Glenwood and a longtime coach in Columbus. “He enjoyed it, and I enjoyed helping him with it.”

As a pitcher on the baseball diamond, Colbert had plenty of success. A disability that prevented him from playing a game centered around violent physical action did not hold him back on the mound.

In fact, in retrospect, Colbert notes that baseball was the sport that he would have expected to play at the next level. That was his plan, at least.

Until fate, again, reared its ugly head.

He tore his rotator cuff his senior year of high school, leaving him on the bench during a season in which he could have made a play for a college scholarship. At least, that’s what the doctors told him at the time.

“A couple years ago, I fell off a horse and tore tendons in my right arm,” Colbert said. “Doctors asked me if I had ever done something to my shoulder. I told them I had torn my rotator cuff, but they said that was fine.”

Even that twist of fate, that his injury had been incorrectly diagnosed, seemed to be pushing Colbert toward football.

“(I was angry) that I was different, that I couldn’t do things like everybody else,” he said. “Being asked to do things and basically having your hands tied behind your back. After awhile, it gets really frustrating. You ask yourself so many times: What could I do if I had two good legs?”

Now, Colbert wonders what he couldn’t have done if he had two good legs.

“I could sit here and say that if I had a normal leg, things would have been 10 thousand times better,” he said. “But if I had a better leg, I don’t know that any of these things would have happened.

“Would I have punted, or would I have tried to play another position? Did it hold me back? Yes, conditioning was difficult. I had to do things differently. The running was excruciating. I had to work twice as hard. It was something to overcome, and I probably wasn’t as good as I could have been. But without the disability, that never would have happened.”

Working it out

It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of extra work, either.

His work began in his junior year of high school, during which he would stay after practice to learn to punt with coaches and other teammates.

At the time, he didn’t have a place on the roster. He was still just the manager.

Ellerbee, who was “fairly fresh out of college and young enough to have the energy,” was one who would work with Colbert.

“We’d stay after practice and work and work,” he said. “We worked on his drop, and he stuck with it. All of the sudden, he got pretty good.”

Good enough that the coaches were willing to see if doctors would clear him to play for his senior year.

“They cleared him, but we had to stress that he wasn’t allowed to run the ball or anything like that,” Ellerbee said.

Things, as Colbert could already attest, don’t always go according to plan.

“One game, there was a bad snap,” Ellerbee said. “Next thing we know, there goes Lewis running with the football. I think every coach was out on the field to stop him by the end of the play.”

But, somehow, despite the club foot, punting was something that came naturally to Colbert.

He averaged 42.1 yards per kick that year as a senior, but never considered the possibility of playing at Auburn until Pat Dye, who was the Tigers head coach at the time, reached out to him to give him the opportunity.

The work, of course, got more difficult.

Colbert had never lifted weights and hadn’t been able to condition as the other players had. He faced plenty of competition right off the bat when 17 other punters and kickers walked on to the team as well.

The key to his success down the road, Colbert said, was staying healthy.

“I kept persevering. Others gave up, but I wouldn’t quit,” he said. “Even through the pain and the difficulties. I was in pain, but I was never injured.”

He didn’t win the job as a freshman.

Instead, he was redshirted and spent a year in the system, running and kicking. Going into spring, he kept getting stronger and more consistent. During the next spring, the next punter in line got injured making a tackle, and Colbert moved up to first string.

“After I got first string, I just worked that much harder to get that scholarship to pay for my education, which is why I was there,” said Colbert, who was the first in his family to receive his diploma. “That feeling was unbelievable for me. It was Auburn University, and I was the starting punter. It probably took that entire summer for it to soak in.”

Colbert was happy to do the work, or at least willing. He never wanted to be treated differently growing up, and that included how much he had to work in practice.

“He never used it as a crutch,” Ellerbee said. “He ran just as hard. He was one of the guys. That’s all he was.”

Dye described in the foreword of Colbert’s book how much he was like the others.

“To tell you the truth, I never really looked at Lewis as having a disability,” he wrote. “When he was the punter on our Auburn teams in the early 1980s, he never talked about having a handicap. I didn’t even know it at the time.”

“He had the greatest attitude,” Ellerbee said. “He acted so much more mature than so many people. He worked hard.”

Spreading the message

The story could have ended there and been just as incredible.

He didn’t need to average an Auburn-best 45.8 yards per punt in 1985, including a 77-yarder against Southwest Louisiana, and become the only All-American punter in the school’s history.

He didn’t need to be selected in the eighth round of the 1986 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs or punt 99 times as a rookie, averaging 40.7 yards per punt.

But, perhaps, it was fate.

Today, along with his day job in supply chain management with Exel, Colbert uses his inspirational story to help others overcome difficulties in their own lives. He released his book in 2011, chronicling his difficulties and relentless work to pursuing a dream. He began writing it when faced with a severe bout of pneumonia.

Perhaps that was fate as well.

“Writing the book was something I wish I had done years ago,” he said, “but several people told me that there’s no way I could have done it. I had to be broken down before I could even think about talking about it, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

One of his greatest keepsakes from his college days is a plaque that was given to him from Dye in his senior year, listing him as a team captain.

“I was voted team captain,” Colbert said, almost in awe.

It was a sign, of course, of his leadership then, which he uses to help others today.

“I try to utilize my story to help others,” he said, referring to speaking engagements he attends. “I was very fortunate and very lucky. I worked very hard, but I can think of plenty of reasons none of that should have happened.

“(Speaking) is beneficial for me, and I know it’s been beneficial to some others through their emails and calls and speaking in person.

“That’s the part that makes me smile.

“It’s all about what I can do to make a difference in someone else, and I get more satisfaction out of that than anything else.”

January 30, 2013

Official: RB Mike Blakely leaves Auburn

8.30p blakelyAUBURN, Ala. — Sophomore-to-be running back Mike Blakely is no longer with the Auburn football team and no longer enrolled in school, Auburn associate athletic director Kirk Sampson announced Wednesday night.

Blakely’s departure doesn’t come as a complete shocker, based on his inconsistent play on the field and some puzzling controversy off it.

Blakely had an enigmatic season statistically, struggling in a third-string role behind Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason. He totaled 33 carries for 153 yards, a healthy 4.6 yards-per-carry average; but that included ill-timed fumbles lost against Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas. He only appeared in six games, and only twice in seven games after Oct. 6. During that stretch, Blakely did not make the trip to Vanderbilt for what the coaching staff said was an injury, without disclosing details.

In early November, Blakely tweeted “up bored spending my last days in AU wisely!change is coming in my life” and other messages indicating he might be leaving the program. Blakely later clarified his comments to say he was referring to a break from school session, but never was made available to reporters the remainder of the year.

A four-star recruit from Bradenton, Fla. Blakely picked Florida over Auburn out of high school in a tight race that included offers from Clemson, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and USC. But in May 2011, Blakely decided to leave Florida – unable to mesh in a transition to a pro-style offense – and ultimately latched on with the Tigers when they were running Gus Malzahn’s spread offense. This year, the Tigers switched themselves to a pro-style attack.

Blakely is the fifth Auburn non-senior to leave the team after the firing of coach Gene Chizik. Defensive end Corey Lemonier declared for the NFL Draft, offensive lineman Christian Westerman transferred back home to Arizona State and quarterback Clint Moseley and offensive lineman Eric Mack have decided on their own to depart the program.

Auburn still returns 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, junior college signee Cameron Artis-Payne and walk-on turned scholarship player Corey Grant at the running back position. Tim Horton was named running backs coach last Friday, moving over from tight ends following Rich Bisaccia’s decision to take a job with the Dallas Cowboys.

Pregame blog: Auburn basketball demands more out of Chubb on offense

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn’s got a pair of guys who can run the point, a couple of swingmen who can drive to the basket, and what seems like 12 different perimeter shooters to handle the long-range tries.

Auburn’s only got one Rob Chubb.

Sure, on nights when Asauhn Dixon-Tatum has provided energy and intelligence off the bench, Chubb spells Rolaids A-D-T.

But on nights like last Saturday night against No. 23 Ole Miss, which brings more brawn in the lane than maybe anybody else in the country, it seemed like it was Chubb against the World fighting for position on the glass. (Frankie Sullivan’s a capable rebounder when he needs to be, and when your combo guard’s grabbing seven boards, you know it’s a rough night for Auburn’s bigs.)

Yet Chubb forges ahead with his thankless, sometimes lonely position of providing the only real physical presence Auburn has to offer. He’s tied for fifth in the league with 9 rebounds a game in SEC play.

But his scoring has tapered off – just one point against the Rebels – which for a perfectionist like Auburn coach Tony Barbee, isn’t good enough all things considered.

“Rob’s been physical. This is the best rebounding season he’s had,” Barbee said. “But he’s not playing as well offensively as he has the last two years. He’s not posting how he’s needed to post. I don’t know if he’s worried about the offensive fouls he’s gotten … he needs to be the Rob Chubb he’s been on offense.”

Offered a chance to coddle Chubb because of his heightened rebounding responsibilities, Barbee balked.

“It shouldn’t (affect him),” Barbee said. “It should make him more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor, that he is rebounding at such a high level.”

This four-game losing streak’s not all on Chubb. In conference play, the Tigers rank fourth in field-goal percentage, but that’s been propped up by Chubb and forward Allen Payne shooting 55 percent from the floor.

Guards Frankie Sullivan, Chris Denson, Josh Wallace, Shaq Johnson, Noel Johnson and Jordan Price are all shooting well under 40 percent in six SEC games.

“Our shooters, who we’re getting a lot of open shots for, have got to step up and make them,” Barbee said.

The season’s slipping away, and Chris Denson insisted tonight’s 7 p.m. ET tilt at Georgia (8-11, 2-4 SEC, same as Auburn) is a must-win. The game is televised by CSS and also available on ESPN3.com.

Barbee indicated he expects a change to the starting lineup – “I’m just trying to figure out what that is,” he said Monday – with Chubb, Payne, Shaq Johnson, Sullivan and Wallace not panning out lately. Denson did start the five games he played in between an academic suspension and a stress fracture in his foot.

A special team meeting before the Ole Miss game got the Tigers back to realizing their own roles, instead of worrying about doing other teammates’ jobs for them.

“Airing the team laundry has brought us back to being the type of team we can be,” Barbee said. “Hopefully we caught it early enough that we can turn things around for us here.”

Signing Day 2013: It’s only a week away …

AUBURN, Ala. – This time next week, most the lingering questions will be answered.

The soap opera otherwise known as recruiting season reaches its apex seven days from today, on National Signing Day. Schools across the nation will find out for sure which kids are officially serious about their commitments, and undecided high school seniors will reach their final conclusion.

It’s been a long, strange trip for those following Auburn’s class of 2013. Once safely tucked inside many recruiting web site’s top-ten rankings, the dismissal of Gene Chizik on Nov. 25 sent top pledges Reuben Foster, Dee Liner, Trey Johnson and more scurrying to research other options.

Auburn Football

For the most part, head coach Gus Malzahn has accomplished two goals on the recruiting front.

One, he has convinced some highly-rated players to stick with Auburn – guys like quarterback Jeremy Johnson and wide receiver Jason Smith – while attracting other top talent like junior college tailback Cameron Artis-Payne and receiver Tony Stevens.

And two, he has filled up at the ‘need’ positions based on Auburn’s roster; multiple receiver and defensive back options are expected to sign Wednesday, while there won’t be a ridiculous influx on either line or at running back, where the Tigers already are stocked with young up-and-comers on the roster.

When Malzahn was Auburn’s offensive coordinator, the Tigers had a penchant for using ‘rental’ players from the junior college ranks – that Cam Newton worked out pretty well. Malzahn has already signed three jucos (including Artis-Payne) and drawn verbal commitments from three more.

The job is not yet through. Four-star defensive ends Carl Lawson and Tashawn Bower are still unsure they’ll follow through to Auburn, while the Tigers continue to pursue Foster, defensive tackle Montravius Adams, cornerback Mackensie Alexander and others.

ESPNU will be broadcasting updates all day Feb. 6, with a reporter stationed at Auburn. Be sure to check the Ledger-Enquirer web site and WarEagleExtra.com for the latest next Wednesday.

January 29, 2013

‘Georgia Made’ Chris Denson, mates itching to stop the skid when Auburn visits Georgia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Going off to Auburn two and a half years ago, Chris Denson wanted to remind himself where he’s from.

So, adding to the impressive collage of tattoos across his upper body, Denson had ‘Georgia Made’ imprinted on his right bicep going into his freshman year of college.

A Columbus native and Shaw alum, Denson, along with four of his teammates in the rotation, hope to help the Tigers tug some state pride away from host Georgia tonight in a 7 p.m. tipoff at Stegeman Coliseum, televised by CSS.

Denson got some looks from the Bulldogs, but when Georgia picked another slashing, scoring guard, an offer never came.

“It would be good to go in there, get some buckets and get that W,” Denson said.

Center Rob Chubb (Peachtree City) and shooting guards Noel Johnson (Fayetteville) and Jordan Price (Decatur) are Georgia Made as well. So is freshman guard Shaq Johnson, who helped Milton High School in Alpharetta win four state championship games with teammate Charles Mann, who’s a freshman guard off the Bulldogs’ bench.

“I actually haven’t talked to him since Christmas. It’ll be good to see him,” Shaq Johnson said. “It’s exciting to go back. When I was in high school, Georgia wasn’t really recruiting me. I’m just going to play it like any other game.”

The traditional football rivals have scuffled on the hardwood, with identical 8-11 overall marks, including 2-4 in the SEC.

Georgia did upset Texas A&M 59-52 on the road Saturday, helped by 22 points from Greenville product Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — whose 17.3 scoring average more than doubles any other Bulldog.

“I think Kentavious is trying to emerge as a leader,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told the Macon Telegraph. “He’s s a relatively quiet kid, but he’s really trying to grow in that role.”

The last time Auburn went to Athens was on Feb. 5, 2011, an 81-72 overtime loss. Denson, then a freshman, scored 10 points in 29 minutes — and then produced a career-best 21 in the season-ending loss to Georgia at the SEC Tournament.

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January 28, 2013

War Eagle VI (Tiger) gets her eagle eye back

Mike Clardy, Auburn Office of Communications and Marketing

AUBURN, Ala. – War Eagle VI has regained her eagle eye. Surgeons at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine removed a cataract from the golden eagle in mid-December.

In the month since the surgery, recovery has gone well for the eagle also known as Tiger, who at 33 has surpassed the average age for her species.

“Tiger has had cataracts developing in both eyes for a number of years,” said Dr. Jamie Bellah, head of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Clinical Sciences and director of the Southeastern Raptor Center. “The cataract in the right eye became complete, obstructing her functional vision from that side. We made the decision to remove that right cataract before the left cataract obstructs her vision. So far the left cataract is unchanged and Tiger still retains functional vision from this eye.”

Compared to the one that was removed, the left cataract has been developing very slowly.

Removing the cataract required a team of veterinary ophthalmologists and anesthesiologists. Dr. Katie Diehl and Dr. Meredith Voyles led the surgical effort, and Dr. Jacob Johnson was the anesthesiologist.

“The ophthalmic surgery and the anesthesia are technically difficult, and our veterinary specialists and staff did an exceptional job caring for her,” Bellah said.

Tiger was on her feet the evening of the surgery and has since been flying in her aviary as recovery continues.

In the weeks to come, Raptor Center educators hope to have Tiger back in front of audiences interested in learning about birds of prey and wildlife conservation.

“We do hundreds of shows each year and display many, many birds,” said Raptor Education Specialist Marianne Hudson, “but the one most people ask about and are familiar with is Tiger. She has been a big part of this university for a long time.”

Tiger, who is also known as War Eagle VI, came to Auburn in 1986 and was the first of Auburn’s eagles to fly freely in Jordan-Hare Stadium. At the Georgia game in November 2006, she made her last stadium flight and is now “retired.” Golden Eagle Nova was then inaugurated as War Eagle VII.

January 27, 2013

Auburn notes: 3-star Marcus Davis on board, AU hoops airs out grievances this week

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn continues to rebuild a complete recruiting class, piece by piece.

Three-star athlete Marcus Davis out of American Heritage in Delray Beach (Fla.) spent the weekend on his official visit in Auburn, and according to the local recruiting sites left the Plains after verbally committing.

“I just feel like they’ll give me the opportunity I have been waiting for,” Davis told AUTigers.com. “I’m just ready to come in and work. When I saw the offense and the position I would be playing I fell in love with the offense.”

Previously considering Wake Forest and West Virginia at the top of his list, Davis played quarterback and cornerback in high school, but projects to add to the depth at wide receiver – a similar situation to another Auburn commit, four-star Jason Smith.

The Tigers now have 19 verbal commitments, zeroing in on National Signing Day a week from Wednesday. Auburn High School linebacker Reuben Foster, previously a pledge both to Alabama and Auburn at separate times, is slated for his final official visit to Auburn next weekend.

Embracing Twitter more and more in his first couple of months as head coach, Gus Malzahn shared, “Wrapping up a good weekend! Fired up for last week of recruiting. Time to finish strong!”

Airing it out

The result was the same – a fourth straight loss to an SEC opponent – but the Auburn men’s basketball team had to be pleased with the effort in falling just short Saturday night to No. 23 Ole Miss 63-61.

Head coach Tony Barbee, normally a nitpicker more so than offering pick-me-ups, admitted a team discussion late in the week helped the Tigers rise to the occasion.

“We stopped worrying about petty stuff that every team goes through at some point in the middle of the year, usually this time of year when you are in conference play,” Barbee said. “The teams that address it … are the teams that kind of go on a run. I thought it really got us going together and back to worrying about our jobs.”

The two previous losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt unearthed concerns about Auburn’s hustle and toughness, which were put to rest at least temporarily Saturday.

“We just wanted to come together as a team and battle up,” senior guard Frankie Sullivan said. “We knew we weren’t performing well, so everybody laid out on the table what they want to do and how they want to help the team. Once you get that out, then you can hold people accountable for what they say.”

Nonetheless, it is an extended skid for Auburn (8-11, 2-4 SEC), which prepares for a Wednesday trip to Georgia.

“The best experience you learn from is a loss, when you’re down at your worst,” Sullivan said. “So I think once we lost these games, in due time, it’s going to come around.”

January 26, 2013

Not quite enough: Upset-minded Auburn can’t produce tough finish in 63-61 loss to Ole Miss

Mississippi Auburn Basketball

AUBURN, Ala. – Chris Denson was draining H-O-R-S-E shots all night long – until he missed the one that really counted.

Ole Miss was clanking free throws, the simplest shot in basketball, all night long – until Marshall Henderson dropped the ones that really counted, much to the chagrin of Auburn fans.

That’s life right now for Ole Miss (living right) and Auburn (not so much), when an ebb-and-flow tussle ended in the No. 23-ranked Rebels storming out of Auburn Arena with a 63-61 escape-act victory Saturday night.

Good teams find ways to win tough ball games, and bad teams find ways to lose them. Check out several ways Auburn held the upper hand:

–       Ole Miss, typically a mediocre foul-shooting team, refused to accept free points for nearly the entire affair. The Rebels missed their first eight free-throw attempts of the game, waiting until 6 minutes, 28 seconds remaining when Murphy Holloway hit one of two, and was an abysmal 2-for-15 – no, really – for the first 39 minutes and 54 seconds of the game. Hold that thought.

–       Auburn scored the game’s first nine points. Auburn pushed ahead by 10 later in the first half (33-23), its first double-digit advantage since Jan. 9. Both leads were quickly coughed up.

–       Auburn’s perimeter players Denson, Shaq Johnson, and Josh Wallace shot 60 percent from the floor, while centers Rob Chubb and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum did not hit a field goal. Last week against Kentucky, the roles were essentially flipped.

–       Ole Miss forward Aaron Jones, 0-for-2 from deep coming into the night, banked in a three from the wing at the first-half buzzer. That fortuitous bounce shaved Auburn’s lead to two despite decidedly outplaying the visitor through 20 minutes.

All that nearly ceased to matter, when Auburn held the ball with the game tied at 61 and the final seconds ticking off. Denson crashed the lane, beat Henderson off the dribble and went up for a sky-hook left-handed layup, but it was blocked by help-side defender Holloway.

Then came Ole Miss’ last possession.

Meet Auburn’s newest villain, who happens to lead the conference in scoring. Henderson had had a relatively quiet night on the court (4-15 FG), compared to his back-and-forth jawing with the nearby student section, before he was fouled trying to create space for an inbounds pass with 6.4 seconds remaining.

Two-for-fifteen, the Rebels were from the line at that time. Henderson’s first delivery bounced off front rim, and dropped in for the go-ahead point.

His second was swished, and with Auburn devoid of timeouts, Frankie Sullivan’s desperation three was off the mark.

Henderson, a first-year Rebel after coming in from South Plains Junior College (he previously was part of Texas Tech and Utah), repeatedly popped his jersey and pounded his chest toward the crowd in taunting celebration.

Multiple Twitter accounts (including that of an Auburn athletic department official) alleged Henderson flipped off the student section with both hands. Online video didn’t prove that notion, but did show at least two students were returning the favor.

The SEC did not immediately release any commentary on the potential incident.

At any rate, it’s four straight losses for the Tigers. Although the Jungle was jumping – the announced attendance of 8,740 was energetically involved from the tip to the horn – the Tigers (8-11, 2-4 SEC) couldn’t knock off the league-leading Rebels (17-2, 6-0) who were a tad weary from playing its second game in three nights.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee could agree the Tigers played harder and played better than they have recently, but it wasn’t enough to land in the win column.

“They were fighting their tails off to win,” Barbee said, “but it is a key indication that when we don’t care who gets the glory … we are a pretty good team.”

Without Denson’s renaissance, Auburn might’ve gotten rolled. The Shaw product certainly appears to be back in the swing of things, attacking the rim and exploding for 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

“After the Vanderbilt game, I wasn’t too happy about my performance,” said Denson, who hadn’t made a basket in his previous two games back from a stress fracture in his foot. “So I came back just rehabbed and practiced and, 100 percent now as you could see.”

Sullivan picked up two early fouls – including a double technical along with Jones from Ole Miss – and therefore was limited to seven first-half minutes. He came out firing after halftime, helping out Denson with 12 points but shot 3-from-11 from the field (2-9 3FG).

“Nobody was contesting my shots. I think seven of my nine threes were wide-open,” Sullivan said. “It’s just me knocking shots down. That’s my job for the team, I’m not doing it right now.

“So I’m definitely going to get back in the gym. I’m probably coming back later tonight. Pretty sure I am.”



- For the second straight home game, section 116 was peppered with head football coach Gus Malzahn, coordinators Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson, and most their assistants as they hosted recruits taking their official visits.

Last weekend, the day after Auburn players watched the basketball team host Kentucky, Malzahn and his coaches snagged two verbal commits on their way home.

Malzahn also stepped up as the game’s celebrity letter, holding up the ‘n’ in AUBURN during a second-half media timeout.

Auburn’s won’t play another home men’s basketball game until the night of Feb. 6, capping off National Signing Day when the Tigers host in-state rival Alabama.

Barbee, Denson and Sullivan didn’t disclose many details, but the Tigers held a team meeting to air out some grievances after last Wednesday’s 73-61 loss at Vanderbilt.

“We knew we weren’t performing well – it was more of individual performance, so we had a team meeting and everybody laid out on the table what they want to do and how they want to help the team. Once you get that out, then you can hold people accountable for what they say.”

Sullivan’s not caving on the rest of the season. Sound up on the Tigers’ senior leader: “I think the way we’ve been practicing and everybody stepping up, it’s going to be a rock and roll for a lot of teams when we come up to their house or when they come here. That’s not just coming from me – if you talk to anybody on the team, that’s our mindset from here on out. We’re not going to be the ones getting punched every game. We’ll be doing the punching from now on out.”

Final Thought: Just to reiterate, good basketball teams find ways to win games, and bad teams find ways to lose them.

Next up: Wednesday at Georgia (8-11, 2-4), 7 p.m. ET, CSS

Blue-chip RB Derrick Green selects Michigan; also considered Auburn and Tennessee

AUBURN, Ala. – 5-star prospect Derrick Green, the consensus top-rated running back recruit in the nation, announced his commitment to Michigan Saturday, picking the Wolverines over Auburn and Tennessee.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Green’s hometown newspaper, broadcast his hat ceremony and announcement via UStream.

Positioned in front of Green from his left to right was an orange Tennessee cap, a gray Auburn cap and a blue Michigan cap.

Fielding more than 30 official offers, the 6-foot, 220-pound Green has recorded a 4.4 40-yard-dash. He rushed for 1,350 yards and 21 touchdowns his senior year for a Hermitage (Va.) squad which scored nearly five times more points than its opponents.

Green is the No. 8 overall recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com, but he would have been more a luxury than a necessity for Auburn. The Tigers still have two more years each of 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason and recent signee Cameron Artis-Payne, the top juco back in the country available this offseason.