BY AARON BRENNER | email@example.com
NASHVILLE – The transfer giveth, the transfer taketh away.
Mostly, the war of addition versus attrition has been acrimonious to Auburn basketball in three years under head coach Tony Barbee.
The hardest hit was in May 2011, when top scorer Earnest Ross and Ty Armstrong decided after one year in the Barbee system to play elsewhere. Ross is one of six Missouri players averaging double-digit points, while Armstrong averaged 9.2 points on 56 percent shooting for East Carolina this year.
Andre Malone, belonging to that same Jeff Lebo 2009 signing class with Ross and Armstrong, transferred to Rhode Island. Malone was the Rams’ No. 2-leading scorer, helping Rhode Island knock off host Auburn 78-72 on Nov. 25.
Also, center Willy Kouassi and forward Bernard Morena transferred out of the program last March, ending up at Kennesaw State.
So there’s a certain sense of pride for Frankie Sullivan and Rob Chubb – admittedly disgusted with the travesty that was their senior season, a 9-23 effort ending in Wednesday’s SEC Tournament play-in defeat to Texas A&M, 71-62.
At least they stuck with it, when five former teammates didn’t.
“People are always looking for a grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side type of scenario,” Chubb said. “I’m not the type of person to just leave something I started unfinished. I wanted to get everything done that I started here at Auburn.
“I love Auburn, and just didn’t want to leave.”
On to next year. One of the first orders of business, somewhere between cleaning out lockers and grinding in the gym toward a 2013-14 renaissance, is keeping this group together.
Barbee remains optimistic going forward, encouraged by four freshmen who took their lumps they hope are masked as growing pains.
“With the guys we’ve got coming in,” Barbee said, “I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed.”
Nobody in the Tigers’ postgame locker room Wednesday seemed to doubt for a moment anybody was looking for a way out.
“Back then, there was conversation about people leaving,” said junior guard Chris Denson, referring to prior seasons. “But you never hear it with this group right here. Nobody’s leaving. Everybody’s going to be in the same spot they’re in right now.”
“I feel pretty good about the future,” said freshman shooting guard Jordan Price, who tied an SEC record with 11 consecutive threes but mysteriously misplaced his shot after that December hot streak. “A lot of the season was lessons for the future, so we know what not to do. We’re going to get back in the gym and get ready for next year.”
“I’m pretty sure this whole group will stick together,” said freshman point guard Brian Greene Jr., whose minutes yo-yoed all year long.
“We’ve got a brotherhood that can’t be broken.”
Simply-spoken Shaq Johnson, a swingman who started 21 games, was even more direct when asked if he or his 2012 classmates had entertained the thought of leaving.
“Oh no, no. I’m at Auburn. I’m here,” Johnson said. “I like Auburn, so I’m not going anywhere.”
Those free-willing transfers, Ross and the others, weren’t the only plagues on Auburn’s scholarship numbers.
Forward Josh Langford and guard Cedrick McAfee were dismissed from the program by Barbee in April 2012 for violation of team rules, and forward Shareif Adamu followed suit three months ago. Guard Varez Ward did not return to the team after falling under reported investigation for point shaving last March.
Luke Cothron and Shawn Kemp Jr. never made it to Auburn after signing, failing to qualify academically.
On the other hand, outgoing senior Noel Johnson left Clemson midway through the 2010-11 season, and a week later, his transfer to Auburn was announced. KT Harrell withdrew from Virginia in December 2011, and the following summer was on his way to the Plains, an expected contributor for next year after sitting out 2012-13 due to NCAA transfer rules.
Both Johnson and Harrell were in search of more playing time and a faster, up-tempo style of basketball.
Noel Johnson said he hasn’t discussed his experience with younger teammates, but he does have advice for them.
“You came in together, you might as well finish out together and graduate,” he said. “Just stay in touch with each other, no matter what.”