AUBURN, Ala. – Something’s going to have to give.
As the first day of spring signing period approaches within 72 hours, the Auburn men’s basketball plan presently has one too many scholarship players, following the verbal commitment of junior college small forward Chris Griffin Sunday morning, as first reported by the recruiting web sites covering Auburn.
Eight Tigers on the current roster are on scholarship (including KT Harrell, who sat out 2012-13 due to transfer rules after arriving from Virginia), three more signed an early national letter of intent in November, and now three others have said they plan to sign with Auburn as early as Wednesday.
That adds up to 14 players on scholarship. The Division I limit is 13.
These are Auburn’s options: a verbal commitment backs out; a commitment grayshirts, delaying his recruitment for the class of 2014; a current player transfers; or the coaching staff removes a current player’s scholarship, since technically all NCAA scholarships are valid for one season (it’s allowed but unlikely, since the vast majority of 1-year arrangements are renewed each season.)
None of the six newcomers boast higher than a three-star rating via Scout.com, Rivals.com and 247Sports.com recruiting lists.
The Tigers graduated four scholarship players this past year – guards Frankie Wallace, Josh Wallace and Noel Johnson, and forward Rob Chubb.
Guard Chris Denson, forward Allen Payne and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum will be in their final year of eligibility next winter, in head coach Tony Barbee’s fourth season.
Athletic director Jay Jacobs released a statement March 15 confirming Barbee would be back, despite his 35-59 three-year record and guiding the Tigers to a tie for the most losses in SEC single-season history.
“My expectation is for our program to show significant improvement under Coach Barbee’s leadership,” Jacobs wrote. “Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program at the highest level so we can give our fans the kind of program they expect and deserve.”
Departures from the program have plagued Barbee’s three seasons, ranging from players transferring elsewhere to signees failing to qualify academically.
In the locker room following Auburn’s SEC Tournament opening-round loss to Texas A&M in Nashville on March 13, the younger players just completing their freshman year were united in vowing to return.
“I’m pretty sure this whole group will stick together,” then-freshman point guard Brian Greene Jr. said. “We’ve got a brotherhood that can’t be broken.”
Added fellow rookie Shaq Johnson, who started 21 games at small forward: “Oh no, no. I’m at Auburn. I’m here. I like Auburn, so I’m not going anywhere.”
Barbee routinely arranged his weekly schedule around recruiting trips, and quickly left with an assistant coach to recruit before his postgame media remarks after an 88-55 loss at Ole Miss on Feb. 23.
“With the guys we’ve got coming in,” Barbee said March 13, “I couldn’t be more excited about the direction we’re headed.”
Barbee will next be available to speak with reporters after the signing class is complete, a date yet to be determined.
Signing period closes May 15.
Here’s the prospective list of Auburn’s 2013-14 roster, broken down by position:
Point guard: Brian Greene Jr. (soph.), Tajh Shamsid-Deen (signed in November)
Shooting guard: Chris Denson (sr.), KT Harrell (jr.), Jordan Price (soph.)
Small forward: Allen Payne (sr.), Shaquille Johnson (soph.), Dion Wade (verbal commit), Chris Griffin (junior college verbal commit)
Power forward: Jordon Granger (soph.), Matthew Atewe (verbal commit)
Center: Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (sr.), Benas Griciunas (signed in November), Ronald Delph (signed in November)