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Lebo has Auburn basketball program on the rise

Monday, February 26, 2007

Huntsville Times

While watching in amazement Saturday evening in Tuscaloosa as Auburn University's basketball team completed a thoroughly unexpected sweep of the University of Alabama, a press row observer couldn't help remembering something John Clougherty once said.

Before he was named the supervisor of officials for the ACC, Clougherty was one of the nation's finest basketball officials. For nearly two decades, the SEC was one of his regular beats.

On a winter night in 2005 at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn, first-year Auburn coach Jeff Lebo was absorbing one of the 12 SEC losses he was to suffer that first season. It was late in the first half, but the hopelessly outmanned Tigers were already out of the game.


Clougherty was one of those officials who occasionally enjoyed chatting with sports writers, especially those he knew and liked, during timeouts. This was one of those occasions.

Sidling over to a a group of writers, he cradled a basketball under his left arm and wiped his brow with a white towel, then leaned over the press table and pointed toward Lebo in the Auburn huddle.

"I'll tell you one thing,'' said Clougherty. "That guy can coach. He's going to take his lumps for two or three years. But they'd better get him while they can. When he gets some players in here, the other coaches in this league will have their hands full.''

Three years later, Lebo still doesn't have nearly as many top-quality players as he needs. But part of John Clougherty's prophesy appears divinely inspired. Ask Mark Gottfried.

The Alabama coach, who has pretty much owned his cross-state rival for most of his nine seasons, has certainly had his hands full this year, losing to Lebo 81-57 in Auburn and falling 86-77 a month later in Tuscaloosa. It was only the second time in 23 years that an Auburn team has brought out the broom against Alabama.

It would be premature, of course, to proclaim Jeff Lebo as the second coming of Joel Eaves (the finest basketball coach in Auburn history, as those of a certain age surely know) after two victories over a curiously underachieving Alabama team that stood 13-1 at one point but has since lost eight of its first 14 conference games.

After all, Lebo's program has not yet broken through. Auburn's record is a modest 16-13 overall and 6-8 in the SEC with two games left in the regular season.

The unpredictable young Tigers could easily lose at home Wednesday night against LSU, and Saturday's road game at Ole Miss will be tough sledding. Remember the Rebels' 82-59 romp at Beard-Eaves on Feb. 2?

On the other hand, how many of the preseason experts figured Auburn would be one game out of first place in the SEC West with two games to go? Or one victory away from an NIT bid by the last week of the season? Or a late hot streak away from the most unlikely scenario of all, an invitation to the NCAA Tournament?

These possibilities came to mind in the closing minutes of last Saturday's shocker at Coleman Coliseum ... along with the firm conviction that John Clougherty was right.

Contact John Pruett at johnp@htimes.com

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I've been saying it since he was hired. Give him some time. Man, we are young but look out, next year we ought to be on fire. Haven't been this excited since Porter jumped out of nowhere for the ESPN dunk against Florida, or Reggie Slacks last minute 3 pointer against BAMA.

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That was Reggie Sharp I do believe. Without an E.

And Porter's dunk was against LSU. Bryant Smith had a HUGE reverse dunk on ESPN against Ole Miss.

Now that I think about it, I think Porter had a dunk at the end of the Florida game - but it wasn't that great. The great put-back jam was against LSU. Anyway, CBS broadcasted the Florida game.

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Funny how the folks who have been going to the games and keeping up closely with bball are the ones who can come on here and say we told you so. Give Lebo UAT's talent and they wouldn't be on the bubble I can promise you that. I just hope Coach Lebo can keep up this momentum and continue to make good moves in recruiting. Last year was guard heavy so we need to pull some big men over the next two years.

War Eagle/Beat LSU

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