Knights among conference favorites

Auburn's Fred Van Vleet takes a shot during a drill at the Knights' practice. Van Vleet is considered by many opposing coaches to be the best player in the conference. Photo by Matt Nestor

By Matt Nestor
Sports Columnist

Despite graduating their leading scorer, the Auburn Knights are well ahead of the game this year.

As practice started a year ago, it was all unknowns for the Knights. There was not one player Head Coach Bryan Ott could realistically know what to expect from.

After a successful season last season, Auburn returns most of their key players and are primed to make a strong run at the conference this season.

“We’re probably a little ahead compared to a year ago,” Ott said. “You do have a number of guys that do know how we expect them to play. We don’t have to re-teach what we want to do on offense.”

The Knights return their second- and third-leading scorers from a year ago. In point guard Fred Van Vleet, Auburn possesses what most coaches believe is the top player in the conference. Not only can he score at will, but he can also create shots for others almost at will.

Also back is outside gunner Anthony Strickland. He suffered from a wrist injury toward the end of the season, but appears to be back at full strength.

Junior Lamark Foote played last year as a sophomore and should be better with another year of varsity experience. And juniors Javauntae Hicks, Jaylin Marshall and Elijah Smith help give Ott a lot of depth and options for the back court.

“The kids’ expectations are very high, I think deservedly so,” Ott said. “We’re coming off a strong summer and a strong season with several key players back, which is several more than we had a year ago. You have to prove it on the floor.”

If the Knights want to challenge Boylan for the conference crown, however, they will have to get better play out of their front court.

Auburn has good size in Taivious Ford, Rashard Ferguson and Kevrin Kimrough. And the big men looked improved over the summer. But for Auburn to reach its potential, that trend needs to continue.

“We need our five man to be a much more consistent presence on both ends of the floor than we had at any time last year,” Ott said of their post play. “If you want to be able to challenge Boylan, you have to be able to play with them inside. That doesn’t mean that we don’t play to our strength, and we feel that guard play is a strength. But if you are talking about terms of next steps and closing gaps, then how we play inside will be a huge determining factor.”

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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