In addition to a new arena, Auburn fans have a lot of new faces to look forward to as the 2010-2011 basketball season draws near. With the new arena came the announcement of a new coaching staff, as well as the departure of four of last season's starting five (Lucas Hargrove, DeWayne Reed, Tay Waller, and Johnnie Lett) and a productive big man coming off the bench in Brenden Knox.
The story of the summer was if new head coach Tony Barbee and his UTEP coaching staff would step up to the challenge and bring in quality talent to replace what was lost to graduation. That challenge became increasingly tough as both Frankie Sullivan and Ty Armstrong, two of this season's likely starters, went down with torn ACL's.
Barbee responded with Josh Langford, Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama, and the school's first Mr. Basketball since Doc Robinson in 1996. Barbee also picked up early signees Luke Cothran and Shawn Kemp, Jr. to help bring in that top tier talent level that Barbee promised to bring back to Auburn.
Barbee brought in seven new faces in total, but after problems led to Kemp not qualifying, and Cothran leaving the program, Barbee's staff will be forced to work with just four of them, as Varez Ward has still not been medically cleared following his own torn ACL early last seaon.
More production will have to come from the rest of the seldom used existing lineup that was recruited by previous coach Jeff Lebo and his staff.
Barbee has little proven talent to work with, relying on the late emergence of Earnest Ross' defensive prowess, Josh Wallace's ability to lead the team off the bench, the length of Rob Chubb and the potential scoring ability of Kenny Gabriel as his main source of veteran leadership to combine with the explosiveness of Langford.
These players are still relatively inexperienced, as they didn't compile large amounts of minutes last season. Barbee has done well though, turning these players into team leaders that are willing to step up when needed.
But the biggest difference this year will be the starting lineup. As projected, there are no familiar faces from last year, as Wallace, Gabriel, Ross and Chubb are expected to start along with newcomer Allen Payne.
Payne, who averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in his senior year of high school, will be expected to step up to the learning curve of the college game rather quickly if he hopes to maintain a spot in the starting lineup.
He won't be the only one who will be expected to step up, and none of the four other starters averaged many minutes. Of the starters, Earnest Ross led them with 13.4 minutes per game and was the only one who averaged double digits last season.
While there is seemingly very little solidarity among the players this year, the coaches remain confident that this team will rally around each other and surprise some people. But amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure about this Auburn basketball team: at the end of the season, Auburn fans will become familiar with a whole new crop of players.