AP photo by Todd J. Van Emst|
Auburn's Korvotney Barber shoots over Faulkner's Jon Uriarte, left, and Brandon Vaughn earlier in the season. Barber ranks first on the team in scoring and second in rebounding.
AU's Barber breaks out, cuts up the competition
Highly touted recruit overcomes slow first season
By Bradley Handwerger
AUBURN — Last season, Korvotney Barber faced high expectations.
After all, he went to Auburn as only the second McDonald's All-American to agree to play basketball for the Tigers.
However, at 6-foot-7 and with his arms stretched as high as they can go, he still might not have been able to reach those expectations.
But he knew that. And so did Jeff Lebo, his head coach.
"He was a McDonald's All-American, but he knew he needed a lot of work on his skills," said Lebo, in his third year at the helm. "He was one that accepted that and knew that."
Now in his second year with the Tigers, Barber is showing signs that he might meet those expectations after all, albeit by the end of his career instead of at the beginning.
In his freshman season, he averaged 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game — not exactly power numbers.
A year later, he has turned into the breakout star for Auburn in its 7-3 start.
His scoring has jumped to 14.8 points a game, which leads the team. He is pulling down 7.6 rebounds, which rank second. He has scored 19 points each against Oklahoma State, ranked 15th in the latest Associated Press poll, and No. 2 Pittsburgh.
But the biggest improvement has come on the defensive end, where opponents now have to find ways to shoot around the big guy — they can't go through him anymore.
He blocked 43 shots in 28 games a season ago, but already has 31 through 10 games this season.
Barber attributes much of that with his off-season workouts, which helped him bulk up by five pounds to 220.
"On the defensive end, I used to get backed down by (LSU's Glen Davis) and all those guys," Barber said. "That had a lot to do with lower body. They leaned on me, backed me down in the paint."
About those blocks, Barber isn't afraid to say that a large reason he swats basketball into the stands is to hear the roar of the crowd.
Of course, he also draws the ire of Lebo.
"Coach gets mad at me sometimes because I'll block it out of bounds," Barber said with a laugh. "It gets the crowd into it.
"At the same time, it's really stupid. Coach says block it back in because we'll get the ball. But I like to get the crowd into it."
Blocked shots notwithstanding, Lebo said that Barber's work ethic seems to rub off on his teammates. And if you're a head coach, that's exactly what you're looking for in your start player.
"A lot of people today wouldn't accept where they are," Lebo said. "He was mature as a freshman. You don't get that a lot. Even when he plays poorly, he can watch it on film and admit it."
Lebo added, "You want your best players to be your leaders. He's one of those guys. He wasn't like that when he got here."
Auburn junior guard Frank Tolbert said that fans aren't the only people who see Barber's improvement.
"He got in the weight room," Tolbert said. "He got in there with (graduate assistant) Brett (Howell) and worked on his shooting and worked on his post moves. From the looks of it, it looks like it's paid off."
Yet, Barber isn't satisfied. He knows there still is a long way to go before he enters the pantheon of AU basketball greats.
"I'm just willing to learn," he said. "I know I got a lot better from last year. But I've still got a long way to go on my game."
Wofford (4-6) at Auburn (7-3)
Tipoff: 1 p.m. at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum
Wofford lineup: F Matt O'Connor, 6-8, Sr., 8.9 ppg., 4.8 rpg.; F Eric Marshall, 6-4, Sr., 15.4 ppg., 6.4 rpg.; C Tyler Whatley, 6-9, So., 8.0 ppg., 5.6 rpg.; G Junior Salters, 6-1, Fr., 6.3 ppg.; G Matt Estep, 6-3, So., 6.1 ppg.
Auburn lineup: F Korvotney Barber, 6-7, So., 14.8 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 3.1 blocks; F Josh Dollard, 6-7, So., 11.3 ppg., 8.8 rpg; G Frank Tolbert, 6-4, Jr., 12.9 ppg., 6.0 rpg; G DeWayne Reed, 6-1, Fr., 8.0 ppg., 4.3 assists; G Quantez Robertson, 6-3, So., 9.8 ppg., 5.2 rpg., 5.5 assists.
Noteworthy: Wofford defeated Cincinnati 91-90 on Nov. 2. ... Auburn lost 85-78 on Dec. 5, 2004, the last time these two teams met. ... Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo is 1-3 all-time against Wofford head coach Mike Young. ... Freshman Kelvin Lewis could make his long-awaited debut against the Terriers. He has been out since breaking his foot in the preseason. ... Quan Prowell will return from suspension and will see his first game-action in nearly two years. Prowell redshirted last season and was suspended for the first 10 games this season.
Bradley Handwerger, Daily Sports Writer
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