Shaq Johnson Looks Ready to Contribute

Shaq Johnson dribbles vs. Victory University.

Coach Tony Barbee will be looking for immediate help from his four freshmen as the Auburn Tigers open the 2012-13 basketball season.

Auburn, Ala.--With opening night almost here, it looks like Coach Tony Barbee's four freshmen will all become early contributors for the 2012-2013 Auburn men's basketball team.

For Friday night's regular season debut at the Auburn Arena vs. Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne all of the freshmen are likely to see action.

The group includes a pair of highly-regarded six-foot-five players from the Atlanta area in small forward/big guard Shaquille Johnson and guard Jordan Price.

Point guard Brian  Greene Jr., six-foot-three from IMG Academy's postgraduate team in Bradenton, Fla., is also making a strong push for playing time.

Another freshman, Jordon Granger, a lanky six-foot-eight forward from the St. Louis area, has looked good in the exhibition games. He is coming off an outstanding senior season in which he led McCluer North High to a state championship while being named Player of the Year in the state of Missouri.

The Tigers won their first exhibition with a blowout of Victory University last week. The Tigers struggled in the first half of exhibition game two vs. Georgia Southwestern on Monday before pulling away after intermission.

"I think we played okay but I know that we can play better," Shaq Johnson says of the Tigers' exhibition performances. In the first one he was a perfect 7-7 from the field on the way to scoring 15 points. He scored four points on Monday night with a pair of dunks in a game the Tigers won by turning up the defensive intensity in the second half.

"I'm working on understanding the defensive concepts that Coach Barbee has," Johnson points out. "I'm also working on developing my mid-range game and working on my handles."

Shaq Johnson drives to the basket.

Johnson says that going into opening night he is encouraged by how things are going with his shooting and overall play. "I have been working a lot on my shot and I have made a lot of progress since I got here," he says.

"I am excited about getting the season started," he adds. "I think we have a lot of potential to do a lot of good things this year.

"I feel like the newcomers all are energetic, but we all don't get everything yet so we have to keep working hard in practice," adds Johnson, who was the 2011 Under Armour national slam dunk champion.

Barbee asked the veterans on the team to step up and be leaders. Johnson says those players have responded. He notes that senior Noel Johnson and junior Allen Payne have been "giving me good advice" and added, "They have really been helping me because we all play the same position."

Tipoff for Friday's game vs. IPFW is 7 p.m. at Auburn Arena. After that the Tigers head to Charleston, S.C., to participate in an eight-team tournament that starts on Thursday, Nov. 15th vs. Murray State.

Barbee Ball, Year Three: Asked about the opening game, Auburn's head coach said, "Well, you're excited but probably every coach in the country is excited and every player in the country is excited.

"Every coach is apprehensive, too, about the opener because you never know if you're ready. You just never know. I mean you've gone through the exhibition games, through the scrimmages, through the long preseason practices, and it is always in the back of your mind wanting to know if your team is ready.

"I think we're prepared. We don't have a lot in, but I think we want to be good at what we've got in right now. I think we're getting to the point where all the guys, the veterans are ahead of everybody else.

"I think the new guys are getting more comfortable with how you prepare for an opponent, and how you try to take advantage offensively and defensively. Especially in these early games, we want to be good at what we do. That's the point we're trying to make to the new guys."

Barbee On IPFW: "They definitely have one of the most explosive scorers in the country with (Frank) Gaines (21.2 points per game last season). They have a lot of junior college players so they're going to be an experienced team. They've played at a collegiate level already so it's going to be an interesting matchup for us.

"It's going to be their first game of the year, and it's going to be our first game," he added. "It's definitely going to be an exciting game to see how we match up with their team and how we react to our first game of the year."

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