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March 7, 2007

Jeff Lebo

Quantez Robertson

Frank Tolbert


THE MODERATOR: All right. We're ready to continue with Auburn. Coach?
JEFF LEBO: Well, we've had to put behind us a disappointing, heartbreaking loss. You know, we've been able, hopefully to do that with practice. We're healthy, and our minds are clear. We're ready to attack on a very difficult task, which is a tough and physical Georgia team.
THE MODERATOR: Frank, your thoughts headed into the tournament, please?
FRANK TOLBERT: I just feel that we've got our hands on it. It was a tough game, but I feel that we came back, practiced Monday, today we got ahead. We came out and had a good practice. So I feel good coming to this tournament, even though we're going against a tough Georgia team.
THE MODERATOR: Same for Quantez.
QUANTEZ ROBERTSON: We've just got to compete, just like they did against us. We've got to make a lot more shots. I mean, we've just got to go out there and play hard, I believe, to get the W.

Q. Coach, if you could put in perspective where you felt like at this stage you'd be with this team, and really where you are. In terms of when I say the team, I mean the program, too.
JEFF LEBO: I think, Tim, I think we've made a lot of strides. I think the first year we had the smallest team maybe in Division I basketball playing in the SEC. The next year in a rebuilding situation. The next year, year two, a lot of times a lot harder than year one. I've said that in many ways. We've played four freshmen, started four freshmen the majority of the year. You know, at times we were competitive, at times we weren't. I think the biggest change this year is for the most part every night we've been competitive. We've gotten over the hump. We've won some tough games, we've beaten some good teams. We think we've challenged ourself with a tough schedule. We had a unique, we had a tough situation earlier where we played a lot of games without two very good players in Quan Prowell and Josh Dollard. So our chemistry was not there like a lot of teams during the course of the season, because we had -- Emanuel Lewis was another one who was one of our top eight players who was hurt. So we had guys getting back at different times.
I think we're playing, up to the last four games, I think we've played our best basketball to date. And the most consistent basketball the last two weeks. And that's coming off of a stretch where we lost four in a row, where I didn't think we played particularly well. So that's all you can ask at this time. I think our kids have stayed together through the ups and downs of a long season, I think we made some changes, we found a good rotation that we liked. We've made some changes to our lineup, and how we play particularly with people here the last two weeks. That's been beneficial. But we still, you know, we've still got a long way to go, there's no doubting that. But we've got no seniors. Kids that worked hard.
We've got finally a base in place where we've stopped the bleeding and we've started to move forward with our program.

Q. You know, for you, Frank, as competitive as the league has been, and to finally have a team that's more competitive at a time when everybody else seems to be about the same, you know, the division is incredible. I've never seen it like this, all these teams 8-8, 7-9, what is it with the West? What is your perception?
FRANK TOLBERT: It just shows how hard everybody's been working. There is no weak team in the SEC, you can see the records are almost the same. So it just shows that each team has been well prepared in the offseason. You know, they did whatever they needed to do to get better, and it's showing right now at this point in time.

Q. Jeff, a lot of coaches today have been asked about the possibility of in the future SEC Tournaments, just seeding 1 through 12 straight up, rather than going East and West because of the unique situation in the standings. Would that be a mistake to do in the future, do you think?
JEFF LEBO: You know, I haven't really thought about it. I'd have to think about it a little bit more to let you know. It's really hard year to year to predict kind of what East and West is going to do and compare one side to another. I think it's very difficult to do. You know, in basketball to me, it's more when you play against teams it's more the type of match-up that you have. The type of style that you go against that gives certain teams problems more than personnel in a lot of ways.
It's hard. I've been in the league as an assistant and as a head coach. I've been in it eight or nine years and I don't think I'll ever see it the way it came down this year, especially in the West where you've got four teams tied going into the last game and they're playing each other.
And I look at other leagues. I look at the other power leagues and I just don't see in our league where you have -- you know, a lot of leagues have one or two, sometimes three that are down there on the bottom. I just don't see that. And I think in the end we're going to be penalized for it. Unless something happens here in this tournament. And that's a sad thing when you have the No. 1 RPI conference, and the toughest league, and everybody knows how tough this is. Just because we beat each other up -- and last year we had the same thing. We were a league that was young last year, we improved dramatically during the course of the regular season, and we did well in the tournament. Our RPI went up a lot at the end because we had that success, but we didn't have a lot of non-conference wins in our league last year that were high profile. We lost a lot. And we had a young league. We got better and better and better. And, you know, I think with us, we didn't have a lot of good non-conference wins.
Ole Miss has gotten better. Mississippi State is much improved. And we don't have a lot of good non-conference wins at the start of the season and we're going to be penalized again in the end for that.

Q. Jeff, can you talk about Tez's development from being a freshman to sophomore year?
JEFF LEBO: Tez is the leader of our team, the heart and soul of our team. He's a kid that every player on our team has great admiration for. And the coaches do, too. And if you're going to go to war with somebody, you want Quantez in your foxhole. I've never been around a kid, I don't think, that is as competitive as Quantez. Guy that lays it on the line, not just in games but in practice every single day. He's a great competitor, a great leader. And I think his maturation process has come a long way. And I think he's starting to become more vocal out there, which we like.
And the guys really -- when you have a leader that you don't want to let down, And you have a peer that you don't want to let down, our players don't want to let down Quantez Robertson, because they know what he does every single day for us, what kind of kid he is, what kind of player he is, and what kind of person he is. We're going to rely on him.
One of the things that hurts us in our last game is when he went out of the game. You look at his stat sheet in the last game against Ole Miss, he had I think two points, but we were so much better when he was on the floor. He does so many other things for us other than score the basketball. You can look at stats and people that don't know basketball and look at it and go wow, he didn't play very well. He plays well every game. He may not score every game, but he plays well every game, and gives us everything we need out there.
We've made some adjustments with him, and he's accepted those adjustments. He played a lot at the point guard for us. Almost all exclusively his freshman year, earlier this year. Now we've split him over to some 2. If I told him he was going to play center, he'd play center, wouldn't even look at me funny. I don't know many kids that would do that.
Will you look at me funny? (Laughter).

Q. Coach, how refreshing is it for you after going 4-12 last year in the conference, and all the losses and jumping ship, to have the type of season you're having now?
JEFF LEBO: We're much improved, no doubt about it, and we have stability, which we hadn't had for a while. It was a rocky road there for two years. I could probably write a book on it. It would be a bestseller, actually. But we've stayed the course. We've worked hard. We think we're making strides. It was nice to finally at times this year be rewarded for that, especially for the kids. We had Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Alabama twice, we finally got some signature wins that we've had against top 25 teams that we haven't had. We were 0-15 coming in against top 25. I think this year we won five that were in the top 25 at one time, or were in when we played them one time during the year. So we've made some strides there.

Q. Jeff, just building off your answer to the question about the league being punished, this was a big topic last year but would you be for expanding the field at all?
JEFF LEBO: I would be. And every coach -- we talked about it in our meetings and what came out though from the media perspective, I don't know how it got out, was doubling the tournament. Now that's ridiculous. We didn't talk about doubling the tournament. We talked about expanding it, maybe by five or six teams to start and I think that's a fair thing. There are so many good teams in the tournament, you're looking at the top really 30 teams really getting in. And there's 300 and -- I don't know what there are now.

Q. 336.
JEFF LEBO: 336. Division I has expanded. And I don't think five or six more teams would hurt and take away from the NCAA Tournament by any stretch of the imagination. We've got -- I hate the word that we have right now. We have a play-in game. It's like those two teams aren't really in it. They're playing to get in it. That's not very good terminology for teams who make it there. Why not expand and have those type of games in every region, and add a couple more teams? I just think it won't hurt the game, and then programs, then coaches. We're all really evaluated in the end at how many times you get to the tournament.
I think the day is coming, too, where they're going to have to open up the process a little bit more and open the doors to what decisions are being made. You know, they're trying to be more and more public with it, but I think there's just too much at stake and they're going to have to open that process up a little bit to everybody to see how they actually select these teams. Because I don't know how they do it. It's beyond me.

Q. Jeff, DeWayne Reed was named to the All Freshman Team. Would you just talk about his development? And Quantez, you as well, just talk a little about DeWayne?
JEFF LEBO: Well, DeWayne is a kid that's gotten a lot better as the season's gone on. He's more comfortable. We've changed him from a two guard to a point guard. He was a scoring guard in high school, and he's had to make the adjustment to the point guard position. It's taken some time for him to understand, it's a hard position to play especially for me. You've got a lot of thinking involved, especially for a freshman. And I think he did a lot of nice things as he's gotten better, more comfortable on the floor. It was a nice honor for him. Through his hard work, he's been more comfortable out there when he has Tez out there. And I think that's the one big thing we've got this year we didn't have the first two years. We've got some veterans that these young kids can watch and train a little bit. Every good team I've been associated with has had that. We haven't had that for our first two years. Seniors the first year, new coaching staff last year. All freshman didn't have anybody to watch. And DeWayne if he was sitting here, would give Tez a lot of credit for getting that award.
QUANTEZ ROBERTSON: He's like a little brother to me. He looks up to me sometimes. He asks me to do certain plays and things about class and stuff like that. I mean, he's just helped out a lot me too on being out there on the court, offensive-wise, and defensive-wise. He's fast just like I am, and that helps out on defense for both teams when we're out there scrimmaging each other. I mean he's just an X-factor, a playmaker.

Q. Frank, you're one of the older guys on the team, and you guys lost the last game but you ended the season winning three or four, just talk about that momentum going into the game tomorrow against Georgia.
FRANK TOLBERT: I just figure the little winning streak that we did go on, we found our groove. You know, I think when we were on our losing streak, we got out of sync with each other. You know, we came back to practice before the Georgia game. We went at it hard, you know, we got competitive, and we came back and playing good in the Georgia game, but unfortunately we lost that. But you know, we were doing all the little things like boxing out, you know. Rebounding. So I feel good, you know even though we did lose that game.

Q. But going into tomorrow's game?
FRANK TOLBERT: Going into tomorrow's game, I feel we're going to go in and play hard. Every game we do play hard. Hopefully we'll come out with a victory?
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

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