Auburn Week continues with a look at the basketball court, where the Tigers have seen sporadic success and enormous personalities.
If you ask people who the best athlete to ever come out of Auburn University, most of them will tell you it was Bo Jackson. If you ask Bo Jackson, he’ll tell you it was Charles Barkley.
Incidentally, if you ask Charles Barkley that question…he’ll also tell you it was Charles Barkley.
While Auburn is far from a storied program when it comes to basketball, they certainly have their history and their achievements are revered mightily by the orange and blue faithful.
A Short History
Under the guidance of "Iron Mike" Donahue, the Auburn basketball program was born in 1905. Donahue, who played quarterback at Yale University before graduating from the prestigious Ivy League school in 1903, became Auburn’s head football coach in 1904. And though he served as the head football coach at Auburn from 1904-1922, he also found the time to coach the basketball team as well from 1905-1921. As a basketball coach, he excelled at football. In his 16 seasons in charge of the action on the hardwood, his teams compiled a 74-80 record. Conversely, his football teams at Auburn racked up a more than impressive 105-35-5 record, earning two Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles in 1913 and 1919 and his 1913 squad was retroactively recognized as a National Champion.
After Donahue departed Auburn to move on to LSU, Tiger basketball would see a number of head coaches in a revolving door of non-success. From 1921 to the end of the 1933 season, Auburn would go through 6 different head coaches compiling a record of 89 wins against 96 losses. In 1932, a young man from Selma, AL, named James Ralph "Shug" Jordan (pronounced JURD-an, fyi) graduated from Auburn University after lettering in football, basketball and baseball while also being voted Most Outstanding Athlete in 1932. The following year, Ralph Jordan became the head basketball coach at Auburn (and, just because it was apparently the custom, he was also named assistant football coach). He coached the Tigers from 1933-1942 and then again from 1945-1946. During his "time off", Jordan served in the United States Army as an officer, seeing action in North Africa and Sicily before being wounded in the invasion of Normandy and receiving a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. After recovering from his wounds, he continued his served in the Pacific serving at Okinawa. During his 10 years as Auburn’s basketball coach, Shug Jordan compiled a record of 95-77 and is 5th all-time in wins for Auburn basketball. Now, the name Jordan should be familiar when it’s mentioned with Auburn, and that’s because Ralph Jordan would return to Auburn in 1951 (after serving as Georgia’s head basketball coach from 1946-1950) to go on to become Auburn’s winningest football coach of all-time. The football stadium, formerly Cliff Hare Stadium, was renamed Jordan-Hare Stadium in his honor in 1973.
The next 5 years were business as usual for Auburn basketball, until former Tiger basketball player Joel H. Eaves was hired prior to the 1949 season and Auburn would enter its best, longest stretch of success it would enjoy in basketball. Eaves coached the Tigers for 14 seasons from 1949-1963, amassing a 213-100 record and winning the school’s first regular season Conference Championship in 1960, clinched by defeating arch-rival Alabama 63-61 in overtime. The 1960 team sported a record of 19-3 (12-2) and finished the year ranked #11 in the final AP poll. Eaves still stands atop the Auburn list of wins for a coaching career and only Mike Donahue coached more seasons for the Tigers.
Each of the next 2 coaches would compile winning records overall, but only just. The Tigers went 200-185 from 1963-1978 before Charles H. "Sonny" Smith, former Milligan College standout and East Tennessee State coach, would usher in a new era of success for Auburn.
Under Smith’s leadership, Auburn would win their only SEC Conference Tournament, make their first 5 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen twice and Elite Eight once. Smith was also named SEC Coach of the Year in 1984 and 1989 and is the only Auburn basketball coach in history to have three consecutive 20-win seasons (1984-86). Not coincidentally, it was during this time that Auburn had its two most celebrated basketball alums: Charles Barkley (1981-1984) and Chuck Person (1982-1986).
Charles Barkley from Leeds, Alabama, came to Auburn in 1981 and would spend 3 years dominating the SEC boards. In each of his three seasons, he led the SEC in rebounds. Earning the name "The Round Mound of Rebound", Barkley’s lack of height and overweight frame would never keep him from crowd-pleasing with blocked shots or defensive rebounds that led to him dribbling the length of the floor to finish with a 2-handed dunk. He was SEC Player of the Year in 1984, a 3-time All-SEC selection and was Second Team All-American once. He would later be named the SEC Player of the Decade for the 1980s by the Birmingham Post-Herald. He averaged 14.8 points per game for his career on 68.2% field goal shooting, 9.6 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists and 1.7 blocks. His lone NCAA Tournament appearance finished with him scoring 23 points on 80% shooting, grabbing 17 rebounds, chalking up 4 assists and adding 2 steals and 2 blocks. Barkley went on to be selected 5th overall in the 1st Round of the 1984 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and would enjoy a marvelous NBA career resulting in his enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During his illustrious NBA career he was MVP once (1993), an All-Star 11 times, named to the All-NBA First Team 5 times, All-NBA Second Team 5 times, was a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, scored 23,757 points, grabbed 12,546 rebounds and added 4,215 assists. He was also a member of the 1992 USA Dream Team.
Chuck Person of Brantley, Alabama, was not heavily recruited out of high school but Auburn took a chance on him in 1982. After serving as mainly a reserve player to start his career, he blossomed into a starter at forward teamed with Charles Barkley at Center. Even after Barkley’s departure in 1984, Person still made Auburn a relevant team and led the Tigers to be the first team to ever win 4 games in 4 days to win the SEC Tournament (Auburn’s first and only SEC Tournament title) in 1985. As a Senior, Person led Auburn to an upset victory over No. 1 ranked St. John’s University on its way to an Elite Eight appearance before losing to eventual National Champion Louisville. Person holds Auburn’s single-season scoring record with 747 points in 1984-85 as well as the career record at 2,311. His 108 double-figure scoring games in his career is also an Auburn record, racking up a mind-blowing 68 consecutive games with at least 10 points from the final 3 games of the ’83 season through the end of the 1985 season. Chuck would go on to be drafted 4th overall in the 1986 draft by the Indiana Pacers and would play in the NBA until 2000. He was voted Rookie of the Year in 1987 and scored 13,858 points in his NBA career with 5 different teams.
Sonny Smith left Auburn following the 1989 season with a career record of 173-154.
The other notable Auburn basketball coach came in Cliff Ellis who coached there from 1994-2004, leaving with a record of 186-125. He would take Auburn back to the NCAA Tournament 3 times (1999, 2000 and 2003), making the Sweet Sixteen twice and winning Auburn’s only other SEC regular season Conference Title in 1999. The 1999 team finished 29-4 (14-2) on the season, with a #4 ranking in the final AP poll.
All told, Auburn’s record in 106 seasons of basketball is 1231-1079, a .532 winning percentage. They are 557-655 in SEC play, a winning percentage of just .459.
Current head coach Tony Barbee has been at Auburn since 2010 so he will be entering his 3rd season this year with a record of 26-36 (9-23). Barbee was a successful coach at UTEP for 4 seasons prior to being hired at Auburn where he led the Miners to a 82-52 mark and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2010 after winning the Conference USA championship. He was named Conference USA Coach of the Year following the 2010 season.
The current Auburn Tigers return the majority of their team coming off a 15-16 season, including leading scorer Frankie Sullivan who scored 12.8 ppg from his SG position. Sullivan also led the team in steals with 1.4 per game. The Tigers signed 5 players in the 2012 class, headlined by 4-star SF Jordan Price out of Lithonia, GA who Rivals.com ranked as the #16 player at his position and #79 player overall. Joining him are a quartet of 3-star players in 6’11" C Asauhn Dixon-Tatum from Chattahoochee Technical College, SG Brian Greene Jr. from IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, SF Shaquille Johnson from Alpharetta, GA, and 6’7" PF Jordon Granger from Florrisant, MO.
Tigers In The NBA
Five players have had their jersey retired at Auburn: #34 Charles Barkley, #15 John Mengelt, #23 Rex Frederick, #45 Chuck Person and #11 Wesley Person. In addition to Barkley and Chuck Person in the NBA, Auburn has had 18 other players go on to the league: Jamison Brewer, Pat Burke, Bobby Cattage, Marquis Daniels, Adam Harrington, Eddie Johnson, Darrell Lockhart, John Mengelt, Mike Mitchell, Chris Morris, Mamadou N’diaye, Moochie Norris, Myles Patrck, Stan Pietkiewicz, Wesley Person, Chris Porter and Aaron Swinson. Auburn boasts 11 All-Americans, 85 All-SEC selections, with two SEC Players of the Year, 7 SEC Coaches of the Year and one National Coach of the Year.
Best Of The Best
Auburn’s single-season leading scorer is Chuck Person with 747, who also holds the career mark at 2,311. The highest average per game scoring in a season goes to John Mengelt in 1970-71 with 28.4 ppg, and Mengelt also holds the career record for average at 24.8 from 1968-71. Korvotney Barber holds the record for rebounds in a season, set recently in 2008-09 with 347 (133 of which were offensive). The career mark is held by Mike Mitchell with 996 from 1974-78. Gerald White holds the season and career marks for assists with 221 in 1985-86 and 624 from 1983-87. Kyle Davis owns the blocked shots records for game (13), season (126 in 2002-03) and career (288 from 2000-04). The single-season record for steals is held by Marquis Daniels in 2002-03 with 78, and Quantez Robertson holds the career mark at 210 from 2005-09. The career mark was tied by DeWayne Reed from 2006-10.
Auburn plays its home games at Auburn Arena (creative name…oh, wait), which was opened in 2010 and seats 9,121. Auburn lost the inaugural game at Auburn Arena to UNC Asheville, losing 70-69 in overtime.
Missouri's All-Time Series Versus Auburn
The next time Mizzou and Auburn play will actually be their first.