March 12, 2014

The next step


AUBURN | Charles Barkley said Wednesday night that he only wanted two things to happen with Auburn basketball:

a.) He wanted Tony Barbee to remain as coach

b.) He wanted the program to become affiliated with Nike

Barkley lost half the battle hours Wednesday after the Tigers' 75-56 loss to South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Athletic director Jay Jacobs met with Barbee at the team hotel in Atlanta and explained that the time had come for a major change.

And just like that, the Barbee era was over.

The move was warranted. Auburn had a reasonably deep and talented team while it prepared for the summer trip to Bahamas, but Barbee again was felled by problems with attrition. Small forward Shaq Johnson, a former three-star recruit, was dismissed for a publicly unspecified rules violation.

His understudy, Chris Griffin, was dismissed for the same reason in January.

He was the 13th player to leave Auburn prematurely during Barbee's four seasons on the Plains.

Attracting good basketball talent isn't easy for the Tigers, who have almost no roundball heritage and even less prestige in the recruiting world. Still, Barbee and his staff were able to land enough players to field a competitive team.

They just couldn't maintain a competitive team.

Who's fault is that? You know.

And now we arrive at the second item on Barkley's wish list. College basketball is a world driven largely by Nike and adidas, who pump hundreds of millions of dollars into making sure players are wearing their shoes. Professional players. College players. High school players. Everybody.

Auburn, as you know, wholeheartedly is betrothed to Under Armour. It's been that way since Nikki Borges, wife of former football assistant Al Borges, helped Jacobs hammer out a long-term deal for Under Armour to be the Tigers' exclusive athletic outfitter.

The relationship has been a good one in many ways. The school currently receives remuneration worth approximately $4 million per year from Under Armour, which is a trendy brand in the football world.

Basketball? Not so much.

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