ROCKFORD — You never knew what you got with Auburn last year. The Knights won their seventh regional title in 10 years, but their lineup changed every week. Will the Knights try that formula again?
“I sure hope not,” coach Bryan Ott said after Auburn edged North Chicago 67-64 in its season opener Monday despite missing three starters, one with a dislocated knee cap and two ineligible on a week-to-week basis. “This is not what I envisioned with these kids.
“These kids are supposed to be hungry. They are not supposed to let this happen to them. If it’s your turn, you are supposed to step up to that. Now they have to make it right.”
The Knights also have no returning starters. The last time that happened, they took fourth in the state in 2016 anyway and led the eventual state champs with two minutes to play.
Auburn is used to overcoming difficulties, including an annual lack of height. Both state trophy teams averaged around 6 feet. So does this team. Tyshawn Whitt, a 5-9 left-handed senior guard, wound up defending in the post Monday against a North Chicago front line that stood 6-9, 6-8 and 6-5.
“Tyshawn is physical and did a great job defending down low,” Ott said. “He came up with a lot of offensive rebounds, too. He’s an amazing offensive rebounder. He’s a fearless kid. Tough as nails.”
Whitt, who had a team-high 21 points Monday, and 5-11 sophomore point guard Josh Ausler, who scored 18, will be Auburn’s leaders.
“Josh is our main ball handler and our principal scorer, too,” Ott said. “We run a lot of stuff through Josh. Ready or not, he has to lead us. He’s being called upon.”
Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; email@example.com; @matttrowbridge
Knights at a glance
Coach: Bryan Ott (20th season, 340-222)
Last season: 20-12 (12-4)
Predicted finish: 3rd
Returning starters: None
Other key players: Josh Ausler (5-11, Soph. G), Javin Davis (6-2 Jr. F), Justin Blake (6-2 Sr. F), Tyshawn Whitt (5-9 Sr. G), Markus Burd (5-9 Sr. G), Maurice Williams (6-0 Sr. G), Elliott Gary (6-1 Sr. F), Haniefe Johnson (5-8 Jr. G), Robert Chaney (5-11 Fresh. G).
Strengths: Speed, quickness, competitiveness, strong point guard play.
Weaknesses: Lack of size and experience.
Outlook: Auburn should be one of the top four teams in the league and could finish as high as second. “Our lack of experience across the board as well as a tough schedule inside the conference and out may cause some growing pains at first, but I expect us to compete with everyone in our league and be in the running at the end,” coach Bryan Ott said.