Local Auburn fans excited to see how the Tigers do in first Final Four

Published 6:36 pm Friday, April 5, 2019

It’s only a 30-minute drive down Interstate 85 from Valley High School to Auburn University, and not surprisingly, Chambers County is full of Tigers’ fans.

Auburn is the talk of the state, as the men’s basketball program plays in its first Final Four in school history this weekend. As a five-seed, Auburn is the lowest seed to make the national semifinal round. The Tigers defeated New Mexico State, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky to make it to Saturday’s matchup against Virginia.

“I thought going in Auburn was in the toughest bracket,” lifelong Auburn fan Kenny Knox said. “I’m like you and probably everybody else, I didn’t think that they were going to make it through it.”

Email newsletter signup

Knox is the owner of the Kenny Knox Tire Center on Fob James Drive in Valley. Once a customer walks into his shop, they immediately see the walls plastered by framed signed Auburn memorabilia, including Heisman Trophy winners Cam Newton, Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson. The jersey collection also includes Cadillac Williams and Valley native Lemanski Hall.

On another wall are signed pictures that include local athletes like Marcus Pollard and Terry Daniel. JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow’s also signed a photo for him last year at fan day.

“I try to get all the pictures that I’ve got [signed], I try to get all of the local guys that I can get,” Knox said. “If I don’t have them, it’s because maybe I haven’t seen them or I’ve asked them and might not have got them, but I try to get all of the local figures and a picture of them because that’s what we promote. There’s a lot of local talent that comes out of this area.”

Not surprisingly, most of his memories are football related.

His Auburn memories begin in 1972 when the Tigers blocked two Alabama punts in route to a 17-16 victory over the Crimson Tide in Birmingham.

“I’ve never been anything but an Auburn fan,” Knox said.

Jase Phillips, a Southern Union Community College student and Valley High School graduate, went to Minneapolis for the Final Four.

He plans to transfer to Auburn after completing his core curriculum courses at Southern Union.

His family has owned football season tickets since he was seven years old and basketball season tickets since the start of the Bruce Pearl era in 2014. His favorite Auburn moment was the Kick Six in 2013 when the Tigers defeated Alabama on a last-second missed field goal attempt to keep Auburn’s national championship hopes alive. Phillips said he was in the end zone and got to storm the field with the Auburn faithful.

“I’m so excited about this team,” Phillips said. “It’s the definition of an underdog story. You don’t have the McDonald’s All-Americans, you don’t have the five-star names, you have a bunch of three-star guys who go to practice every day under [Auburn men’s head basketball coach Bruce] Pearl and they want to play for him. That’s where it all starts is with Bruce Pearl. You’ve got a guy who cares about his players so much.”

After such a tough run to the Final Four, Auburn fans are dreaming big. Neither Alabama or Auburn have ever made it this far in the NCAA Tournament, and Tigers fans are hoping to see two more victories.

“Beating Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, which are the three winningest programs in college basketball, back-to-back-to-back, that’s something that I think confirms you calling yourself a basketball school because there aren’t many, if any schools, that can say that,” Phillips said. “That’s one of the toughest runs to the Final Four that I think anyone has ever had to go through. We’ve been the underdog in every game. We’re going to continue to be the underdog in the Final Four, but I think that’s good. I think that’s going to fuel our guys, even more, to want to win it.”

The Auburn-Virginia game tips at 6:09 p.m. ET on CBS. 

Texas Tech and Michigan State will play afterward, with the two winners playing Monday night in the national title game.