It's no surprise two Auburn players are leaving the program since the Tigers needed to trim their roster to alleviate a scholarship crunch.
What is a shock, however, is that guard Earnest Ross is one of the departures.
Ross, Auburn's leading scorer and rebounder last season, will leave the program along with seldom-used power forward Ty Armstrong, Auburn announced Wednesday. The 6-foot-5 junior blossomed into one of the few bright spots for the Tigers last season, starting 27 of 31 games and averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.
"I have mutually agreed with Ty Armstrong and Earnest Ross for them to go in a different direction both academically and athletically," coach Tony Barbee said in a statement released by the school. "We wish them the best in their future."
The departure of Ross short-circuits whatever momentum Auburn built at the end of last season when it rallied from an 0-6 SEC start to win four of its final 10 conference games. Granted the late-season spurt of competency hardly made a ripple on a national level, but it was a sign of progress for a program that lost to Samford, Campbell, Presbyterian and UNC Asheville in the preseason.
Auburn might have made another step forward with Ross as its leader, but the roster once again appears awfully threadbare without him. Maybe a solid but unremarkable three-man incoming class can make an immediate impact, maybe Texas transfer Varez Ward will bounce back strong after not playing most of the past two years or perhaps Clemson transfer Noel Johnson will become the go-to scorer many thought he would be when he was a top 75 prospect as a high school senior.
Regardless, Auburn will miss Ross, the latest Jeff Lebo recruit to leave the program since Barbee's arrival. Center Rob Chubb is the lone freshman from Lebo's 2009 class still with the team.