As the summer semester continues at Auburn, Bruce Pearl and his team have returned to the practice court, and Pearl likes what he has seen so far.
“It’s great to get on the floor, and it’s incredible to have seven guys that played a lot of basketball for me return,” Pearl said. “In my first three years here – of course my first year everybody’s new – after my first year, we lost most of the team to graduation. I had some fifth year transfers, and last year I had five new freshmen.
“This now is a very, very good returning group. We learned a great deal from last year, good, bad and ugly. We’ve added a couple of really good transfers and freshmen, and this is by far the most talented and deepest roster since I’ve been at Auburn and I’m excited.”
Pearl specifically noted rising sophomores Danjel Purifoy and Mustapha Heron, who will be returning to their more natural positions for the 2017-18 season.
“Danjel is 6’8”, will go from mostly playing power forward for us last year to playing a more small forward wing position. He is a great shooter with great range,” Auburn’s fourth-year head coach said. “He shot 37 percent from three and was 88 percent from the free throw line, and he has really good speed, athleticism and quickness.
“The biggest area he has to improve on is the defensive area, and the physicality of the game. I think playing against players his own size now is going to allow him to do that.”
“Mustapha Heron is going from playing mostly the three or small forward to more of a two-guard position,” Pearl said about his Freshman All-SEC performer. “His ability to score was obviously very well known. He led us in scoring. He was top 10 in the SEC in scoring. I think that his ability to play make and defend will improve in this offseason because last year he was able to score and rebound and get to the foul line at a very high level.”
Pearl believes that his returning core this year will help swing some games in the Tigers’ favor.
“It really helps having history. It really helps having had experiences, and you can experience those things in a season and try to grow and develop,” Pearl said. “At one point in the year, we were 9-1 in close games, in our first 10, and I think that in the back half when we got to the SEC and played against more experienced teams, you know we might’ve been .500 in close games.
“So, we let some games get away and I think having done that, I think that when we call time out and need a stop - in reference back to some mistakes in the past – when guys need to step up and make free throws late in the game, they now will have had the experience. We know each other better now, both as players and players and coaches and players, so a tremendous advantage. This is the first time since I’ve been at Auburn that’s been the case.”