MINNEAPOLIS — Auburn keeps winning, and Malik Dunbar keeps singing.
Whether it’s a rendition of "We've got Jared," Auburn's March Madness anthem, "Let's Get this Dub, Baby," his own personal composition, or "A Change is Gonna Come," a classic by Sam Cooke, Dunbar is just being himself.
"I haven't changed and this isn't an act," Dunbar said of his style of leadership. "I just come out here and do what I do. Being yourself is all that you can be, and I feel that when you switch it up, that's when things start going bad."
Dunbar, a South Carolina high school product and Florida junior college transfer, was a bouncing presence off the bench last year both on and off the court. But as a senior this season, his mischievous antics and hilarity in the locker room have increased.
After games, he constantly pretends to be a media member in the locker room, butting into scrums around teammates to sarcastically ask questions and try to break their focus.
Before games, his face will feature a goofy and toothy grin as he skips onto the floor for warmups — but his goal is also to make his teammates smile just as much.
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Bruce Pearl doesn’t intervene with his players’ pregame preparations. In a contrast to his flailing and sweaty methods during a game, Pearl said after Auburn’s first day of practice at the Final Four that he’s cool and collected the morning of an Auburn basketball game.
He calculates his game plan alone before warmups while the locker room is devoid of coaches. Pearl knows his players see him and hear from him enough, so he hopes the few minutes away will let them be themselves — not try to be something they’re not to impress the head coach.
His only requirement is they keep the energy positive. Dunbar makes sure of that.
“He lightens the moment,” Pearl said.
With a grin, the coach admitted he’s always been charmed by the “southern twang” in Dunbar’s singing chops.
“He always makes us smile,” Pearl said.
As silly as Dunbar makes sure to be as a vocal leader, he’s made sacrifices on the floor. As a wing who can play small forward or shooting guard, he’s started 12 of Auburn’s 39 games this season, and he’s averaging just over six points a game during Auburn’s NCAA Tournament run.
Often deferring on offense to the stellar backcourt of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, who have scored 42 percent of Auburn's points during March Madness, Dunbar is not asked to be a lethal scoring threat.
But that doesn’t mean his contributions as a wildly athletic defender, lightning-quick slasher and improved 3-point shooter — and soulful singer — aren’t equally as irreplaceable to the Tigers amid their first Final Four run in program history.
“To Malik's credit, he'd love to be getting the same shots Bryce Brown is getting, but he's not,” Pearl said. “He doesn't have that role… We don't all have to be Bryce Brown; we can't all be Jared Harper. but without Malik Dunbar, we're not here.”
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