It’s a new year for Bruce Pearl and Auburn basketball.
After knocking off North Carolina and Kentucky last season en route to a 30-10 record and the first Final Four berth in program history, the buzz around a new season is undeniable.
But, as record-breaking seasons come, record-setting players go.
“With five seniors and nine newcomers, I don't know that I've ever had a roster that was so experienced on one end and so inexperienced on the other end,” Pearl said Tuesday of this year’s team. “So the seniors are ready to go, and a lot of the newcomers are still trying to learn where to go. So that's going to be a very interesting challenge as we get started.”
The Tigers, who are reigning SEC Tournament champions, lost three big pieces from arguably the greatest team in the school’s history. Point guard Jared Harper, who averaged 15.3 points per game, went undrafted but signed a two-way professional deal with the Phoenix Suns. Shooting guard Bryce Brown, who set the school record for 3-pointers made in a regular season, also went undrafted but signed with the Boston Celtics in the NBA G League. And Chuma Okeke, who averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds per game, was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA Draft. Auburn also loses four-year starter Horace Spencer, who plays professionally overseas, and Malik Dunbar.
The biggest challenge, for Pearl, will be finding newcomers to replace one of the most experienced teams he’s ever had.
“Just looking back at last season, especially as it relates to this team: Jared Harper’s third year, Bryce Brown’s fourth year, Chuma Okeke was one of the smartest players I ever coached,” Pearl said. “We talked about how good he was all the time and we saw how good he was at the end of the season last year.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
And then Horace a fourth-year player and Malik had been in his second year. Not to mention Austin in his third year, Danjel in his third year and Anfernee in his third year. It was just a lot of experience. J’Von McCormick was the only newcomer and he didn’t really show up until late in the year, which just tells you how challenging that learning curve is. That’s our biggest obstacle right now, it’s just that learning curve.”
The Tigers added seven newcomers in the 2019 class, with 5-star Isaac Okoro headlining the group. Pearl also brought in two 4-stars in forwards Babatunde Akingbola and Jaylin Williams. Returning contributors from last season include Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy and J’Von McCormick.
“Excited to get started. Excited about our length, our size, our athleticism. Our biggest challenge is going to be our seniors — all are going to be playing a brand new role,” Pearl said. “All five of those seniors, if you think about it, are going to be asked to do something different than what they did a year ago. Which one of the newcomers can come in and help out real quickly and handling the challenge of the SEC continuing to be building one of arguably the, if not one, of the best basketball conferences in the country.”
Auburn plays Eckerd in an exhibition game on Nov. 1 and then opens the regular season with Georgia Southern on Nov. 5 inside Auburn Arena.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman