Over the past couple of weeks, Auburn’s men’s basketball team has toured Israel to test their basketball skills and expand their cultural knowledge.
The team played against the Israeli u20 team, all-star team, and national team, finishing with a 2-1 record with two blowout victories and a good, competitive loss to end the tour's contests.
The team started out touring some of Israel’s most historic and religious sights, experiencing the Israeli way of life. When they first arrived, the team started by overlooking the city of Jerusalem, breaking bread and dancing with Coach Pearl.
But what is an Auburn basketball trip without some competition?
They spent a second day touring the city before taking on Israel’s u20 team. Auburn pulled out a 61-point win with freshman forward Yohan Traore of France leading the way with 20 points, shooting 7-of-12.
"You can see the talent, you can see the upside, you can see his ability to finish and obviously be able to play in space," said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
As Pearl promised would be the case, many faces saw the floor for the Tigers. Newcomers led the way, but not without key contributions from the veteran players.
Transfer Johni Broome finished second on the team with 17 points but led the team in blocks. Dylan Cardwell recorded his first, and only, double-double with 12 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.
However, the game was not played without some early hick-ups. Auburns defense suffered in the first quarter allowing the u20 team to score eight points but then shots started to fall in the second and the Tigers went on a 12-2 scoring run.
After one last day in Jerusalem, the team moved on to Bethlehem and had some fun in the Dead Sea. They also explored the Jordan River where many of the players decided to get baptized themselves. They also enjoyed dinner on the river dancing the hora.
In game two against the Israeli All-Star team in Tel Aviv, Auburn forced 30 turnovers that lead to its 107-71 win, propelling it to 2-0 on the trip.
The newcomers came up with strong showings once again. Freshman Chance Westry snatched seven of Auburn's 18 steals and scored 18 points for the Tigers. Traore had another 20-point game, leading the team in points.
“I came ready to play, ready to help my teammates win," Traore said. "Just bringing some great energy, playing hard and playing defense. We were locked in on defense."
Four Tigers finished the game in double figures. Cardwell led the squad with nine rebounds.
Before game three, the team took a tour of tunnels under the City of David and experienced the Holocaust memorial.
The last game of the tour took place in Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv. The Tigers fell to the Israel National Team by nine points, making their overall record 2-1.
Auburn played a close, high-fouling game, only allowing Israel to pull ahead a few times and battling back with a nine-point scoring run late in the fourth quarter.
“I feel like the highlight was when we were in the fourth quarter coming back, we stayed together as a team," said senior Jaylin Williams. "It’s something that coach (Pearl) preached a lot throughout the season and the summer. This whole trip is about bonding, and I feel like coming in and doing that contributed to our comeback a little bit.
Wendell Green was the leading points scorer with 19 points, a day after turning 20 years old, and Broome was the leading rebounder with 11 boards.
Auburn never ended a quarter in the lead, but it showed fight by closing out the last three minutes of every quarter strong.
Overall, the Tigers, who head back to home on the Plains tomorrow, got a great opportunity to build team cohesion and put on display just how good the chemistry on the team already is after losing two stars to the NBA Draft.
But the team didn't leave unblemished, and now they know things that need improvement.
“The biggest thing (I take away from the games in Israel) is that we’ve got 12 good basketball players, maybe even 13," Pearl said. "So, we’re going to go back for the next two months and we’re going to compete, and the guys that want to be out there are the guys that are going to play the most productively."
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