The Stretch 4: Bruce Pearl really likes his new-look Auburn basketball roster
"I didn't want to lose a single (transfer), but I think, in many ways, we've improved ourselves. We've gotten older, and we're more experienced."
HC Bruce Pearl (Auburn Athletics)
Bruce Pearl knows what the outside perception of Auburn basketball is right now.
The Tigers lost Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper and Allen Flanigan, along with former blue-chip recruits Yohan Traore and Chance Westry.
Outside of 5-star point guard Aden Holloway, the newcomers on the Plains didn’t get as much love as other high-profile transfers. Auburn got a mid-major guard in Denver Jones, a Division II transfer in Chaney Johnson and two JUCO pickups in Chad Baker-Mazara and Addarin Scott.
Those hauls won’t be looked at in the same way as the star-studded ones at Kansas or Villanova, or even the ones inside the SEC at Florida or Ole Miss.
“Our transfers were not nearly as heralded from a recruiting standpoint as I think a lot of transfers were based on coming from Power 5 schools,” Pearl said Friday. “But… I thought our staff did an outstanding job in the evaluation process. We studied the film, we studied them against certain opponents and we made evaluations not based on the name on the front of the jerseys. We made evaluations based on how good we thought they were going to be.
“I don’t think any of them are going to be disappointing. I think they are all going to be a little better than what they’re perceived or how they’re ranked.”
It doesn’t hurt at all that this crop of newcomers is a core part of what Pearl is calling his hardest-working team in his now 10 years on the Plains — and a team that he says has improved “in many ways,” even with the offseason departures.
“Normally, you have two or three guys that are working all day, everyday, 24/7 kinda stuff,” Pearl said. “I’ve got seven or eight guys you can absolutely put in that category.”
It’s been a strong offseason for Auburn basketball, which returns Jaylin Williams, Johni Broome, K.D. Johnson, Tre Donaldson, Dylan Cardwell and Chris Moore from last year’s rotation.
Pearl has raved about the individual player development — both from a physical and a skill-level standpoint — saying that “they’ve never been bigger, stronger, quicker or more ready to start a season than they are right now.”
That’s the kind of offseason that a team playing a loaded non-conference schedule and fighting in an increasingly loaded conference needs to have. This Auburn team won’t be it’s most talented on paper, but the intangibles could take these Tigers a long way.
“I like the chemistry,” Pearl said. “I like the culture. I like the work ethic. I like our guys.”
Pearl spoke for the better part of an hour with reporters Friday morning, talking all things Auburn basketball while promoting his foundation’s support of the upcoming musical We’ll Meet Again and Unite Auburn.
Here’s a special edition of The Stretch 4 on what we heard from Pearl, from all the newcomers to an early breakdown of the Tigers’ 2023-24 schedule.
A ‘good competition’ is brewing between Tre Donaldson and Aden Holloway
Since he committed to Auburn more than a year ago and signed with the program more than nine months ago, it can be easy to forget just what kind of freshman point guard the Tigers now have in Holloway.
The McDonald’s All-American was a consensus top-20 prospect and top-five point guard in the Class of 2023. According to the 247Sports Composite, Holloway is the second highest-rated signee in program history, only behind Jabari Smith and just ahead of Sharife Cooper.
Auburn has been on quite a run of point guards during the Pearl Era, but Holloway has the potential to be a cut above the rest.
“He probably shoots it as well or better than any of them,” Pearl said. “He’s got another gear. He’s probably physically a little farther ahead than some of the freshman point guards that we’ve had that have come in and done well. … Like many of our really talented players, the story of a Jabari Smith or a Walker Kessler or an Isaac Okoro is really about the work ethic.
“Yes, some of these really good players were blessed, but they were also our hardest workers. That’s what Aden brings to the table. He’s a complete and total gym rat.”
But Holloway won’t just be handed the keys to Auburn as the new starting point guard. That’s because the Tigers also have Donaldson, who caught fire late last season.
“There were times when we were better with Tre on the floor because of how he led, how he distributed and his ability to make open shots,” Pearl said. “That is a real competition for who’s going to start and who’s going to finish. But because they can both shoot the basketball, they can also play out there on the floor together.”
Donaldson had a net rating of +6.5 during the last 10 games of the season, which ranked third on the team behind Williams and Flanigan. In the final five games, he led the Tigers with a net rating of +14.2, and he went a perfect 5-5 from deep in the two NCAA Tournament games against Iowa and Houston.
Last season, Donaldson and Green were on the floor at the same time for only 12 minutes. However, it sounds like Pearl is already open to playing multiple point guards at the same time because of their knockdown shooting ability.
A strong, healthy competition at the starting point guard spot should make both Holloway and Donaldson better. It’s another good example of the culture and chemistry that the Tigers have been able to build in a short amount of time.
“Tre had a great summer in both teaching Aden and helping Aden understand the system, helping him learn,” Pearl said. “Tre provided great leadership while also trying to beat him out.”