Johni Broome is back. Here's why he could have a huge second season at Auburn.
Auburn's All-SEC center returning is already big for the program. But the way the roster has been rebuilt should raise his ceiling.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
With no disrespect towards Denver Jones, Chaney Johnson and Chad Baker-Mazara — three transfers who will bring a ton of value — the biggest roster news of Auburn basketball’s offseason came earlier this week.
Johni Broome officially announced that he was returning to the Tigers for the 2023-24 season, pulling out of the NBA Draft just a couple of days ahead of the withdrawal deadline.
Broome’s return to the Plains was expected, even though he put some Auburn fans through several stressful days of waiting.
The Auburn center had a tremendous performance in multiple scrimmages as an invitee to the G League Elite Camp, which earned him a coveted spot at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. There, Broome looked like one of the best big men on the floor again in scrimmage work.
As Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl tweeted after the decision was announced, Broome could have stayed in the NBA Draft and had a chance to go in the second round. But second-round draft picks don’t get guaranteed money and usually are stuck to two-way deals that split time between the G League and the parent club.
Auburn’s philosophy with NBA Draft entrants under Pearl has been consistent: If you are projected to go in the first round, go get that money. If not, you might be better off returning to the Plains and getting an opportunity to improve your draft stock.
“Johni definitely helped himself and clearly does the things that he does,” Pearl said earlier this month. “He's able to score, he played physically, he has high basketball IQ and the things he needs to continue to work on — his defense, his rim protection, rebounding out of his area — we'll see that again. … We're rooting for Johni on one hand. On the other hand, we'd obviously love to have him back, because he could be one of the best players preseason in college basketball next season."
Broome chose the latter option, and it was a massive win for the Tigers. Auburn had gone after a few centers in the transfer portal this offseason, but it hadn’t gotten too serious with any of them because of the likelihood that Broome would return. Broome’s breakout performances in Chicago might have led to a spot on an NBA team, but now Auburn will avoid trying to land a starter-quality center this late in the offseason.
And what a center the Tigers will be bringing back into the fold.
In his first season at Auburn after transferring from Morehead State, Broome ranked 13th in the SEC in points per game, third in rebounds per game (but second in rebounding percentage), second in blocks per game (but first in block percentage), fourth in field-goal percentage, sixth in effective field goal percentage, third in PER, 10th in win shares per 40 minutes and 11th in box plus/minus.
Broome earned second-team All-SEC honors for his junior season, which included 10 double-doubles, 15 games with 15-plus points and 10 contests in which he had at least four blocks. As friend of the newsletter Nathan King wrote earlier this week, there’s a really good argument to be made that Broome will enter the 2023-24 season as the best returning big man in the conference after departures elsewhere.
Whenever a star returns for another season, there’s a natural expectation for that player to get even better. It’s not always that easy, as countless examples over the years will show you.
However, there’s a really strong case to be made that next season could be massive for Broome — because of what else at Auburn has gone on this offseason.
Let’s go back to Broome’s performances in Chicago. Broome averaged 20 points in his two scrimmages at the G League Elite Camp before posting a 20-and-11 double-double in his first scrimmage at the combine. (Broome also had six points and five rebounds in limited minutes during the second scrimmage.)
“Not sure he’s done anything this week we didn’t already know he could do, but just so productive and helped by NBA spacing,” tweeted Kevin Sweeney, who covers the NBA Draft for Sports Illustrated. “Will have a monster year if he goes back to Auburn.”
While Auburn might not have “NBA spacing” next season on the Plains, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Broome will be able to operate like he did in Chicago much more often.