The Stretch 4: Auburn basketball is officially back on the floor
The Tigers opened Season 10 of the Bruce Pearl era on Tuesday with their first day of practice. Here's what we learned at the Arena.
C Johni Broome and PF Chaney Johnson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
When Bruce Pearl broke the huddle at midcourt inside Neville Arena on Tuesday afternoon, he was — in a way — officially starting his 10th season as Auburn’s head men’s basketball coach.
Tuesday was the first official practice day for the Tigers, who had been limited to just eight hours of work a week during the true offseason.
And Pearl, who has won a lot of games and coached in a lot of tournaments, said this was the best time of the year to be a coach.
“This is the best time of the year for us, because we’re trying to put together what we think we have,” Pearl said. “What did we see all summer? What did we learn about the new guys? What did we learn about the returning guys? And now it’s time to put it all together.
“And we’ve got about a month before we actually start playing somebody else. The guys are already ready to play against somebody else. But there’s still so many things about what we do offensively and defensively that we need to put in to get ourselves, obviously, ready.”
By the end of the 2023-24 season, Pearl will have spent a full decade in charge on the Plains. The only head coach in the SEC who has been around as long as he has is John Calipari at Kentucky. Half of the league has changed coaches multiple times since he was hired at Auburn.
When Pearl got to Auburn, the Tigers had a losing record in nine of their previous 12 seasons. They hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse knocked them out in the 2003 Sweet 16. If Auburn wasn’t in the worst shape of any major-conference men’s college basketball program, it was close.
Now? After a few years of building, Pearl has one of the best programs in the SEC.
Over the last six seasons, Auburn has won the second-most NCAA Tournament games of any team in the conference and has three titles to show for it. The Tigers have made four of the last five NCAA Tournaments and have been ranked inside the top 11 in five of the last six seasons. Auburn has produced six NBA draft picks in the last five years after an 18-year drought in that department.
And, once again, maintaining that high place on top of the SEC is going to be tougher than ever. No one in the league is taking men’s basketball for granted, and several programs have reached the successful heights of Pearl’s Auburn in recent seasons.
“Our goal is to be able to come back next year and say, ‘Over the last seven years, we've had the best program in the league,’” Pearl said. “That's going to be challenging, because there are some people that are right behind us. Can we say next year that we've won more NCAA Tournament games than anybody over the last seven years? That's kind of what my goal is. That, obviously, and to compete for championships.
“So we're excited to get started.”
When Pearl broke the huddle Tuesday, he had a new-look team on the floor going through drills. The starting frontcourt of Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome are back, along with returning reserves K.D. Johnson, Tre Donaldson, Chris Moore and Dylan Cardwell.
But Auburn has three transfers it hopes will make instant impacts — Denver Jones, Chad Baker-Mazara and Chaney Johnson — along with the No. 2-ranked signee in program history in McDonald’s All-American point guard Aden Holloway. (A role for JUCO transfer Addarin Scott, a later arrival, still feels to be determined.)
The Tigers have a little more than a month to come together before they open the season with an exhibition against AUM and a trip to South Dakota to face an always-imposing Baylor team. They think they’ll be ready for the challenge.
“Team’s got some good chemistry going on,” Broome said. “We've got a lot of good players on the team, new additions to the team. Everybody was working, competing and getting better each day. So I think it’s going to be good.”
With basketball practice now underway, it’s a perfect time to drop a new edition of The Stretch 4 here at The Auburn Observer. For those who are newer subscribers, this is a recurring feature during hoops season where we run through four major topics for Auburn basketball in one newsletter. These will become more frequent during the season, but you might see this a time or two during the preseason.
Let’s start off with the latest on a starting job competition that’s definitely grabbing our attention…
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