After a title-winning campaign, what will Auburn basketball's roster look like next season?
Bruce Pearl completely overhauled his roster last year. He probably won't have to do that again, but some significant changes could be made.
PG Wendell Green Jr. (Matthew Shannon/Auburn Athletics)
Thanks to the one-time free transfer waiver and the extra year of eligibility due to COVID, college basketball rosters are in a constant state of evolution.
Just think back to the end of last season. Auburn didn’t have a single senior and had only two juniors on its 2020-21 roster. Everyone could have returned for the Tigers, if they wanted to do so.
But Sharife Cooper and JT Thor became one-and-done players who were taken in the second round of the NBA Draft. Justin Powell made the surprise decision to transfer to Tennessee. Jamal Johnson and Javon Franklin joined Powell in the portal. (To show just how movement is seemingly endless in this sport, Johnson is back in the portal again and will look to play his final year at a fourth different school.)
Auburn found itself in a situation where it was only going to return six scholarship players. They had two 2021 signees in Jabari Smith and Trey Alexander, but they were going to need to hit the portal hard. Auburn later landed commitments from Walker Kessler, Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper and Desi Sills.
After Sills committed to Auburn, Alexander announced that he had been released from his letter and was reopening his recruitment. (He later landed at Creighton.) Auburn replaced Alexander, via the transfer portal, with K.D. Johnson. Sills signed with the Tigers but later announced he would transfer to Arkansas State due to an issue involving academics.
All of that happened in the span of three months. Auburn went from a young roster to a thin roster to a reloaded roster that further revamped late in the process.
That’s the cost of doing business in college basketball, especially when a team recruits players who have the ability to go pro quickly. And while experience and continuity are important, the relative lack of both doesn’t keep a team from being successful.
Auburn took a brand-new roster and won the outright SEC regular-season title with it. Four of the teams left in the Sweet 16 — a quarter of the field — had a lower percentage of KenPom minutes continuity than the Tigers this season.
Winning in a power conference requires high levels of talent, and it takes a lot of work to both construct and maintain a roster with that amount of talent in this day and age. It’s arguably as important as the Xs and Os of coaching. During his time building Auburn into a consistent force in the SEC, Bruce Pearl has shown he has been able to handle it as well as any head coach in Division I basketball.
“As far as the future is concerned, I just always promise those kids, I'm going to bring in good guys,” Pearl said after the Miami loss. “I'm going to bring in guys they want to be around, guys they want to live with, hang with, and go to church with, go to lunch with. That's what we'll do.”
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