The Stretch 4: Auburn heads into first game vs. Golden... and fourth vs. Castleton
The Tigers' SEC opener Wednesday will feature familiar faces both on the floor and on the sidelines — ones that will define the matchup.
PF Jaylin Williams (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
There are 363 head coaches in Division I men’s college basketball. Only two of them would be welcome in Auburn assistant coach Steven Pearl’s home the night before a game.
One of them is his father, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. The other is Florida head coach Todd Golden, who will bring his Gators to the Plains on Wednesday night.
“And I've got some good friends in the profession, but (Golden) is probably the only one that I'd be comfortable enough to do it with,” Steven said Tuesday afternoon.
That’s because, like Bruce, Golden is family to Steven. He’s “like a brother” to him. Their relationship dates back to his high school days, when they played together on a trip to Australia. In 2009, the two reunited on the court as part of the USA team that Bruce coached to a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
After a short career playing pro basketball in Israel, Golden considered going into coaching. Bruce tried to talk him out of it, telling him he was “way too smart for this.” But Golden got a job as an assistant for Kyle Smith at Columbia, then Bruce hired him on his staff at Auburn.
Smith hired Golden back at San Francisco, and he eventually became his successor. Back in Auburn, the Pearls would stay up late at night to watch Golden coach the Dons.
“A lot of guys you meet in the coaching profession, you meet them through coaching, right?” Steven said. “We've known each other since we were kids, basically. So it's more of a family-type thing than a friendship-type thing.”
Then the Pearls’ adopted basketball son and brother came a lot closer to home, when Florida made the decision to hire Golden to be its new head coach. Steven got the news via an Apple Watch notification during halftime of Auburn’s NCAA Tournament game against Jacksonville State back in March.
On Wednesday night, for the very first time, the Pearls will face Golden as opponents. But on Tuesday night, the two families were set to share a meal together — once Golden got done with his duties with the Gators.
“I told my wife, I was like, ‘Get the red wine ready just in case Coach Golden does come over, because we're gonna try and get some of the game plan out of him as best we possibly can,’” Steven joked.
Pearl vs. Golden won’t be the only meeting of familiar faces Wednesday night at Neville Arena. It will also be the fourth time Auburn has faced Florida star center Colin Castleton, a two-time All-SEC big man who averaged 20.5 points and nine rebounds in his two games against the Tigers last season.
“I'm tired of him kicking our ass, is what I'm tired of,” Bruce said Tuesday. “I don't know him well enough to stop him. We had the National Defensive Player of the Year last year, and we couldn't stop him.”
Those are just two of the most important aspects to a top-20 Auburn team’s huge SEC opener against Florida on Wednesday night.
For more on the Tigers heading into their final game of the 2022 calendar year, here’s the latest edition of The Stretch 4.