The Stretch 4: Auburn basketball is ready to face Memphis in its second home — Atlanta
One day after getting a truly massive commitment from there, Auburn basketball is in Atlanta on Saturday for its biggest test of the season so far.
SG K.D. Johnson (Steven Leonard/Auburn Athletics)
K.D. Johnson estimates that there are going to be around 100 of his family members and friends in State Farm Arena on Saturday to watch him play.
Johnson is Atlanta through and through. He was the Georgia 5A Player of the Year as a junior and was a two-time all-state selection by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He went to Southwest Dekalb High School, which sits less than 15 miles away from the home of the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s right there down the street from where we stay,” Johnson said Thursday afternoon. “It’s definitely our backyard. It’s gonna be lit.”
Atlanta is Johnson’s first home, but it’s also become Auburn basketball’s valuable second home under Bruce Pearl.
“Atlanta has been great to us,” Pearl said Thursday, before rattling off a list of Auburn players from the area who have gone on to become NBA draft picks in the last four years — Chuma Okeke, Isaac Okoro, Sharife Cooper, Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler.
JT Thor also played his high school ball there. And although Jared Harper wasn’t drafted, he got his shot in the NBA after his excellent career on the Plains.
“Almost all of those guys won championships at Auburn,” Pearl said. “That's significant.”
Whether it was just good timing or a coded message, Pearl’s love for Atlanta — a place where the Tigers have recruited better than any other college basketball team for quite some time now — looked even more significant less than 24 hours later, when Auburn landed a commitment from a 2024 (very) big man from the city.
All 7-feet and 300-plus pounds of Peyton Marshall is set to join Auburn’s program in a couple of years, and he could be a key piece to a potentially massive 2024 class for the Tigers.
For now, though, the focus will be on that homecoming game for Johnson and the biggest test of the season so far for Auburn — a neutral-site showdown with Penny Hardaway’s Memphis on Saturday afternoon.
It’s the second time in three years that Auburn has faced Memphis at the Holiday Hoopsgiving event in Atlanta. Auburn won that game, 74-71, back in 2021. Last year, the Tigers blew out Nebraska in front of a massive Auburn crowd, and it expects to have a similar atmosphere in the rematch with Memphis.
“It’s fun,” Wendell Green Jr. said. “It’s a different environment, gives you a different feel.”
Pearl wants to continue to be a part of the college basketball showcase in the recruiting hotbed, even going on to say that there’s “a pretty good chance we're gonna get a big-time opponent there next year as well.”
Memphis is definitely a big-time opponent this season. Hardaway’s Tigers are 8-2, with their only losses coming by 6 to Saint Louis and by 1 to Seton Hall, both away from home. They rank inside the top 30 on KenPom, have won five straight games and boast one of the nation’s most experienced rosters.
“Memphis, I would say, is probably the toughest (opponent) so far,” Pearl said. “It'd be St. Louis or Northwestern. Think Memphis is just older. Seven or eight seniors out there, several of them are fifth-year guys. Many have been at Memphis for a long time, kind of paid their dues and now getting opportunities to star.”
For more on the Tigers vs. Tigers clash in Atlanta and that rather massive commitment from the city, here’s the latest edition of The Stretch 4.