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Auburn Basketball Retools and Reloads

Bruce Pearl may have just put together the best Tiger roster since Charles Barkley roamed the court at Auburn
(photo:Julie Bennett/

For just a moment, things looked very bleak to Auburn basketball. Over the course of a few days, Auburn was looking to field an entire new team when players tested the NBA waters.

Like all teams that experience success, Auburn faced the possibility of rebuilding a roster as Mustapha Heron, Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and Austin Wiley chased their fates in the NBA draft. Meanwhile, Auburn lost Desean Murray and Davion Mitchell to transfer. And Auburn looked to add only transfer Samir Doughty with the 2018 recruiting cycle completely torpedoed due to the FBI investigation.

Certainly, no one doubts coach Bruce Pearl’s ability to coach up a team. Fans have already seen that happen several times. His first few years didn’t see a significant improvement in the win and loss column, however, it was impossible to ignore that Pearl was dealt a bad hand.

This past season, fans saw what he could do, even without some of his studs on the court. Auburn won an SEC title but melted in tournament play. Auburn just didn’t have the players to compete after Anfernee McLemore went down for good and Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley were ruled ineligible by the NCAA following the Chuck Person investigation.

Things changed as the specifics for the large contract extension for Bruce Pearl emerged. He made good on his end, at least in terms of the offseason, as he turned fan fears into what now looks like Auburn’s best roster in decades.

Transfers get a lot of hype, but let’s start with them as they have yet to prove anything. Their additions are terrific for the team if for no reason other than the minutes they add. The aforementioned Doughty sat out last season after transferring from VCU. Averaging 23 minutes as a freshman, the 6′ 4″ guard added nine points per game, shooting 40 percent from the field and 76 percent from the line.

Sitting out a year is Jamal Johnson, who comes by way of Memphis. The 6′ 4″ combo guard will make Auburn better on the scout team before Tiger fans see if he can build on the 7 points per game he averaged at Memphis. He played with Auburn big man Austin Wiley at Spain Park.

Pearl wasn’t done. He landed one of the top JUCO players in the nation in J’Von McCormick. While Harper is the point man, McCormick will give something to Auburn that it didn’t really have last season—a real threat at the point with Harper on the bench. At Lee College (Texas), McCormick averaged 18.5 points and 6.4 assists per game.

Transfers are great, but one cannot understate what a difference returning players will have on improving Auburn’s chances over last season. Only Mustapha Heron is leaving and not for the NBA. Heron elected to head to St. John’s to finish his career, so he can be near his ailing mother. In his place, former teammate Danjel Purifoy returns. Purifoy was perhaps Auburn’s best all-around player in his lone year on the court for the Tigers. Although Heron did a great job this past season replacing him, Purifoy will only get better with another year.

Austin Wiley was Auburn’s top prospect to enter the NBA discussion. Even though there isn’t much tape on him while at Auburn due to his playing only half a season, his time on Team USA had a lot of scouts drooling. The only reason he is back is to elevate his draft stock to a lottery pick, something his coach believes he can do. Wiley was good, but not great, as a freshman, but even a blind man can see just what he will eventually be capable of doing.

Auburn’s star guard duo of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown weren’t true threats to leave early, though they both looked into the NBA process. Both of these players were All-SEC-type players at points last season. Brown looked like the Player of the Year before a shoulder injury caused him to go ice cold late in the season. Harper’s small stature is the only thing keeping him out of the NBA. With another solid year, scouts may look beyond that.

Rounding out the lineup will be Chuma Okeke, who was held back for most of the year until McLemore was hurt. Okeke was phenomenal once the leash was off. It will be very interesting to see what he is capable of doing. Alongside him will be Anfernee McLemore. With Wiley and Horace Spencer dominating minutes in the paint, McLemore could be Auburn’s big stretch alongside Okeke.  

Auburn’s 2018–19 lineup will be better than anything fans have seen in years, and while fans cringe at the thought of pundits seeing the Tigers as a Final Four team, they have to be very excited about the future.


  1. WarSamEagle WarSamEagle says:

    Good article Zach. Things are definitely looking up especially with Purifoy and Austin Wiley back. I’m definitely excited about round ball in 2018-19. But just as excited about all 3 big sports for next year: football, baseball, and basketball.

  2. AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:

    If Auburn can be anything like the 1999 team, they may be the 2nd best team we've ever had, cause '99 will always be the best ever IMHO. Enjoyed the read Zach.

  3. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to our Senior Editor, Acid Reign!!!
    Hope you have a good one Acid, you deserve it!


    On another note, enjoyed the article Zach. It does look like Pearl has the tools to have the Tigers do something special next year.

  4. AtkinsonTiger AtkinsonTiger says:

    After what Pearl did this year with a depleted bench, I can't wait to see how far the Tigers can go with the retooled lineup. Good one Zach.

  5. zotus zotus says:

    Very good article Zach.

    Not much has come easy for Coach Pearl at Auburn, but man has he scratched and fought every day he’s been on the plains.

    Coach Pearl is on record as saying that he would like it if Auburn turned out to be the last stop of his coaching career.

    No doubt that the man can coach. And, nobody that I’ve seen puts more heart, energy, enthusiasm and determination into the job. The fruit of that labor will continue to come.

    I believe the odds are good that when it’s all said and done, Coach Pearl will finish up an Auburn man. That would be a nice legacy for a very good basketball coach. WDE!

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      Good to hear from you Zotus. You've been missed around here.
      And I hope your right about Coach Pearl.