Musgrove Country Club went Orange and Blue on Tuesday night.
Auburn head basketball coach Bruce Pearl spoke to a sold out crowd at the Auburn Alumni fund-raiser, just a few months removed from the school’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four.
Pearl, who inherited an SEC bottom feeder in 2014, has turned Auburn into a national contender, winning a total of 56 games over the last two seasons. Last season, the Tigers went on a run late in the season, blowing through the SEC Tournament and knocking off Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in consecutive games in the NCAA Tournament before falling to eventual champion Virginia 63-62 in the Final Four.
It’s an accomplishment no Auburn fan could’ve imagine before Pearl took control of the program.
“You think of your best moment, no matter what it is, what makes it so special and memorable is that you didn’t do it alone.” Pearl said. “That’s what made this run so fun. We shared it with our Auburn family, and it meant so much to us because it meant so much to you.”
Auburn’s 2018-19 team finished the season 30-10 and gave Pearl his first ever trip to the Final Four.
The Tigers move into this season without most of last year’s playmakers after the departure of Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke and Bryce Brown.
Pearl knows what the trio meant to the Tigers.
“You can make the argument that Jared Harper at point guard, Bryce Brown as a scorer and Chuma Okeke as a power forward — were the best at their positions that maybe ever played at Auburn, and they are all gone,” Pearl said.
“Despite the fact that we lost such integral players as we have last year, I think we have a chance to be really good this season. I think we’re a team that can get back to the NCAA Tournament. We have five seniors whose roles are going to change. J’Von McCormick is going from a backup to getting the ball in his hands. Samir Doughty will go from being the third option on the floor to the first or second option. Danjel Purifoy will go from a backup who answered the call when needed, to being a leader. Anfernee McLemore and Austin Wiley are two front-line guys who will both be seniors and we should have a front line that will be the best in the league. We have eight newcomers — I’ve never had that many before. But I’ve like the way we recruited, I like our newcomers’ talents and the way our new guys are committed to helping those five seniors keep our success going, while preparing themselves for leadership roles.”
Pearl is quick to give credit to his players for last year’s tournament run.
“Coaches can win games, and there can be a difference in your coach — but coaches don’t win championships, players do. When players decide they’re going to make sacrifices, play hard and unselfishly, as well as not be jealous of each other’s success, good things happen. They understand that when we as a team are successful, you as an individual will benefit far more than when you as an individual are successful but the team fails. We not only got to the Final Four, but we had four guys who went to Las Vegas and were involved in the NBA Summer League — two of which signed NBA contracts. Auburn has hadn’t a player in the NBA since 2001. The lesson there is the individual making the team a success leads to more personal benefits.”
Pearl said Harper, who has signed a contract with the Phoenix Suns, came to Auburn Arena to practice recently.
“I asked him, ‘Jared, why did you come to Auburn?’ I took a chance because I asked him in front of everybody and I didn’t know what he was going to say. He said, ‘I came here to make history.’”
Pearl also spoke about the passing of Auburn play-by-play announcer Rod Bramblett, who died along with his wife Paula in a car accident in May.
“I’m going to miss Rod so much. Can you imagine that first broadcast of the football season without him on the call? It happened so fast. He was such a great Auburn man. So many of the iconic moments this year was called by Rod. He called the Final Four and the College World Series, both within months of each other. He’ll always be very dear in my heart, as well as those of the entire Auburn family.”