“Knowing what I know now, I had no clue how good he is,” Auburn’s first-year head basketball coach said.
“I interviewed Chuck for two weeks,” Pearl said. “I didn’t hire him because it was supposed to be a great hire. I hired him because I started to get to know him and realized that our defensive philosophies were in line and that obviously he loved Auburn, this community and our program.”
Person, who is the all-time leading scorer in Auburn history, played for the Tigers from 1982-86 and finished with 2,311 points. He added 940 rebounds, the third highest total for an Auburn player.
A two-time All-American and a first-round draft pick by Indiana, he earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors and averaged 14.7 points per game during 13 seasons before working as an NBA assistant coach.
“I did think he would be a person, a coach and a former player that young people would want to play for, want to learn from,” Pearl said. “He is a great teacher. He is a great person.
“There aren’t many college coaches in America, a head coach or assistant coach, who have been sitting right next to Phil Jackson, (Gregg) Popovich and Rick Carlisle and Chuck has as an assistant,” Pearl pointed out.
“You talk about guys who want to go play professionally some day, my life’s work was to try to help those guys get there, but now I have got somebody who can really show them,” Pearl added.
Auburn’s leading scorer, K.T. Harrell, has a high opinion of the assistant coach. “Coach Person is great for everybody on the team,” Harrell said. “He has a mind for basketball. I think that is what we all appreciate the most.
“He has been at the highest level--he has coached at the highest level and he has played at the highest level--so he has everybody’s respect on the team,” the senior guard said.
“We just want to learn from him,” Harrell added. “He is an open book, which is amazing. Everybody tries to get what they can from him and he is willing to help.”
Pearl and his Tigers will take an 8-5 record to Nashville where they will open SEC play at Tuesday vs. Vanderbilt. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CST and the game will be televised on ESPNU. The Tigers will be trying to win for the first time at Vandy since the 1999-2000 season and end a streak of 14 consecutive losses in SEC road openers.