Pearl's Tigers Survive, Focus Now to Advance

Bruce Pearl talks about his first season at Auburn and looks forward to the next faces expected in next season.

Auburn, Ala.--Finishing his first season with the Tigers with a 15-20 record, including three wins in last week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl is already focused on year two on the Plains as his team prepares to begin offseason workouts following spring break in two weeks.

Losing four key seniors and preparing to add a very talented signing class for the 2015-16 season, Pearl said the Tigers got a lot accomplished in year one, but there is plenty of work to do.

“The foundation for building our program starts next season,” Pearl said. “This season was about survival, and it was about trying to become relevant, and we did both. That’s on the court.

"Off the court the foundation was laid with the fan base, a trust and relationship, a togetherness and camaraderie, we’re doing this together," the coach said. "We did that this year. That will carry forward to next year.”

Before the Tigers can move ahead they first must look back at what will be gone. Leading the way is All-SEC second team performer K.T. Harrell with his 18.5 points per game average. Shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range and 81.4 percent from the free throw line, Harrell had one of the best seasons in Auburn history.

Averaging 14.4 points while missing nine full games and less than full speed for several weeks after his return, Antoine Mason had a very good season in his only year with the Tigers. That was also the case for K.C. Ross-Miller as the senior transfer averaged 7.1 points and led the team with 83 assists. Rounding out the group is Malcolm Canada. The point guard/power forward averaged 5.7 points per game this year, but had a very good final few games for the Tigers in Nashville.

With a talented class coming in, Pearl said that is just the start of things for the program because the league is only getting stronger as a group with several other schools making noise on the recruiting trail as well. Because of that he said it’s just a matter of getting in the discussion, something they did this year.

“Gosh, we really struggled through the regular season, but I don’t really know that we could point to a team that finished ahead of us that we could say we should have finished ahead of,” Pearl said. “Even though we recruited well, the league has recruited well also. Five or six teams have recruited better than we have, so there is going to be a combination of coaching, offseason workouts and guys getting better, and recruiting.

“We are never going to have talent like Kentucky,” he added. “I would just put Kentucky in a different class. But, we will have talent that is good enough to beat Kentucky on a given night. We just don’t have that right now. Right now we’ve got to replace four senior guards, K.T., who is difficult to replace, Antoine as a scorer is difficult to replace, and K.C. and Malcolm at point guard.”

Replacing all the talent in the backcourt starts with Marshall transfer Kareem Canty. Very impressive since he first stepped foot on the Auburn campus, the scoring point guard is perhaps the key to next year’s guard play from the newcomers, but he’s not alone. Physical New Williams and shooter Bryce Brown join forces with wings T.J. Dunans and Danjel Purifoy to give the Tigers some firepower next year.

“Kareem Canty is sitting out and I do think we’ll be better at the point guard position, more consistent,” Pearl said. “That’s going to be great. I think we’re going to be better at three positions, maybe four, but three at least. It’s going to be hard to be better at K.T.’s position. New Williams is an athlete from California who can really come in and help us with our style of play. Bryce Brown is a great shooter. He was either the 5A or 6A Player of the Year in Georgia. He has a great body. I think in two years he can be like K.T. He can come in a make shots and physically compete, he’s a good athlete.

Kareem Canty is an impressive transfer for the Tigers.

“Danjel Purifoy will be very hard not to be in the starting lineup,” he added. “Body-wise he reminds me of Danuel House of Texas A&M. He’s long, athletic, and shooting it well. He can go off the bounce and is very explosive. He’s a great player. T.J. Dunans was in Hutch (NJCAA Championships). He was the MVP of his tournament for his region. Last year he was the MVP in Hutch. He’s a scorer.”

With four-star center commitment Horace Spencer still expected to sign with the Tigers, Pearl’s class could still grow with some much-needed help inside. Throw in a healthy Matthew Atewe and Auburn would finally have some depth in the paint for the first time in years. That is a good start, but Pearl said they’re hoping for even more additions if things work out well between now and next season.

“We’ve got to sign an inside player this spring,” Pearl said. “I feel good about it. That will give us five, plus Kareem and Matt (Matthew Atewe) sitting out, that’s seven new guys in 13 scholarships. That’s a lot of new guys and there could be one more, possibly a transfer or someone who could sit out. Who knows?”

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