Auburn, Ala.--Heading into his third season at Auburn, Coach Bruce Pearl said he is looking forward to seeing what his 2016-17 team will look like when the Tigers take the court for games. Already getting an opportunity to work with his players during summer drills, Pearl said he has seen some good things from his players so far, but like the first two seasons there has been a lot of learning involved with so many new faces.
“We’re excited about our team,” Pearl said. “We’ve had tremendous roster adjustments over the last three seasons now. I brought in six new players my first year, six my second year and six this year. That’s 18 and we only have 13 scholarships.
“At the same time we’ve graduated 11 players. We’ve had back-to-back 1000 perfect APR as well. We’ve had some transitions, but the transitions haven’t hurt our APR. Of our top 12 or 13 guys, seven or eight of them are freshmen or sophomores so we’ve got a very good, young foundation built.”
Counting on incoming freshmen Jared Harper, Mustapha Heron and Anfernee McLemore, graduate transfers Ronnie Johnson and LaRon Smith plus redshirt freshman Danjel Purifoy, Auburn’s talent level has taken a step forward. Already with the No. 1 rated recruiting class in 2017 by Scout.com because of commitments from Austin Wiley and Davion Mitchell, the Tigers are continuing to build on the excitement created by Pearl’s arrival two years ago and the support from the fanbase.
Danjel Purifoy is expected to be a major contributor.
“I think the combination of the way Auburn Arena has emerged as a great home court advantage and the support that we’ve received in selling games out and our attendance numbers based on a percentage of seats that we have,” Pearl said of some of the reasons why the program is growing. “We’re one of the top 10 in the country as far percentage is concerned. That’s great for Auburn, and that’s great for the SEC, and probably doesn’t get near enough attention. We’ve upgraded the recruiting the last couple of years, we’ve had some good classes and that’s going to start paying off for us on the court.”
For that to happen the program has to get in a position where continuity exists, something that hasn’t been the case recently for Auburn basketball. Turning over the roster so much has created a situation in which the team and individual players don’t have a chance to grow as much as needed because much of the time is spent on learning instead of developing.
Pearl said that is something he and his staff are having to work through, especially where defense is concerned.
“The biggest challenge is probably the speed of the game and the defensive fundamentals,” Pearl said. “Most kids coming in offensively have got game, they have got skills and they can score, but playing defense, team defense, rotations, it’s somewhat shocking to me how weak some of their fundamentals are coming in so we’ve got some catching up to do in that area.
“I’m just talking about simple shell work, ball pressure, rotations, ball-screen defense, just the team defensive aspects. I’m talking about elementary stuff, but you’ve got to go back and teach those fundamentals again. If you can get a team to play hard and play together defensively, rebound, then they’ll share the ball on the offensive end as well.
“A lot of our guys don’t know how to defend as a team yet. That’s one of the challenges of having a young team and the other is just inexperience. You take a guy like Danjel Purifoy next year, he’s going to be a redshirt freshman. He’s a very talented player and he’s going to have an impact on our team, but he would have had a lot more impact on our team had he been a sophomore and gone through the rigors and been on the road and just experienced the good, the bad and the ugly that can take place as a freshman.”