Danjel Purifoy (above) is a redshirt freshman for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--Danjel Purifoy was looking forward to becoming a major contributor to Auburn's basketball team as a true freshman for the 2015-16 season. However, because of an academic issue he couldn’t participate in games although he was allowed to enroll and take classes with his teammates.
At this time last year, Purifoy was hopeful he could play as a true freshman, but that didn’t happen. However, he looks more prepared than ever to contribute to Coach Bruce Pearl’s team.
With the first exhibition contest a little more than a month away, Purifoy and his teammates participated in their first official preseason practice on Friday before attending a meet the team dinner for basketball boosters.
“I am excited--very excited,” Purifoy said about being expected to have a major role this season.
Purifoy, a four-star prospect in high school, performed well at Friday’s practice showing muscle around the basket in addition to a good shooting touch.
“After I found out I was going to redshirt I was in the gym a lot and I always worked on my jump shot,” he said. “Once I developed that shot I felt comfortable with it.
“I have been in the weight room a lot and I am a lot bigger, stronger and quicker,” added Purifoy, who noted that he is six-foot-seven, 230 pounds.
Pearl said that he has high expectation for Purifoy’s performance for the 2016-17 season, which opens on Nov. 4th with an exhibition game vs. Montevallo.
“He has been on-time and on-target all year,” the coach said. ‘No player has made a bigger jump from a standpoint of taking care of his business.
“You can point to the fact that there has been real growth and maturity,” the coach added. “You would sort of anticipate that knowing that he is getting himself ready to play.”
Pearl pointed out that Purifoy’s offensive skills are ahead of his defensive skills, which the coach noted is something he can say about most of his players. Not surprisingly, almost all of the focus in Friday’s practice was on defense.
Also not surprisingly, the Tigers did not look like a team that was trying to figure out what to do because all of the work they were allowed to have prior to the official preseason when they can practice 20 hours a week.
“I want to compliment the NCAA on the rules allowing us to work with them in the summer and the fall,” Pearl said. “It is only eight hours a week, but we are so much more prepared at this time of the year, and this was the first day of practice, and I went for an hour and a half.
“When it used to be the hard Oct. 15 (first practice), we would go three hours, take a rest, come back for two more, double sessions,” he pointed out. “We don’t have to do that now. As a result we are putting the kids in positions to be more successful.
Bruce Pearl directs traffic at Friday's practice.
“Thanks to what I think are the real improvement of the rules in that we can work with them in the summer and work with them in the fall, we are so much further ahead and so are all the other teams,”?Pearl added. “Teams are better. Players are better. It reduces the risk of injury. Right now, we look pretty good offensively and defensively. We have a lot of work to do.”
Pearl is working with three true freshmen and two graduate transfers in addition to Purifoy in the newcomers group. The freshmen include point guard Jared Harper, forward Anfernee McLemore and guard Mustapha Heron.
The graduate transfers are point guard Ronnie Johnson and post player LaRon Smith.
“I think the newcomers are good,” said Pearl. “The best thing about it would be Jared, Ronnie, LaRon, Danjel, Anfernee and Mustapha, I think they have picked up things pretty quickly. That is important, especially the point guards to be able to pick up on what we are going to try to do.”
“I think they are all going to have an impact,” Pearl added. “The best part of our team right now is that we have 10 or 11 guys who can play, and we will play 10 or 11 guys.”
The other newcomer is 6-3, 230-pound guard DeSean Murray, a transfer from Presbyterian College, who will have to redshirt this season. Murray was impressive in Friday’s practice and will have two seasons of eligibility with the Tigers starting with the 2017-18 season.
Another player who stood out on Friday, 5-10, 165-pound point guard Harper, is expected to have an immediate impact for the Tigers. The four-star recruit did a good job with his ball-handling and passing at the practice, which lasted for an hour and a half.
“It went well and just being here all summer starting in June, we have been building up to this moment to having more time to practice and getting closer to the season so we were prepared for it,” Harper said.
“It made us more comfortable and more fluid because we have done a lot of those drills before so we are just putting it all together and getting ready for the season,” the freshman added.
Ronnie Johnson (20) and Jared Harper are shown at Friday's practice.
The team’s other point guard is Johnson, a 6-0, 180-pounder from Indianapolis via two previous college stops--Purdue and the University of Houston. He has starting experience while playing point guard for both the Boilermakers and Cougars.
Purifoy said he thought the Tigers got something accomplished at Friday’s session “It was a good first practice,” he said. “We went at it really hard and got after it. I’m really excited. I sat out last year watching the team. I am really excited.”
Pearl said a key to success this year will be rebounding and Purifoy agrees, pointing out it will be important for everybody in the lineup to help on the boards.
“We are not that big, but we can run the floor and we can press the other team,” he said. “We had Cinemon Bowers and Tyler Harris last year, real big men, and this year we don’t have that. I think we can run our defenders until they get tired and win games that way.”
Purifoy he said that he saw signs of the Tigers being able to play that way. “We went at it real hard and we got after it,” he said. “I feel like it was a good practice.”