Barkley, Porter, Others Turn Out for AU Hoops

Comments from Charles Barkley, Chris Porter and other Auburn basketball standouts are featured as they discuss new AU coach Bruce Pearl.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's most famous former basketball player, Charles Barkley, said it was important for him to return to where he played collegiately to support Bruce Pearl, who was hired as head coach of the Tigers in March.

The 1980s AU star was one of several hundred doing the same thing over the weekend at Auburn's annual summer letterman's reunion for men's basketball.

"I am really excited about our future with Coach Pearl leading the program," Barkley told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I am eager for us to have success and be a regular in the NCAA Tournament like we used to be.

"I really like the hire and believe Coach Pearl will do a great job," Barkley added. "I love his enthusiasm. I love his energy."

Barkley's comments are similar to ones by others attending the reunion that attracted players from as far back to the World War II Era to much more recent graduates. The reunion included coaches and former team managers.

Also attending the event were former Tiger head coaches Sonny Smith, who coached Barkley, as well as current Coastal Carolina head coach Cliff Ellis, who will bring his team to Auburn to play the Tigers this year.

Cliff Ellis (left) and Sonny Smith (right) took Auburn teams deep into the NCAA Tournament.

"This is really cool for me," Barkley said of being able to hang out with his college teammates plus players from different eras along with Smith and two of his AU assistants, Herbert Green and Mack McCarthy.

"Sonny Smith is like a father figure to me," said Barkley, who was named one of the Top 50 players in NBA history. "I love him and his wonderful wife Jan."

Pearl invited the players to watch a summer workout with the team and then attend a reception at Moore's Mill Club in Auburn.

"I am absolutely overwhelmed by the turnout," said Pearl, who added, "Y'all have made a statement for our program and our team by your attendance and coming back home and letting us love on you a little bit."

Former Tiger All-American Chris Porter also returned to Auburn to show his support for the program. Porter was the star of the 1998-99 SEC championship team that was a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament and finished 29-4 after falling to Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

"I think he will do a great job," Porter predicted. "That is something he has done everywhere he has been and I think he will help make the Auburn Family happy."

The Tigers haven't played in the NCAA Tournament since 2003 when the team led by Marquis Daniels and Nathan Watson fell 79-78 to eventual champion Syracuse in the Sweet 16 round. Both Watson and Daniels were at the letterman's event.

Daniels and Watson noted they really want to see the Tigers back in the big dance and Porter agreed. "I would love to see that happen," Porter said. "I think we are headed in the right direction."

Porter played this past season for Fort Wayne, the champion of the NBA Development League. He said he isn't ready to retire from the game yet and plans to play next season whether it is in the United States or abroad.

Watson, who played for the league champion in the El Salvador pro league in Central America, said he plans to play again next season while Daniels, who was cut from the NBA last season, said he probably will give the league one more shot for the 2014-15 season.

Rex Frederick, a 1950s All-American in the Coach Joel Eaves Era, is still prominent in the Auburn record book as both a scorer and rebounder.

Frederick, who has been a strong supporter of AU hoops over the years, said he liked what he saw at the reunion weekend. "There is a lot of energy with the program and I think Bruce is going to be successful."

Chris Brandt, who played for the late Tommy Joe Eagles in the early 1990s, also played pro ball overseas before returning home to coach basketball at Auburn High School.

"It is an exciting time," Brandt said. "I am really happy for the future of Auburn basketball and I think great things are going to come.

"Many, many years ago Bruce recruited me when he was at Iowa as an assistant coach. He probably doesn't remember it. I think he has had a tremendous career, he is rejuvenated and ready to get back into it."

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