CHARLOTTE – The road back to the Southeastern Conference was a long one for Bruce Pearl, one paved with a decent amount of regret and yearning.
Scout.com sat down for a one-on-one with Pearl on Wednesday during SEC Tipoff 2015 to discuss his outlook on Auburn basketball, whether it was important to him to wind up in the conference this time around as well as the pros and cons of his decision to add four transfers to the 2014-15 roster.
It’s all below in this candid interview with Bruce Pearl.
Ben Love: Do you feel any pressure this time around? Or is it more just kind of fun to get back somewhere, dig in and get started?
Bruce Pearl: Look, there isn’t a situation out there that could put more pressure on me than I put on myself. For me it’s almost more about I feel responsibility rather than pressure. Auburn’s made a great commitment to me, with their facilities and in their belief that we can have Auburn be a competitive program in the SEC. I think we can do that. We haven’t done it in a number of years, but it’s been done before.
BL: The route that it seems you’ve gone with a number of these high-profile transfers, what made that the way to go right off the bat?
BP: The roster was extremely challenged. The only way that we could be somewhat competitive was we needed help right away. Now, one of the things that does do, it almost stunts your long-term growth because I brought four transfers in. Two of them are seniors and then Kareem Canty from Marshall, he was the second best player in Conference USA, he’s got to sit out but that’s a great investment. He is going to be a terrific point guard in the SEC. And then there’s Cinmeon Bowers, who was the number one JuCo player in the country. In doing all that, and putting all that energy and effort into that, it actually stunts your long-term growth. But I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to be in a situation where we took 1,000 steps back our first year.
The other option: If you bring in some other guys, then they kind of get invested in your situation. But as it is now, next year I’ll graduate four seniors. Auburn graduated three seniors this year. That’s what I’m saying. Yeah, it’s fine to be able to reload, but it’s also (a challenge). You look at all the teams and listen to Mark Fox talk about all that he’s got back and Andy Kennedy talk about all he’s got back and Arkansas. Those three teams will probably all finish in the upper-half of the league. Well I’ve got five kids back. Five. The good news is I’ve got five kids back. The bad news is I’ve got five kids back.
BL: From the perspective of the fans and the media, it’s pretty clear the SEC is in a better position with you back. Your return is a shot in the arm for the conference. How important was it to you that your first job back landed you in this conference?
BP: It is (important to me). I’m happy about it. I care about SEC basketball. I helped carry the banner for SEC basketball. I’m proud of what we did in the non-conference. At Tennessee we had five or six top-five wins in five or six years. So we had a marquee win every year, and that helped the league.
When I made the mistakes that I made, I embarrassed the league, I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed my university. It’s humbling and humiliating. I cared about the good that we had done for the league. You know, when we went to Pittsburgh and they were ranked maybe fifth or third or wherever they were in the country, it was the last game of the SEC/Big East series that year. And we, the SEC, needed a win to be .500. We got that win. Those games mattered to me.
Here are several additional links to Scout.com's content from SEC Tipoff: