Feb. 25, 2014
Of Auburn’s top 20 all-time leading basketball scorers, 18 came from the program’s traditional recruiting footprint of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Of the 18 Auburn players who went on to play in NBA games, 14 came from those three states.
In 1999, when Auburn won its only Southeastern Conference championship since 1960, All-Americans Chris Porter and Doc Robinson were Alabamians. So was defensive dynamo Bryant Smith. Sharp-shooting guard Scott Pohlman was from Georgia.
Floridian Marquis Daniels led Auburn’s 2003 team to the Sweet 16, where it lost by a single point to eventual national champion Syracuse.
When Sonny Smith took Auburn to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments, Charles Barkley and Chuck Person were Alabamians. Chris Morris was from Georgia. All three became first-round NBA draft choices. Wesley Person, Chuck’s younger brother, played 11 years in the NBA.
In 1986, when Smith took Auburn to its first and only Elite 8, the entire starting five was from Alabama, Georgia and Florida. It included Person and Morris at forwards, Alabamian Jeff Moore at center, Georgian Gerald White at point guard and Floridian Frank Ford at shooting guard.
Even this season, Auburn’s very productive backcourt is led by two Georgians in Chris Denson and Shamsid-Deen and an Alabamian in KT Harrell.
You get the point. When Auburn basketball has been at its best, the leaders have been from the same recruiting area that fuels Auburn football. But it's harder now to make that work.
Times have changed. And they haven’t changed just for Auburn. Alabama faces similar issues because the landscape of high school basketball has changed and because the SEC is not the national force it once was.
Not so long ago, basketball recruiting was a lot like football recruiting. It was about building relationships with high school coaches and then their players. Now, AAU and summer league coaches have much more influence and different agendas than do high school coaches.
C.M. Newton, who was head coach at Alabama, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, talked about it in a speech to the Birmingham Tipoff Club on Monday. He was defending Alabama coach Anthony Grant, but his words apply to Auburn, too.
"I think the fact you take the high school coach out of the recruiting process has affected high school basketball dramatically throughout the state and the South,” Newton told al.com. “I think the fact football is so prioritized in the South, not just here, eliminates a lot of basketball talk."
This season, Auburn is 12-13 overall and 4-10 in the SEC. Alabama is 11-16 and 5-9. It’s easy to see that there is a problem. It’s not so easy to identify an answer.
Neither Auburn nor Alabama basketball, regardless of who is coaching, has the recruiting reach to do what their football programs can do and attract the best players from other parts of the country. Conversely, prestigious basketball schools frequently steal the best players from the state of Alabama.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of luck. Would Chris Porter have played for Auburn if he’d been from, say, Louisiana? Probably not, but he was from Abbeville, Ala. What if Barkley had not grown up in Leeds? What if the Person brothers had not grown up in Brantley? The same could be said about player after player at Auburn and Alabama.
In the 1980s, SEC basketball was at an all-time high. So was the talent coming out of Alabama high schools. Neither is the same today.
What Auburn and Alabama coaches are left with is do the best they can in traditional areas and to reach out to other areas in an effort to find prospects who can develop into big-time college players. The McDonald’s All-Americans, for the most part, go elsewhere.
Does that mean Auburn can’t win consistently? Does it mean Alabama can’t win consistnetly? It doesn’t mean that, but it means it’s harder than they would like it to be and harder than it used to be.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: