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Quoting Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl -- Summer Preview
June 15, 2017

(On practicing with the team on the court) 
“It’s great to get on the floor, and it’s incredible to have seven guys that played a lot of basketball for me return. In my first three years here – of course my first year everybody’s new – after my first year, we lost most of the team to graduation. I had some fifth year transfers, and last year I had five new freshmen. This now is a very, very good returning group. We learned a great deal from last year, good, bad and ugly. We’ve added a couple of really good transfers and freshmen, and this is by far the most talented and deepest roster since I’ve been at Auburn and I’m excited.”

(On Austin Wiley & Chuma Okeke participating in the USA U19 national team tryouts)
“What an honor to be able to put that USA across your chest. Austin’s had that honor. He won gold in Spain with the U17 team and now to get another opportunity with this U19 team – this is the Olympic team development stuff and guys are going to get the chance to be future Olympians. Just the personal experience for those kids is something that you just can’t replicate. It’s an amazing honor. As far as the program is concerned, to have a 6-11 sophomore and a 6-9 freshman … size matters in basketball and quality size is hard to find. Kentucky is the only team in the country that has more players being invited to this U19 team tryout than Auburn, and it is a statement. It’s a place that we’ve not been in a long, long time in the program. I just think, I hope their experience, this opportunity, if one or two of them get to make the team that’d be incredible. Will help catapult our program to continue to be able to perform better on the floor, in the NCAA tournament and also being something others can look at a say, ‘Yep, you really can come to Auburn and be and Olympian. You really can come to Auburn and win championships. You really can come to Auburn and be a pro.’

(On how Austin is developing in the offseason) 
“I think it’s a big leap, and I think for a couple reasons. No. 1 last year, he just came in and said, ‘We’re going to fit in. We’re going to help.’ And he helped, averaged like nine points and six rebounds and a couple blocks and played about 20 minutes a game, and so he really, really helped. But, he got a chance to see the speed of the game. He got a chance to see how explosive the other players are. He got a chance to go up against quality size, and he didn’t, and we didn’t take full advantage of him because he was coming in trying to fit it. Now in this offseason, we’re able to build some things around him. He’s going to get a lot more touches. We’re going to be looking at him more because he presents so much advantage down there in the post. Nobody loves Auburn more, nobody trains harder, nobody’s been more coachable, and so now Austin’s leadership abilities – this is his team – is starting to take hold in this offseason and that ownership I think is going to help our chemistry.”

(On Danjel Purifoy and Mustapha Heron’s improvement) 
“Danjel is 6-8, will go from mostly playing power forward for us last year to playing a more small forward wing position. He is a great shooter with great range. He shot 37 percent from three and was 88 percent from the free throw line, and he has really good speed, athleticism and quickness. The biggest area he has to improve on is the defensive area, and the physicality of the game. I think playing against players his own size now is going to allow him to do that. Mustapha Heron is going from playing mostly the three or small forward to more of a two-guard position. His ability to score was obviously very well known. He led us in scoring. He was top 10 in the SEC in scoring. He was the first Freshman All-SEC at Auburn in many years (DeWayne Reed in 2007), and I think that his ability to play make and defend will improve in this offseason because last year he was able to score and rebound and get to the foul line at a very high level.”

(On the newcomers) 
“All four kids are tough, particularly the two transfers. Desean Murray, who sat out last year after transferring from Presbyterian, and Malik Dunbar, who is from the College of Central Florida, they will bring an edge to our team that we needed. Especially when you have such a young team last year, practice will be more physical, we will be a tougher team next year. They are going to bring and edge to us. Davion Mitchell, he might be the best on-ball defensive player in his class. I don’t think there’s a better on-ball defender in the entire 2017 recruiting class than Davion Mitchell. I’ve never seen Jared Harper bring the ball up the floor and ever had to turn his back on a defender until Davian got in front of him, and that’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful competition. Those two guys will both play the position, and they’ll play it extremely well for us. Chuma Okeke, instinctively he really makes everybody else better on the floor. He can score, he can pass, he knows how to move the basketball, he plays bigger than his size and he can guard multiple positions. All four of those kids I think bring a level of physicality and toughness that’ll really help our team.”

(On Auburn’s trip to Italy)
“This is one of the greatest things that the NCAA allows us to do once every four years, to be able to take a foreign trip. I’ve been in coaching since 1978, and I’ve taken a trip every four years, and that tells you that basketball’s helped me see the world and more importantly see the world with my team and my family. At 57, I’m still in awe when we travel. Can you imagine what it’s like for an 18, 19, 20-year-old to get a passport, to get to go to another country, to study its history, its culture. We will tour, and we will do community service. We’ve been to concentration camps and museums, and even on days of games, we’re studying where we are and having that life experience. In addition, you get 10 days of practice. You get to know your team better, but more importantly, you get to share that experience together. You get closer off the floor, and I have always had great, better years, sometimes great years, in years after when we’ve gone on foreign trips.”

(On the SEC) 
“You might be able to pick a couple of teams and place them up at the top, but you get past two or three teams and the difference between the 14th team, and the fourth or fifth place team is not much. Now, that is 10 teams in that area. 10 teams that could finish between fourth and 14th and I believe it, I mean it. It’s just going to be a grind. We’re going to beat each other up night in, night out, and we’ll have to see who gets hot and how it plays out. But, look, we thought this year would be our best year as a league, but last year a couple things happened that sent a message that maybe last year was the year. First thing is we played the Big 12-SEC Challenge, and at one point during that afternoon the SEC had five wins and the Big 12 had two. We, Auburn, had just upset TCU. We were a double digit underdog, and we took a 5-3 lead, the games in progress were Ole Miss vs. Baylor, and Ole Miss was giving them everything they wanted. Kentucky was yet to play against Kansas, but obviously we thought Kentucky would have a chance to win that game. So, we finished 5-5, but at least that stopped the bleeding. The perception was that the Big 12 would dominate us in that tournament. The second thing that happened was obviously we got three teams into the Elite Eight. We got South Caroline into the Final Four, and we got better seeding. And no team, no conference won more NCAA tournament games last year than the SEC. So, the SEC, you could almost say, while we didn’t dominate the tournament, we had the best year of any conference in the NCAA tournament last year. This year we’re going to be better and 24 of the top 100, of the top 100 players out of high school are in the SEC. Twenty-four out of ESPN’s top 100 are going to be in the SEC this year - the league’s going to be even better.”

(On the majority of Auburn’s team being returning players)
“It really helps having history. It really helps having had experiences, and you can experience those things in a season and try to grow and develop. At one point in the year, we were 9-1 in close games, in our first 10, and I think that in the back half when we got to the SEC and played against more experienced teams, you know we might’ve been .500 in close games. So, we let some games get away and I think having done that, I think that when we call time out and need a stop - in reference back to some mistakes in the past – when guys need to step up and make free throws late in the game, they now will have had the experience. If I could’ve gone to the line and put this game away, knowing how to take advantage of the offseason, knowing how to take advantage of the weight room, knowing how to take advantage of the conditioning, knowing also how the other players react in situations. We know each other better now, both as players and players and coaches and players, so a tremendous advantage. This is the first time since I’ve been at Auburn that’s been the case.”

(On being two deep in every position)
“We are two deep in every position, and we’re going to anticipate that depth certainly will give us competition for positions, but probably and more importantly allow us to withstand injury, withstand foul trouble, and play at the pace I want to play. I think when we go to our bench we will not drop off, and so how can we wear our opponent down with how we defend, with how we run, with how we press, with not letting our opponent rest. That’s the way you take advantage of your depth.”

(On comparing Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team to his Tennessee teams)
“My point about the league, and answering the question, I get asked the question, ‘Is the league better?’ I can only reference back to my days at Tennessee. There were two or three teams in the league that we could sweep every year, regardless. Well that’s six wins. That’s six wins right there that’ll set you off, and then if you go .500 against the rest – well ok, there aren’t three teams that you can sweep in the league anymore. Therefore, there will be a lot more people running .500, which means the non-conference is going to be important and my point about where this team is I had six teams going into every NCAA Tournament at Tennessee. This team is better than some of those teams. That is not a knock on any of those Tennessee teams. This team is better and won’t be picked in the preseason to make the NCAA Tournament because the league is that much deeper.”

(On the difficulty of Auburn’s schedule)
“We want to play the toughest schedule we can possibly find. We’re in a great series with UAB and have UConn coming to Auburn. We try to focus on neutral sites. So, last year it was Cancun. This year, it’s Charleston, three neutral site games. We’re not afraid to take this show on the road, and we’re playing at Dayton this year, and we may be playing one other game on the road that we haven’t scheduled. We want to be able to be a team that travels throughout the state of Alabama and play in different locations. We play in Auburn and Tuscaloosa every year, but this year for the second time now because last year we played at UAB – we’ll be back in Birmingham at the BJCC (Legacy Arena) and playing Middle Tennessee State. The following year, we’ll come back and play UAB at the BJCC. So again, neutral sites and being willing to play around our state. That’s the philosophy. We try and play our non-conference schedule against mid-major teams that will finish at the top of their league or former champions or teams that will go to the tournament like Middle Tennessee State or like a Winthrop or a George Mason.”



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