By Jeff Shearer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Judging by the large turnout at the Montgomery Auburn Club's Slam Dunkin' Luncheon, and the limited amount of remaining season tickets, interest is high for Bruce Pearl's third season on the Plains.
Pearl gave what he calls a "state of the union" address to about 200 Auburn supporters Wednesday at Wynlakes Golf & Country Club.
"I don't want to confine my comments just to Auburn basketball," Pearl said. "I want to talk about our university. I want to talk about our football program, and what an unbelievable win we had Saturday, and supporting the other sports."
Pearl expressed admiration for Gus Malzahn's strategy against LSU.
"The brilliance of Coach Malzahn to be able to recognize what he has and turn his system around to be able to beat LSU," said Pearl, referencing Auburn's reliance on defense, field position and a kicking game. "It spoke to me as a coach."
"I want to talk a little bit about what's going on in my locker room, what's going on in the world right now. I want to talk about the flag. I want to talk about gun violence and profiling. We've got some real issues that we're dealing with," he said.
Pearl updated the club on his basketball program, which begins practice on Friday.
"We have had much more success in the basketball program off the court than we have had on the court," he said. "And you need both to build a program."
Pearl referenced fan support and attendance. "Ninety-one percent of our seats had people in them," he said. "You've invested in the basketball program, in me and the coaching staff, and I'm here to say, `Thank you.' And I'm working really hard to return that dividend on your investment."
Pearl asked for a show of hands from season-ticket holders, and after seeing many, said, "For those of you who would like to consider getting season tickets, this might be your last year to have an opportunity to get those season tickets, because we're going to be pretty good."
Pearl reviewed the challenges of his first two seasons, highlighting the historic SEC Tournament run in 2015, along with academic successes.
He outlined Auburn's challenging upcoming non-conference schedule, which includes neutral site games against Boston College and Oklahoma, and a road trip to Connecticut. He thanked his wife, Brandy, who accompanied him to the luncheon, for reminding him why he put together such a schedule.
"You've always said that no one will rise to a low expectation," Pearl quoted Brandy as saying. "If I don't believe in the players, they won't believe in themselves. By putting this schedule together, I'm telling my guys, `I'm not afraid.'"
Pearl took questions, and, as usual, drew laughs.
"We're talented. We're athletic, and we're good. We can really score. We can't guard you," he joked, pointing to a front-row audience member whose best days on the court are in the past.
"And I think we're going to start seeing the fruits of all that labor that we're doing. I'm excited about my staff and my university and the direction that we're going. But now it's time to step up and try to win some of these games," he said.
"I tell people, `You know the difference between Clint Myers, our softball coach, and me? I talk about winning. Clint wins,' Pearl said. "We're working really hard to become a competitive basketball team. I think this year, we're going to be relevant. And I think next year, we have a chance to really win big. And I think the future looks bright for Auburn basketball."
Once Pearl concluded his remarks, several Auburn Club members stopped on their way out to purchase some of the few remaining season tickets.
"I'm never afraid to ask for their support because for us to develop this program, and for us to be able to have a winning program, I definitely need the support, and I'm grateful for it," he said.
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) September 28, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer