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'More passion, energy': Auburn begins basketball practice
Oct. 3, 2014

Bruce Pearl runs the show at Auburn's practice on Friday

By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn forward KT Harrell likes what he sees from his new coach. Likes what he sees in this year's team, too.
"The team has more passion, more energy," Harrell says. "We want to win a lot more than we wanted to last year… I think there's a different confidence about this team."
Auburn began fall basketball practice Friday with a decidedly different look. Bruce Pearl is coaching the Tigers, not Tony Barbee. Only five players from last year's roster are still on a team that finished 14-16 last year.
Auburn hasn't played a game, but Harrell, the leading returning scorer, says "I feel like we've gotten better. We have a lot of new guys. The chemistry is a lot better than what we thought. We're excited about this year. I think we're going to do good things."
Pearl's infectious personality has created a positive atmosphere, to be sure.  He's attracted more season ticket sales. Oh, and he also attracted the nation's leading returning scorer in Antoine Mason, the transfer who averaged 25.6 points per game at Niagara last year. Best part, as a graduate student, he's available immediately.
"For me, coming on campus was amazing," Mason said. "And to be able to be coached by Coach Pearl, I look up to him as a legend as a coach. When I came and met the guys, I felt like I connected with them right away. It just felt comfortable. It's perfect spot for me."
Harrell returns with his 18.3 points per game average. Point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen is back, though Pearl said he'll be a shooting guard this season. The other three returnees combined for one start. Canada returns was a guard last season. He could be one again this season. Or play small forward.  Matthew Atewe, who was slowed by a leg injury last year, is also back, as is Jordon Granger.
K.C. Ross-Miller could be the point guard. He's a transfer from New Mexico. Big Cinmeon Bowers, at 6-foot-7, 278 pounds, figures to be play in the middle or thereabouts He was the top-ranked junior college player in the country last year.
Pearl's mission had his players working hard in the first extended drill Friday afternoon.
"Getting them to go faster and play a little bit more recklessly, getting the scramble and getting them to communicate are things that are going to take time," he said. 
Pearl said he got to know his team a lot more through the spring and summer because, of all things, he wasn't allowed to recruit because of his NCAA show cause penalty. Instead of the road, he worked out his players.
"I have a lot more figured out… what the guys' strengths and weaknesses are, what they can and cannot do, where I can feature them and where I should hide them," Pearl said. "We’re not going to be very big or tall or long, but we are going to be physical. So the interesting challenge is going to be are our guards quick enough to press, are they quick enough to make people go faster? Is that going to make us better? Is that going to make them better? We are going to have to figure that out. I do think in order to protect the rim we are going to have to extend this year, because we don’t have enough quality depth on the inside that would stand foul trouble or anything like that. Those will be the things that I will be watching and learning."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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