By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – A new season of Auburn basketball is set to begin Thursday night when the Tigers host Barry University in an exhibition game. Fourth-year coach Bruce Pearl is excited for the upcoming season, but he knows there’s work to be done.
He had a message for his team after Tuesday’s practice.
“We’re picked ninth in the SEC,” Pearl told his players. “They’re probably going to take six or seven teams to the NCAA. We’ve got some work to do. Let’s not talk. Let’s walk.”
Pearl caught up with AuburnTigers.com to preview the upcoming season.
Q: This is your 23rd year as a head coach. What’s the level of excitement for you as you’re about to start a new season and play the first game?
Pearl: The day you stop getting butterflies is the day you need to get out of it. I’m amped up. I’m anxious. I’m a little nervous because I know I’m going to get challenged. But I’m excited for our players. I’m excited for them to get out in front of their fans. It’s a new season. It truly is. And to me, it’s their season. The fact that I’ve been doing this 23 times as a head coach and probably 14 times as an assistant – this is it for these guys. I’m really fired up for them.
Q: Are you a superstitious guy? Is there a pre-game ritual you go through?
Pearl: Whatever my routine is, if it’s working, I don’t change it. If it’s not, I try to find out little places to change. I’m superstitious about where I park before the game. I’m superstitious about where I am in the arena pre-game, what time we get started, what I write on the board. It’s not crazy stuff. It’s more about routine than superstition.
Q: What are you most excited about with this team going into the season?
Pearl: My big thing is this – can we improve in the areas of transition defense, drop-back defense, finishing plays, rebounding, free-throw shooting and maybe have a little bit more unselfish play on the offensive end? If we can accomplish some of those things, then we’re going to be a lot better team.
Q: You open with Barry on Thursday night. What should fans expect from the Bucs?
Pearl: We chose Barry because they’re preseason No. 12 in the country in Division II. I spent nine years in Division II at Southern Indiana and won a national championship. I know how good the basketball is and how good the coaching is. We’ve seen that here over the years at Auburn. North Alabama came in here and gave us a great game. Montevallo came and gave us a great game. Indianapolis, we won in overtime. Barry is an older team and an experienced team. Their bigs can step out and shoot the ball. They’re extremely well-coached, so it’s going to give us great exposure. It will challenge us.
Q: How important will home-court advantage be for Auburn?
Pearl: For me and the students, it’s a great study break. It’s a great opportunity for our students to come hang out with us for a few hours and take a break from their routine. We hope we will play exciting enough basketball that they get amped up and The Jungle comes alive.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: