By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – Horace Spencer will never forget his 20th birthday. Auburn was hosting Tennessee. It was a critical SEC game, and The Jungle was rocking. However, in the second half, he felt a slight tear in his shoulder. He tried to play through it but couldn’t do it. Later it was discovered that he tore his labrum.
“It was a great present,” Spencer said.
That’d be a blow for anybody, but especially for Spencer, who had missed four months the prior offseason because of a torn meniscus. He also broke his thumb his junior year in high school and wasn’t able to finish out that season either.
Life is all about perspective, though. Had it not been for that shoulder injury on his birthday, Spencer says he likely would’ve not been able to make the trip to Las Vegas to see the birth of his son, Avery Micah King Spencer, a month and a half later.
And ultimately, his 20th birthday paled in comparison to his son’s birth.
“Honestly, it’s indescribable,” Spencer said. “I talked to my girlfriend recently, and I was telling her it’s probably the best moment I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing else compares to that. It’s a warm, magical feeling that you cannot describe. When you have your first child, son or daughter, it’s going to change your life. In that instant, it changes your life.”
As Spencer enters his junior year at Auburn, he’s a changed man. He’s more mature now that he’s a father. There’s a sense of urgency about his game and his attitude that might not have been there before. That was evident when the Tigers spent 10 days playing in Italy this summer, and he averaged 7.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the two games he played.
“Now it really means I’ve got a mouth that I’ve got to feed,” Spencer said. “Somebody is really depending upon me, nobody else, just solely me. It makes me work harder. It makes me want to do more – I want to come in at night, come in the morning, get extra work.”
“I think he’s hungrier,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “He’s even more committed. He’s more disciplined. He’s had to grow up in a hurry. We try to prepare our student-athletes for life after basketball and life after Auburn, and I think having Avery come into his life, it magnified it and brought it closer to home. I’m just impressed with the kind of father that Horace is. He wants to make sure that Avery is loved and taken care of and challenged.”
The only gripe Pearl has is that Spencer’s son shares a namesake with Avery Johnson, Alabama’s basketball coach.
“I know he didn’t name him after Avery Johnson, but still he named him Avery,” Pearl joked. “It didn’t have to be Bruce. Just not Avery.”
Regardless of his name, Avery Spencer has found his extended family at Auburn. At seven months old, he’s constantly hanging around the basketball team, spending time with all of Horace’s teammates or “uncles” as he calls them. The coaches’ wives and the other players’ girlfriends all treat Avery like he’s one of their own.
Even on campus, random people will want to come up and meet Avery.
“There’s no awkward moment at Auburn because everybody knows that we’re a family,” Spencer said. “There’s no animosity. Basically, we’re on the same page. We’re all here for the same purpose – to get your degree or go play sports. Everybody is supportive.”
That support is why Auburn Arena is packed for most games. It’s why The Jungle is one of the better student sections in the SEC. Fans have backed the team since Pearl arrived, and they’re ready to see Auburn take the next step. They’re ready to watch the Tigers in March as part of the NCAA Tournament – something that hasn’t been done since 2003.
The players believe this year’s team can do that.
“That’s on the front of my mind,” Spencer said. “We want to take Auburn to the Promised Land. We want to create a culture. Like BP said – make a culture, make Auburn your own, leave your legacy. That’s what I want to do. That’s what we want to do.”
Reaching the tournament will leave a legacy for this team. But what does Spencer want his legacy to be when he leaves Auburn?
“He was an Auburn man. He was a family man. And he was just a great guy, a great brother.”
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: