Auburn vs. Virginia - NCAA Tournament, Final Four

Bruce Pearl talks with J'Von McCormick (12) during the Auburn vs. Virginia Final Four game in Minneapolis on April. 6, 2019.

Bruce Pearl is putting his trust in the hands of J’Von McCormick.

He could be putting the ball in his hands, at least, the next time the Auburn men’s basketball team walks up the court after tipoff next fall.

That’s the plan right now anyway, Pearl told reporters at a recent event, saying the Tigers would look to McCormick and signee Tyrell Jones next season to help fill the void at point guard left by Jared Harper, rather than adding any new pieces.

“I think we’ll play the cards we have going into the season,” Pearl said to reporters at the Regions Tradition Pro-Am golf event last week in Birmingham, per the Montgomery Advertiser.

Harper entered his name into NBA Draft consideration last month, saying at the time that he would be leaving school, offering with that a hint of finality in regards to his collegiate career after his junior season. The two-time All-SEC star helped lead Auburn to claim two conference championships in his career and helped engineer the Tigers’ magic run to the Final Four this spring.

He’ll leave big shoes to fill at point guard.

And for that task, Pearl has affirmed the Tigers will turn toward McCormick, the speedy, 6-foot rising senior and JUCO transfer who has shined for Auburn fans in reserve minutes — and toward Jones, the class of 2019 signee set to join the roster this fall.

Offering his insight last week, Pearl also said that the Tigers’ rising senior Samir Doughty could play the position, as well.

All of this comes after the speculation that Auburn recruiting target Sharife Cooper could re-classify and join the Tigers actually reached the touted 2020 point guard prospect from Georgia in a line of questioning from reporters at a recent tournament — before Cooper told The Athletic then that he was not looking to re-classify.

Instead, Auburn is looking toward its internal talent for its next starting point guard, also knowing that talent is out there in that 2020 class.

Harper’s contributions to the Tigers as a scorer, a distributor and on-court signal-caller were seemingly invaluable. He started all 40 games for Auburn last season, right next to then-senior Bryce Brown at shooting guard, with Harper scoring 15.3 points per game and averaging 5.8 assists a game. He averaged nearly 33 minutes per game, and topped 37 minutes several times in some of Auburn’s most important games.

McCormick, in his own right, wowed Auburn fans in his limited minutes behind Harper, streaking past defenders with impressive speed and leaping for impressive dunks and blocks given his stature. He showed more of his ability in the NCAA Tournament, in performances like his 16-point outing against New Mexico State in the first round and his 10-point performance against North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.

Jones was rated a consensus four-star prospect by all of Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports, signing out of West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Fla.

Until either proves it best they take on a workman-like load like Harper did playing the tigers’ share of every game, Auburn fans can likely expect both McCormick and Jones to see significant minutes at point guard next season.

Doughty, meanwhile, could slide to shooting guard to replace the departing Brown in the starting lineup. Doughty played at small forward along with then-senior Malik Dunbar last season, but would fit at shooting guard while another 2019 signee, Rivals five-star Isaac Okoro, joins the fold.

Okoro, signed out of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Ga., was teammates there with Cooper. Cooper announced in August 2016 that Pearl and Auburn had offered him a scholarship.

“The 2020 class is loaded with great point guards,” Pearl said in Birmingham. Recruiting rules prevent him from talking about specific prospects, but speaking in generalities, he discussed Auburn’s plan to use seniors like McCormick and Doughty knowing spaces will open behind them for 2020 targets.

“The one thing I don’t want to do is I don’t want to put a good, young point guard in there right now ahead of the 2020 class.”

For Auburn, that means it’s time for seniors like McCormick and Doughty to step up for the Tigers in the backcourt, alongside the boon of young talent coming to join them.

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