New championship banners hang over the practice courts in Auburn Arena, where worlds are colliding this summer.
Veteran players are meeting freshmen newcomers as the Tigers look to reload for another title run next season.
Five seniors lead the returning group that helped hang those banners. The Final Four logo now christens where the Tigers play pickup in voluntary workouts on the hardwood. ‘Midwest Regional Champion,’ another banner reads. Those older players who’ve been through the work in earning them are now back pouring more sweat over the court.
And it’s on that court they’ve been met with some fresh faces and new-look talent, representing the five freshman signees joining the team and making up one of the most skilled signing classes the program has ever put together.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said the Tigers have been tasked with bringing the two groups together as one by tipoff in November.
“The guys are working really hard,” Pearl said on an SEC coaches’ teleconference last Thursday. “We’ve got some talented freshmen that are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and understand the culture of the work ethic, the discipline.
“We’re working on some things where we’re making sure our seniors and our freshmen kind of work together to get to know one another and try to become a family again in a short period of time.”
The university posted video of the team running stadium stairs up Jordan-Hare on Friday morning.
Auburn’s Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore are all back leading that squad of returners with experience from Auburn’s best-ever postseason push — winning the program the SEC Tournament for the second time ever and making the men’s basketball Final Four for the first time ever. Memphis transfer Jamal Johnson practiced with the team last year and will be eligible to play this year.
They’re set to be joined by star-laden prospects Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola and Allen Flanigan, with JUCO signee Javon Franklin in the mix as well.
That boon of new talent will work to fill the gaps left by five key departures from last year’s team — all of whom have now signed professional contracts.
“We’ve got five really good seniors next year that have been in our program, that understand the culture, whose roles are all going to be changing in a big, big way because of all that we’ve lost to graduation and the guys moving on,” Pearl said.
“The reception that we’ve received in recruiting has been positive, but really that’s way more about relationships that have been made, and developed and built,” he said, on this offseason being different after the spring’s run to the Final Four. “You want to gives students confidence that they can come to a place like Auburn and realize their dreams and be competitive and win championships and that’s kind of what our focus has been as far as recruiting is concerned.”
Earlier this month, the NCAA announced that Division I play would move the 3-point line back about a foot and a half, but Pearl, whose Tigers team shot the nation’s most 3-point attempts in Division I in 2018-19, doesn’t think the change will affect his team’s shooting or strategy in a substantial way.
“I wish the line was back last year. It would’ve helped us even more, because we had so many guys that could shoot it and shoot it from great distances,” Pearl seemed to shrug on the conference call. “I think it’ll be a positive thing for the game. The percentages will go down a couple points the first year. It won’t affect your great shooters. It’ll affect your guys that don’t shoot it very well. They won’t make as many and they’ll take fewer.
“I do think it’ll open up the lane a little bit and it’ll be positive.”
The new 3-point line will be back at 22 feet, 1.75 inches, in line with the international standard. The line was at 20 feet, nine inches last year. It was moved back to that mark from 19 feet, nine inches, where it was prior to the 2008-09 season.