Auburn Previews SEC Tournament

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    Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl

    Opening statement…

    “We are aware of the reports that are out there. Currently, we and our administration are gathering facts. Until we know more, it would be premature for me to comment on anything further. Therefore, I won’t be answering any questions regarding this other than to say we’re aware of the reports. We are gathering information and facts. Until we know anymore, I’m not going to comment on anything further. We leave tomorrow for the SEC Tournament. We are in a good place right now as far as our team. We’ve got nine healthy guys. Austin Wiley did practice with us yesterday for the first time. He will practice again today. His status is still day-to-day. It’s really interesting getting prepared because we know could play one game or we could play four games. How hard do you go? How long do you go? The only thing we’ve done differently is we’ve probably practiced earlier. Today, we’ll go at 12 o’clock. The reason is because we play at 2:30. If we win, we play at 2:30. If we win, we play at noon and noon. So that’s the only adjustments we’ve really made to the schedule. Tomorrow, late morning or early afternoon, our team is going to have the honor and privilege of going to the Capitol building and meeting the governor of the state of Tennessee, the honorable Bill Lee. An Auburn man, an Auburn graduate, governing the state of Tennessee. I wanted to do that with our guys. Once again, I want them to see what’s possible. That’s a pretty high position. That’s a very strong position. We here at Auburn are very, very proud of the fact that an Auburn grad is the governor of the state of Tennessee. So we’ll get a chance to meet him. I’ve met him before. Tennessee’s got a good man leading them. We’ll practice at Bridgestone after that. We’re currently getting ready for Missouri and Georgia. The all-conference stuff came out here I think this morning. I’m very happy for both Jared Harper and Bryce Brown to have been recognized as all-conference players once again. It’s just a tremendous accomplishment. Bryce is fifth on the SEC’s all-time 3-point made list with 345 right now. He’s four 3-pointers away from breaking an AU single-season record. He has 104. He needs 108. But he joins a great list of SEC shooters. So that’s just tremendous for Bryce. And then Jared Harper, once again, he accounts for 38 percent of our offense on both his field goals and his assists. We go as he goes. He’s one of only nine players in SEC history with 1200 points, 450 rebounds, 175 threes. He is very, very, very, very involved in SEC history. Disappointed that Chuma Okeke did not get recognized. I guess the only comments that I would say is that, in 15 of our 18 SEC games, he’s scored in double-figures. There were a lot of guards on the team. [Nicolas] Claxton, I think, was the only forward that was recognized [on the second team]. And the biggest thing, just to clarify, that I had campaigned for him early, was to be on the All-Defensive team. I wasn’t campaigning for him to be on the All-Conference team. I was campaigning for him after the game to be recognized as one of the better defenders in our league. It’s interesting, eight guys on the first team, eight guys on the second team, but only five on the All-Defensive team. Perhaps if there were eight, you know, Chuma would have been recognized. But I do think what it speaks to is just how good the league is. Because I wouldn’t take anybody off and put anybody else on. This is not at all a criticism, it’s just a recognition that Chuma certainly is a guy that is deserving of that recognition – not that I would replace him with anybody else. And if they had more people on the defensive team, I would have thought he could have been on. And lastly, you know how big I am on spouting off on our history, particularly when it’s good. I own that. We haven’t won a game there since 2015, my first year, so I own that, too. We’ve been one-and-done three straight years. It’s not good. So, that’s not the kind of history I want to make. So we’ve got to beat Missouri or Georgia to break that. And, we’ve got to pack enough clothes to stay there for the weekend, and see what happens.”

    On difficulty preparing for two teams…
    “I think you refresh, you work on us, but with an eye toward what we’re going see. For us, how do we handle the physicality of different teams? Missouri is a very physical inside offensive team that can go inside and out. [Jordan] Geist is a real tough guy at his position. The big kid is strong. We’ve had real good physical contests with Missouri in the past. They play great defense. They’re sneaky high-ranked in certain categories that matter like field goal percentage defense. They’re fourth or fifth in rebound margin. They’re up there. And then Georgia is talented and long and athletic and the last time we played Georgia, it was a one possession-type game. So, as we’ve talked about, the teams at the bottom of the league are good enough to beat the teams at the top of the league. And then South Carolina overplays everything, and that’s the next opponent. So we know who our next three opponents are going to be if we’re able to win the first one. So we’ve actually got our mind on all three of those opponents.”

    On any differences heading into this SEC Tournament vs. the others…
    “I just think the biggest thing is we’re healthy. We’re nine deep, maybe getting to be 10 deep. We’ve played well down the stretch. We respect all of our competition. As I mentioned to the guys on Saturday, I was so happy on Saturday and feel like we accomplished a great deal by being tied for the fourth in the league this year, because of the respect I have for the opponents. When you have respect for your opponents and you recognize how good they are, and then your team is able to achieve, it’s very satisfying. It’s not so much about you and your team. It’s out of respect for the league.”

    On trip to Beauregard Elementary…
    “We asked for volunteers yesterday. We went to the school of Beauregard and visited with the faculty of the elementary school. That was just such a sweet time. We went with a pastor, Wren Aaron, and his wife Cheri – a Church of the Highlands group. We served lunch. Bow & Arrow served lunch. We just hung out for an hour with the teachers and I had a chance to visit with them a little bit and just encourage them a little bit what they’re going to be facing when their students came back. Elementary school teachers, like when it comes time to get in line for Heaven, they have to be right there at the front of the line, don’t they? I just wanted to let them know how much we appreciate them and we’re here, and we’re not going here. And to come back this morning to help them welcome the kids back, of course Aubie was the biggest hit, and some of our taller guys. They don’t know who anybody is, but we opened up car doors and said ‘War Eagle!’ and I don’t even think I got one ‘Roll Tide!’ all morning long. It was all ‘War Eagle!’ and smiles. So, it was good. But then again, my reminder has been very, very consistent and that is we all need to sit down with our families — I don’t want to say we all — but I’ve asked everybody what can you do? What can you do? Where can you contribute? How can you help just a little bit? And then over a long period of time, it’s going to be very important we maintain that contact. I feel like I know some of those teachers now and I think if they see us again in a week or two, or whenever we’re done playing in a tournament or whatever point it’s possible, it’s just being a neighbor. That’s all we’re doing. We’re trying to be a good neighbor. I was very proud of our guys because we had to get up at 6 this morning to be able to be there at 6:30-6:45. I didn’t hear a peep from one of our guys about why are we having to do this so early, coach? Not a word.”

    Anfernee McLemore, F, Jr.

    On the mentality of the team heading into the SEC Tournament…
    “I think we’re more focused now than ever before. We’ve got a drive to be playing the best basketball that we can and be as good as we can in March. It’s now or never. You either win or go home. Now is the time to really lock in for the seniors, the guys in our program and Coach Pearl and put together the pieces we need to make a run.”

    On the feeling that he is healthy to play in the SEC Tournament this year instead of last year…
    “It means a lot to me because I didn’t get to play last year. Last year in the NCAA Tournament, I felt like I could have contributed. Hopefully this year we are better prepared to make a run in both the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament with all of our guys.”

    On being 0-3 in last three SEC Tournaments…
    “I don’t think anybody on the team has won a tournament game in the SEC [Tournament]. We’re going to go there knowing that we’re not done yet. We have still unfinished business all the time. We feel like we can do pretty well.”

    On shooting on the road…
    “The key to carrying that on the road is to focus. I think it’s easy to play well at home because of our fans. We might not always have that support, so when we make a shot, the momentum doesn’t carry as much as one shot does at home. We just need to focus on the game itself and not try to let the atmosphere affect us as much on the road. I think that will do a long way in us playing well and shooting well on the road.”


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