Bruce Pearl Previews UAB, Mike Slive Invitational

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    Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl

    Opening statement…
    “We start a pretty difficult stretch of games now with a couple of road games and a home game – at UAB in Birmingham on Saturday, at NC State on Wednesday and then home against a really good Murray State team. It’ll be three really good preparations and three really good challenges. The series with UAB is important. We’ve beaten them the last three times by a total of 10 points, always coming down to late possessions. UAB plays really hard. They’re really physical and very athletic. They’re fifth in the nation in offensive rebounding. They’ve always been a good offensive rebounding team. Our ability to keep them off the boards and deny them second-chance points are going to be important. They had 15 second-chance points in last year’s game. We’re excited about playing in Legacy Arena. The Mike Slive Invitational is an opportunity to bring attention to our former SEC commissioner, who was also the commissioner of C-USA. Mike loved Birmingham. He made it his home and made the SEC office his home there. He helped create what is the best conference in intercollegiate athletics, men and women – the SEC. Unfortunately, he detected prostate cancer too late to outlive it. His family, and Mike, started the Mike Slive Foundation for prostate cancer research. Much of that research is based at UAB and the hospital up there. It’s a great cancer institution. This is a great opportunity for us to partner with the foundation and continue to bring awareness. Prostate cancer is something that you can survive. It is a survivable cancer if you detect it early. Guys have to get screened starting in their early 40s, and if there’s any family history of prostate cancer, do it sooner than that. There’s been a lot of great research to help the survival rate a great deal. This will be the first game back for Danjel Purifoy. He’s been out of college basketball regular season for 21 months. It’s almost hard to believe when you approach it like that. It’s been 21 months since he played his last game against Missouri in the SEC Tournament. We paid a very heavy price through this process with Austin [Wiley] having lost a year and Danjel having lost 21 months. It affected our team and our depth last year. We could have been a Final-Four-type team. We played so many games with seven or eight scholarship players. Adversity revealed character and our guys had great character. To Austin and Danjel’s credit, they stayed right and they stayed ready. Part of ‘unfinished business’ is their return to Auburn to continue to try to make history. I think because, when recognizing that we made some mistakes and the culture of compliance that I think does exist on our campus, we took the actions that were necessary to penalize ourselves and accepted some penalties from the NCAA as a regard to those eligibilities. I’m just glad that those guys are back on track towards graduation and able to continue their careers. It will be good to get Danjel back. Like when Austin first came back, he’s not going to play a ton, but he’ll play and work his way into a rotation. We’ll just have to see over the next several weeks how that plays out with our team. Danjel will probably play both the 3 and the 4 positions. He played exclusively 4 when he was playing the 4 and I think we can play him in both spots depending upon the matchups and what the rest of our team looks like. We’re excited about getting him back. We’re excited about playing in Birmingham and we’re really appreciated to Knight-Eady and that group up there for their promoting of the game. It looks like we’ve got 13,500 tickets sold. People can still go to Ticketmaster and and still be able to purchase tickets. It would be really cool that if on December 15th, in the heart of this non-conference basketball season, Birmingham, Alabama had as good of an environment for college basketball as any place in the country.”

    On if Danjel Purifoy has evolved as a basketball player…
    “I think it’s too early to talk about his evolution. The biggest thing was trying to maintain his conditioning. I do think that as he’s gotten older and stronger, he’s always possessed the offensive skills to play any position, particularly the guard spots. Defensively, is he a little too big to play guards? Is he a little too small to play forwards and centers? That’s the challenge. That can also be used to his advantage if we’re able to and he’s able to. Danjel is a dynamic shooter. He’s got a high basketball IQ. He’s an outstanding passer. He’s got some experience. Don’t judge him these first few weeks based on what he’s able to show right away. He’s going to come back and try to help the team win. He’s going to come back and try to help the team get better. He’s going to come back and give us some depth that we didn’t have a year ago. Over a period, he’ll begin to have an opportunity to assert himself more and more as he gets more reps.”

    On Austin Wiley’s role coming off the bench and if he could enter the starting lineup…
    “We’ve started well and Anfernee [McLemore] has been part of us starting well. I don’t anticipate us starting well every game, but right now it’s been really positive. Austin wants to win. He wants to grow, develop and make history at Auburn. I don’t think it matters too much to him whether he starts or comes off the bench. Whatever combinations seem to work the best. Right now, we’ve been in a good spot with him coming off the bench. That could change as the season progresses. It could change with different matchups. I think it makes a statement about what kind of young man he is. Guys with bigger egos might have that even be a factor. It’s just not a factor for Austin.”

    On boxing out UAB who hits the offensive glass…
    “It’s a problem. It’s a real issue. It can be fixed. I give Dayton and UAB a lot of credit for crashing the boards, drawing the defense through dribble penetration and put your backside rebounders out of position. If you come over to block a shot because we can’t keep the ball in front, that exposes your backside rebounding and then we don’t have people coming back and rebounding down. I think we saw that against Dayton and watched that on film afterwards. I think we get it. Now the question is, will we be able to drill it and execute it? We had a contact practice on Tuesday. We took yesterday off. We were able to survive that contact practice. It’s really hard to hit in season. We hit hard, and part of the reason was because Dayton had hit us so hard. UAB is going to hit us hard. NC State is and Murray State is. Rebounding has got to be a factor because that’s a big part of their offense.”

    On Wes Flanigan…
    “I knew Wes as a former player. Wes had done a great job as a former player staying in touch and starting a relationship with me. Don’t think he ever did so because it was just in coaching. We had to play against him when he was at Mississippi State. There was always a part of Wes that was pleased to see us make progress. That was his school and he had great love and affection – as did his family – for his experience and his time here. I then came to know Wes through his work. The people that he worked for, the people that were hiring him were high character individuals. Rick Ray at Mississippi State tried to create a culture there and do it the right way, and he plugged Wes in. In Wes’ time at Nebraska and with Coach Beard at Little Rock, I saw those men and Coach Flanigan working together and I knew that would be a man, a coach, a teacher and somebody that wanted to do it the right way that I wanted to bring to Auburn at some point. When the opportunity presented itself, he and I had several discussions and several meetings. You’ve seen me be really patient in assistant coaches searches. I’ve gone from many weeks – and sometimes even months – with having a staff opening and not hiring to fill that staff. I didn’t hire Wes immediately. It took me months to recruit Ira Bowman and get him to come. Recruiting is important in recruiting a staff as it is recruiting good players. He is an independent thinker. He is not going to tell me what I want to hear. He’s going to tell me what he thinks and that perspective is really healthy because he challenges my thinking. He’s also taken on the responsibility of training the other assistant coaches in some ways, which I think is really good. Having been a head coach himself, having been a really experienced assistant, he’s assisting me with being a role model for them and with the players. I trust my staff to have conversations with the players unedited. They know, I’m sure, how I think. Sometimes assistant coaches can take players down different paths. I don’t think my guys do. I’m not saying I’m always right, but I think their conversations with them are healthy for the players because they’re focused on the right things about their development, so there’s a lot of trust there.”

    On using the tough 4-game stretch to prepare for SEC play…
    “I think that these different opponents – coaching against Rob [Ehsan], coaching against Kevin [Keatts] – these teams are all well coached. When our guys go into the SEC, we’re not going to see better stuff. We’re going to see bigger and better players, maybe. But, we’re not going to see better stuff, anything better than what Anthony Grant ran at Dayton. It is a preparation. If you look at the programs, Dayton has been to four out of the last five NCAA Tournaments and finish high in the A-10. Murray State is going to win their league. If they don’t win it, Belmont is going to win it, but they’re always going to be in it to win it. NC State was a program that we reached out to because of the historic nature of Tobacco Road. I remember when I first came to Auburn, I had publicly talked about that UAB was the best basketball program in the state at that point. It may not have been the right thing to say. I could speak for Auburn. I shouldn’t have spoken for Alabama. It wasn’t a knock on Alabama. It was a compliment to UAB. I actually would apologize if in saying that I insulted South Alabama, Troy or even particularly Alabama. UAB had it going. To play them and start a series with them, it is risk. They’ve got a lot to gain by beating us. We’ve got a lot to gain by beating them, too. They’re a good RPI team. They play a really good schedule. They’re always going to be competitive in C-USA. It will help us get ready.”



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