Auburn to “hoop it up” Friday

AUBURN, Ala. (– The third year of the Bruce Pearl era begins Friday as Auburn basketball opens practice for the 2016-17 season at Auburn Arena. The Tigers feature six returnees along with six highly-touted newcomers.

“Back in the day, there used to be a hard Oct. 15 date, and we all looked forward to it,” said Pearl. “We had double sessions, and we had three weeks to get ready, and it wasn’t nearly enough time. There was Midnight Madness.

“Thanks to what I think are the real improvement of the rules in that we can work with them in the summer and work with them in the fall, we are so much further ahead and so are all the other teams. Teams are better. Players are better. It reduces the risk of injury. Right now, we look pretty good offensively and defensively. We have a lot of work to do.”

Auburn returns 41.2 percent of its scoring and 31.1 percent of its rebounding from last season, including 39.4 percent scoring and 27.6 rebounding from the Tigers’ returning starters in senior T.J. Dunans, junior TJ Lang and sophomores Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer.

“You are only as good as your returning cast,” said Pearl. “While we don’t have a lot of returners, we have good players returning who went through a little bit of pain and suffering. I think two things: No. 1, I know they know what it takes and No. 2, I think our returning players have done a great job welcoming in the six or seven newcomers that we have had.

“Dunans has proved that he can break down anybody. He just needs to stay healthy. He is one of the more productive players on our team. He makes everybody better. Lang is a very dangerous deep threat, who is a high IQ player and is getting better. The light came on with Horace last year. In February, he wanted the basketball, and he finished around the rim. He is obviously a great rim protector, brings great energy and is a great teammate.”

Six of the Tigers’ top 10 players are freshmen or sophomores, including four freshmen in Mustapha Heron, the first 5-star in school history, 4-stars Danjel Purifoy, who was redshirted last season, Jared Harper and Anfernee McLemore. Graduate transfers Ronnie Johnson from Houston and Bethune-Cookman’s LaRon Smith, who tied for third nationally in blocks, are also impressive newcomers.

“We will have, for the third year in a row, six or seven new members on our roster,” said Pearl. “My first year we had six, and then the second year we had six counting Danjel, and then this year it’s going to be six. That’s part of our story is that, for the third consecutive year, we’re going to have six or potentially seven new players.

“We’ve graduated 11. We’ve managed to, in three years, perhaps only lose one APR point with all the transition. And right now, I think we have a really solid foundation that has been laid because our roster will contain seven or eight of our 13 scholarship players will be freshmen or sophomores. So, we’ve got a very good, young foundation that has been laid, and I think the result of that should be our ability to compete for championships in the next couple of years.”

Auburn plays its lone exhibition game vs. Div. II Montevallo on Nov. 4 prior to opening the season with three-straight home games vs. back-to-back Atlantic Sun Champion North Florida on Nov. 11followed by a pair of Cancun Challenge games vs. Georgia State on Nov. 14 and Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 17.

Georgia State has won 25 games in two of the last three seasons and defeated Baylor in the 2015 NCAA Tournament while Eastern Kentucky has won 21 or more games in three of the last four years.

Auburn, which sold out of season tickets in back-to-back seasons, both under Pearl, for the first time in school history, has season tickets available at or calling 855-AUB-2010.

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