Auburn hoopsters impress in first practice

AUBURN, Ala. ( – Auburn basketball had an impressive 90-minute workout in its first practice of the 2016-17 season under third-year coach Bruce Pearl with nine returnees and 10 newcomers in Auburn Arena on Friday.

“I want to compliment the NCAA on the rules allowing us to work with them in the summer and the fall,” said Pearl. “It is only eight hours a week, but we are so much more prepared at this time of the year, and this was the first day of practice, and I went for an hour and a half.

“When it used to be the hard Oct. 15 (as the start date), we would go three hours, take a rest, come back for two more, double sessions. We don’t have to do that now. As a result, we are putting the kids in positions to be more successful.”

The Tigers worked on defense the majority of the practice and scrimmaged full court towards the end.

“It went well and just being here all summer starting in June, we have been building up to this moment to having more time to practice and getting closer to the season,” said Jared Harper. “So, we were prepared for it. It made us more comfortable and more fluid because we have done a lot of those drills before so we are just putting it all together and getting ready for the season.”

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.

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, 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.

“I think the newcomers are good,” said Pearl. “The best thing about it would be Jared, Ronnie, LaRon, Danjel, Anfernee and Mustapha, I think they have picked up things pretty quickly. That is important, especially the point guards to be able to pick up on what we are going to try to do.

“I think they are all going to have an impact. The best part of our team right now is that we have 10 or 11 guys who can play, and we will play 10 or 11 guys.”

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.

“It was a good first practice,” said Purifoy. “We went at it really hard and got after it. I’m really excited. I sat out last year watching the team. I am really excited.”

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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