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March 28 Coach Pearl Interview

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March 28, 2018




By Greg Ostendorf

AUBURN, Ala. – Bruce Pearl and his Auburn basketball team returned home from San Diego last week, the day after losing to Clemson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t the ending the Tigers were hoping for, but the 2017-18 season will be remembered for a long time for what this group accomplished. It also set the tone for the future.

We caught up with Pearl this week to ask him about the season, his success at Auburn and what the future holds for this program.

You’ve had a week to reflect. How will you remember this season?

Pearl: "1960. 1999. 2018. Regular-season championships are hard to come by, and against all odds, this team made history. 84-53. That’s my next t-shirt. While I am humbled, blessed, thrilled, proud – that’s history. The last thing I remember is 84-53, and I’m going to remember that all spring, all summer, all fall, until we get started next year. I want to utilize that motivation to recognize what we’ve got to do to get better."

Was there a moment or game in particular that stood out?

Pearl: "Little did we know that getting off to the start we got off to was huge. Beating Tennessee at Tennessee and then Arkansas at home. We beat Ole Miss, and then we went to Mississippi State. Pretty early on, I went ‘You know, we’ve probably already done some things that not many people in this league are going to do.’ Like winning at Tennessee and winning in Starkville. And as it turned out, nobody in the league won at Tennessee except us, and only one team won in Starkville including us and that was Tennessee, and we turned out to share the championship with them.

"So early on, we got off to a great start and won at some really tough places. And then at the end of the year what I realized was that without the Jungle, without sellout crowds – our last three wins were Kentucky, Alabama and South Carolina. Our last three wins in the league were at home. We had won on the road, and we had 10 wins away from home during the season. We obviously paid our dues and did what we needed to do. But coming down the stretch, three of our last four wins were at home where we were injured, where we were really depleted. We played seven guys against Alabama, eight guys against South Carolina, and if it wasn’t for the best home-court advantage in college basketball, we don’t win a championship. Our fans and the Jungle and sell-out crowds hung that banner because at the end of the year, we weren’t good enough to do it on our own. Now early in the year, we were."

Is this what you envisioned – the sellout crowds, the Jungle, the passionate fan base – is this what you envisioned when you first got to Auburn?

Pearl: "That’s what I wanted to get to, but the home-court advantage is more than I thought it would be. I had no idea the Jungle could be as loud. I had no idea the building could be as loud. Our fans are packed in tight. The standing-room-only concept allows us to grow the crowd. The gameday experience at Auburn is as good as anywhere in the country. I see it every Saturday in football, and we saw it in basketball. We saw it. It’s beyond my expectations of what it could be."

Did you think the results would come this quickly?

Pearl: "My hope would’ve been that we could’ve been competitive sooner. Our second year was disappointing, but we had a number of injuries. That team could’ve been really good. Other than that, I think three out of the four years we made the kind of progress you’d expect. Our first year, we won three games in the SEC Tournament. We made progress. Our third year, we won 18 games, second-best in 14 years, with four freshman starters. We made progress. And this year, we won the championship. With the exception of my second year, I think we made progress every year."

You always encourage your underclassmen to test the NBA waters if possible. Why is going through that process important for the players?

Pearl: "I expect four or five guys to put their name in for the draft and get evaluated. Fans should not push the panic button. That’s just part of the process. Our job is to help get them from here to there. Until they go through the process, they don’t know how far or how close they are to being able to realize their goals and their dreams. But going through the process now, and if the information they receive is that they’re most likely not going to be drafted, it just puts them in a stronger position next year."

You have the potential of this team coming back and adding pieces like Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy and Samir Doughty. How excited are you for next season?

Pearl: "I’m very excited about the young players that we have in this program. The fact that we accomplished what we did this year with only one senior, Patrick Keim. There’s a chance that we could return a roster that will be preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1999. It’s easier to get it going than it is to keep it going, and I’m excited about the prospects of keeping it going."

This team likely won’t be picked 4-14 again next year. How do you keep that chip?

Pearl: "There’s history to be made in this program, and there are both team and individual goals to be had. This group is capable of more, and they know it. But right now, let’s get through the spring and finish up the semester. We’re going to start our offseason training program right after the Final Four. We’re going to go through the month of May where we’re going to have several players working out for teams. At the beginning of June, we’ll put it back together, and we’ll defend our championship."

Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for Follow him on Twitter: Follow @greg_ostendorf 


Love me some Coach Pearl.

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