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Bruce Pearl Producing Historic Recruiting at Auburn


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Bruce Pearl producing historic recruiting at Auburn

Auburn Authority

Matthew Stevens, Montgomery Advertiser 10:11 p.m. CDT October 10, 2015

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Auburn coach Bruce Pearl has arguably produced better recruiting results than any other coach in school history. (Photo: Zach Bland/Auburn University)

AUBURN – Bruce Pearl has already put Auburn basketball in an historic position.

As Pearl watched his current his team scrimmage this weekend, the 55-year-old head coach isn’t watching the players who have changed the national and local conversation about the program.

Since the recognition was started in 1977, Auburn has had two McDonald’s High School All-America selections (Frank Ford in 1983 and Korvotney Barber in 2005) In the 110-year history of Auburn basketball no coach has ever had two on the same roster. Pearl has the chance to do that with the Tigers 2017-18 roster with the commitments of Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley.

According to 247sports.com, Auburn is projected to have Pearl’s first three recruiting classes be ranked in the Top 20 (No. 19 in 2015, No. 13 in 2016 and No. 2 in 2017).

“When you talk about Auburn basketball brand, I don’t know what that is yet,” Pearl said. “We don’t have a buzz. What we have is the ability and opportunity to find kids to build that brand.”

Due to NCAA regulations, Pearl is restricted from speaking specifically about prospects until they sign a National Letter-of-Intent. However, the Auburn coach can and does speak to his recruiting philosophy after taking Tennessee to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances and the school's first-ever No. 1 national ranking in 2008.

“We are not settling and can’t settle when we go out to recruit,” Pearl said. “We have to have the type of player that we’ll play against in this league every game.”

Pearl’s recruiting success gives hope and promise to being able to replicate the on-court success he had at Tennessee.

“Now there is zero reason that can’t happen,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman said. “Again, I don’t know if I would’ve said that before. I imagine Bruce has to be thinking now, that if I can get a Top 25 kid every year and mix them in with some Top 100 kids, then I’ve got a shot to beat Kentucky. Don’t kid yourself, he’s beaten Calipari before because Bruce Pearl gets kids to play hard because of his energy.”

The star power effect

In the last two months, Auburn acquired the commitments of Heron and Wiley for the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes and a small seismic shift occurred on lots of recruiting radars across the country. Bruce Pearl was no longer a ‘oh I remember him’ name back in the college basketball landscape back nut now seen as a competitor and back doing what he does best – transforming no places into someplace.

“I really didn’t believe Bruce would be doing this well (in recruiting), this fast,” Goodman said. “Guess what? I don’t think Bruce did either.”

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Mustapha Heron at 2013 USA Basketball Men's Developmental National Team training camp (May 30-June 2, 2013) (Photo: Steven Maikoski/USA Basketball)

Heron, 6-foot-5 shooting guard, was the first five-star prospect to commit to Auburn since Rivals.com began ranking prospects in 2002. If he signs during the early period next month, which he is expected to do, Heron will be traveling over 1,000 miles from his hometown to play college basketball. Pearl snagged Heron from the Waterbury, Connecticut area and he joined four-star guard Jared Harper and athletic forward Anfernee McLemore in Pearl’s 2016 class.

“When Bruce gets a Mustapha Heron from New York, that’s a program changer for Auburn,” said Evan Daniels, Scout.com’s director of basketball recruiting. “The reason I say that clearly Bruce is going to take this nationally with recruiting.”

Heron plays on a New York City AAU team and chose Auburn last month over scholarship offers from Mississippi State, Marquette, Alabama, SMU and St. John's.

“I really thought Bruce would get that fringe Top 100 kid and he’d be happy with that but then he gets a Top 25 kid that isn’t from anywhere close to the area to choose Auburn,” Goodman said. “That’s insane. It’s absolute insanity for that to happen for Bruce.”

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5-star center prospect Austin Wiley from Spain Park High School in Birmingham committed to Auburn on Sept. 26. (Photo: Spain Park High School)

Less than a month later, Heron’s commitment was overshadowed by another 5-star talent pledging his services to Auburn. Wiley, a 6-foot-9 and 230-pound center prospect from Spain Park High School in the Birmingham area, gave his pledge to Auburn’s 2017 recruiting class and plans to sign in the early period of November 2016. Wiley chose Auburn over offers and interest from basketball powerhouse programs such as Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan State and Kentucky.

“Let’s also keep in mind that Austin is a 2017 class kid and quite honestly, Auburn probably recruited him harder than anybody in the country,” Daniels said. “Those blue blood programs were still looking at 2016 class kids. Auburn did exactly what they needed to do. They identified a talent early and did everything they needed to do to get a commitment.”

Wiley confirmed Daniels' assumption when he committed to Auburn by saying Pearl got the message immediately out to son of two Auburn basketball players that Wiley was the top priority recruit of the Tigers program.

"I met Coach Pearl not long after he got the job and he told me I was his top priority," Wiley said on Sept. 26 "That meant a lot to hear that from him."

It is also considered a strong possibility that Wiley may be able to convince his high school teammate, four-star guard Jamal Johnson, to join him at Auburn as well.

After coming to Auburn with a winning career record vs. Top 5 teams, it isn’t unfair to suggest the pair of commitments and the perception change that went with them represent more wins for Pearl against the nation’s elite.

“With these high-level kids, the name on the front of the jersey just doesn’t have the appeal that it once did,” said
Jerry Meyer
, director of basketball scouting for 247sports.com. “These kids want to be at a place they feel comfortable and the people around them are looking for a place where they can maintain a control over the situation. If those two sets of people believe in Bruce Pearl and what the coaching staff is doing, they can recruit against anybody in the country.”

The effect of being first

The first recruiting class that proved Pearl’s “I’m back” declaration when he was hired on March 18, 2014 was the 2015 class. The current group of freshmen Pearl and the Auburn staff were watching Saturday include the top junior college guard and two Top 100 players who could be major pieces to the current team’s rotation.

“You got to throw away that first class in 2014 because he got lucky with who he got in that first one,” Goodman said. “That first one where he was able to go on the road, talk to recruits, and didn’t have the sanctions on him, that’s where you saw what Bruce can do when he’s able to sell.”

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Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl directing freshman Horace Spencer during the team's first practice session. (Photo: Zach Bland)

Junior college guard T.J. Dunans, 6-foot-9 four-star forward Horace Spencer (ranked No. 61 by ESPN.com) out of Findlay Prep in Nevada and Danjel Purifoy, who is still ineligible by the NCAA Eligibility Center. This trio will be part of seven newcomers, five of which who will be making their Division 1 college basketball debut when Auburn opens its 2015-16 season at home against Conference USA Tournament champions UAB on Nov. 13.

“I think it’s natural for that class to be overshadowed now by what’s coming but that (2015 class) was the most important class because that got things turned quickly,” said Daniels. “Horace Spencer can be a performer at Auburn from day one because of his energy. Danjel Purifoy can help them as an athlete. Now, Bruce is going out and adding star power.”

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Interesting. It's still surreal that Mustapha Heron is committed to us, much less, that he could be signing with us next month.

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Awesome, it is hard for me to believe the sort of success he is having this quickly. It is exciting to see and I hope we continue the momentum we built at the end of last season this year and beyond.

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Crazy how much a coach can change things. There's probably a handful of guys who could come to AU and recruit like this so we are crazy lucky to have Bruce here. Now if he can get them eligible and keep them around for a while things will be very interesting in AU bball world

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Crazy how much a coach can change things. There's probably a handful of guys who could come to AU and recruit like this so we are crazy lucky to have Bruce here. Now if he can get them eligible and keep them around for a while things will be very interesting in AU bball world

This is exactly why I was so enthused to have JJ do whatever he needed to pick up such a once in a lifetime opportunity. Coach Pearl is fundamentally changing our program for the better.

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