AUBURN | There will be three new faces and one slightly familiar one when Auburn suits up for its fourth season under head coach Bruce Pearl later this year.
After coming up short in reaching the postseason last year, Pearl believes his four newcomers bring the added depth and toughness this year’s team needs to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.
The newcomers include transfer Desean Murray, junior college signee Malik Dunbar and true freshmen Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell.
“All four kids are tough, particularly the two transfers,” Pearl said. “Desean Murray, who sat out last year after transferring from Presbyterian, and Malik Dunbar, who is from the College of Central Florida, they will bring an edge to our team that we needed.
“Especially when you have such a young team last year, practice will be more physical, we will be a tougher team next year. They are going to bring and edge to us.”
Murray can play the small or power forward while Dunbar can play shooting guard or small forward. Mitchell will compete with sophomore Jared Harper for the starting point guard position.
Okeke, who will attend the USA Basketball U19 World Cup Team training camp later this summer, could start as a true freshman at power forward.
“I don’t think there’s a better on-ball defender in the entire 2017 recruiting class than Davion Mitchell,” Pearl said. “I’ve never seen Jared Harper bring the ball up the floor and ever had to turn his back on a defender until Davion got in front of him, and that’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful competition. Those two guys will both play the position, and they’ll play it extremely well for us.
“Chuma Okeke, instinctively he really makes everybody else better on the floor. He can score, he can pass, he knows how to move the basketball, he plays bigger than his size and he can guard multiple positions. All four of those kids I think bring a level of physicality and toughness that’ll really help our team.”
Not surprisingly, Pearl is excited about the depth on this year’s team. Returning players include juniors Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer, and sophomores Harper, Mustapha Heron, Danjel Purifoy, Austin Wiley and Anfernee McLemore.
“We are two deep in every position, and we’re going to anticipate that depth certainly will give us competition for positions, but probably and more importantly allow us to withstand injury, withstand foul trouble, and play at the pace I want to play,” Pearl said.
“I think when we go to our bench we will not drop off, and so how can we wear our opponent down with how we defend, with how we run, with how we press, with not letting our opponent rest. That’s the way you take advantage of your depth.”