How Auburn’s Basketball Roster is Shaping Up for Next Season
BY WIL CREWS
It’s spring and that means it is time to clean house. Under head coach Bruce Pearl, the Auburn University basketball team has done well with its spring cleaning thus far.
“Out with the old and in with the new” rings truer than ever in today’s age of one-and-done college basketball players; and for Auburn, the “old” consists of the departing Jabari Smith Jr., Walker Kessler and Devan Cambridge, all significant contributors to the 2021-22 team.
Smith is projected to be a consensus top-3 pick, Kessler grades as a round-one selection as well and Cambridge transferred to Arizona State with his brother in search of more playing time.
Pearl is no stranger to replacing big-time talent. Just last season, after losing five contributing players from the 2020-21 team, Pearl signed Smith (the No. 2 player in his class), and convinced Kessler, K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. to transfer into the program from other schools.
Pearl has worked his magic again this offseason, with the urgency for refreshing the squad climbing as program expectations continue to rise. Smith’s and Kessler’s production will by no means be easy to replace — the two combined for 28.3 points, 15.5 rebounds and 5.57 blocks per game last season — but the Tigers have made multiple additions this offseason to remedy their absence.
The incoming freshman class for Auburn, which ranks top-20 nationally by multiple outlets, includes: forward Yohan Traore, guard Chance Westry and guard Tre Donaldson.
Following the firing of LSU head coach Will Wade, the 6-foot-10-inch, 225-pound Traore acted in step with the exodus from the program and de-committed from the Bayou Bengals. Pearl and his staff quickly ramped up the recruiting effort and convinced the five-star Glendale, Arizona, native to come to The Plains. Westry and Donaldson, both four-star guards, figure to enter Pearl’s plan as quality depth and rotational options in year one.
As of now, the scholarship players returning to the Tigers from the 2021-22 season include: Johnson, Green, Jaylin Williams, Chris Moore, Zep Jasper, Allen Flanigan, Babatunde Akingbola and Dylan Cardwell. Throw in Moorhead State transfer forward Johni Broome — 2022 Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year — and the three freshman, and Pearl has a war chest of talent.
The Tigers have one remaining scholarship to offer after missing out on another former LSU commit, Julian Phillips, earlier in May. Much like last year, the current roster looks fluid, as Pearl has multiple players at each position he could trust. The Tigers’ most apparent weakness is a carry-over from last season: three-point shooting. The Tigers shot 31.8% as a team from three-point range last season, a number that ranked No. 270 out of 350 qualifying teams. That was with Smith’s 42.9% three-point shooting.
Pearl’s best addition this summer were Traore and Broome, both tall players who offer little when it comes to outside shooting. Westry and Donaldson should be decent shooters in their own right, but the Tigers cannot rely on two freshmen to fix and entire team’s shooting woes.
The Tigers could bank on Flanigan to return to his 2020-21 form, that K.D. Johnson will find more consistency or that Jaylin Williams increases his efficiency with increased volume … but all three of those options feel like the toss of a coin. Auburn needs something certain; an experienced transfer; someone who could preferably play multiple position (shooting guard and small forward) and is a lights-out shooter from three-point range.
A couple of names to keep an eye on are Baylor small forward transfer Matthew Mayer. The fifth-year, 6-foot-9-inch “guard” comes with four years of experience, including two deep NCAA Tournament runs and a 36% three-point shooting percentage over the past two seasons with the Bears. The biggest issue with bringing in Mayer, being the established player that he is, could be working him into the rotation without sacrificing the minutes and development of younger role players. A smaller wing option is Malachi Smith, who at 6-foot-4-inches, entered the transfer portal after a senior season at Chattanooga in which he shot 40.7% from three-point range. Those are just two marquee names floating around, with Auburn’s proven record in the transfer portal, the Tigers should have no issue convincing someone to come the Plains.
So, as it stands, and if last year is anything to go off of, a potential 2022-23 Auburn lineup could look a little something like this: PG – Zep Jasper/Wendell Green Jr.; SG – K.D. Johnson/Tre Donaldson; SF: Allen Flanigan/Chance Westry/Chirs Moore; PF – Jaylin Williams/Johni Broome; C – Yohan Traore/Dylan Cardwell.
That 11 men deep already. However, Pearl used an 11-man rotation at time early last season, so he it won’t be overly difficult for him and his staff to work out the minutes. How ever the situation shakes out, Auburn looks reloaded for the 2022-23 season. The roster could measure up with the best in the nation. And the Tigers might not be done yet.