BY DANIEL LOCKE FOR THE OBSERVER
The Auburn Tigers men’s basketball program has entered a new era. Expectations for the program have never been higher. Head coach Bruce Pearl has built something special, but he did not accomplish it alone.
Mike Burgomaster has been a part of Pearl’s staff since 2019. He served as assistant director of operations before being promoted to assistant to the head coach and recruiting coordinator during the 2021-22 season.
“Coach Pearl is a very authentic person,” Burgomaster said. “I think what you see, whether he’s coaching on the sidelines or you see him in media or you see him at these events, he’s the same in public as he is to work for. He’s a very passionate guy. He cares about each and every member of our program, whether it’s the managers, whether it’s the players, whether it’s the staff — and he’s just a passionate, hard-working man.”
Seeing the program grow into a perennial contender is not something that Burgomaster takes lightly, he said.
“There’s definitely a sense of pride,” Burgomaster said. “The heights that the program reached — first No. 1 ranking ever last year, first trip to the Final Four in program history — there’s definitely a lot of pride in that. Coach Pearl says [to] all the team it’s easier to get it going than it is to keep it going. You don’t necessarily get as much time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished because you’re on to the next year.”
Recruiting is vital to the success of any collegiate program, and Burgomaster said it all comes down to personal connections.
“I think at the end of the day it’s about relationships,” he said. “It’s all about being able to identify and get really good information about high school kids coming up.”
Auburn has landed some big recruits recently. Players such as Jabari Smith, Isaac Okoro and Sharife Cooper have altered the landscape with which Auburn basketball adds talent to its roster. Burgomaster played a big role in landing all of them.
“I think every recruiting process is unique,” Burgomaster said. “Isaac’s, for example, you know, was a very long process. He’d come to camps here from when he was a freshman on, and so you kind of see him develop and turn into the player that he was going to be over those four years. It’s a steady process with the relationships you’ve built with the people on his AAU program, his high school and his family over that time.”
Auburn has put a number of these high-profile recruits into the NBA over the past few years, and Burgomaster said he enjoys watching the Tigers succeed at the next level.
“Getting to see those guys not only reach their dreams but have success at their dream — it’s really cool,” Burgomaster said. “At the end of the day, when they’re here, they’re kids. They’re going to a league where there are only so many jobs in the entire world. That’s the highest level of the game. We’re trying to watch them as much as possible when we’re not scouting or recruiting or that sort of stuff.”
More recently, the transfer portal has changed college recruiting in a short period of time. Burgomaster said he has adapted his approach in order to make sure Auburn has the best roster possible.
“There’s a major pivot in college basketball,” Burgomaster said. “The transfer portal is a major shift in how we had to operate as a staff. I think we, as a staff, have sort of figured out a little bit more how to balance whether you take a high school kid or whether you go and get somebody out of the transfer portal. I think we’ve had a lot of successful transfers here, so I think we’re a desirable place for transfers to come.”
Overall, Burgomaster said he most enjoys the process of recruiting and building a team.
“I think the thing I enjoy the most about recruiting is the journey from when we’re in the
recruiting process, then to see that success on the court,” Burgomaster said. “I think seeing — not necessarily the finished product — but seeing what we said to them in the recruiting process coming to fruition. There are a lot of programs where anyone could go, but it takes a real buy-in to what we’re trying to do.”
Seeing a recruit sign with the Tigers is one of the most rewarding parts of Burgomaster’s job, he said.
“It’s a great feeling because it’s a lot of hard work that has paid off,” he said. “A lot of people have put a lot of time and energy into that. It’s a good feeling, and it just makes you excited for what the future is going to hold.”
Auburn basketball has taken off in the past few years, and Burgomaster has played — and will continue to play — an important role in sustaining and growing the place the program is currently in.