The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 2, 2014

Auburn's Pearl courting alums for assistants


Associated Press

— AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Bruce Pearl is already busy recruiting, even though he can only court potential assistant coaches.

Those include several former Auburn players. Ex-NBA player and assistant Chuck Person strolled around the basketball offices Tuesday afternoon in orange and blue sweats and ex-Tigers center Mamadou N'diaye, a Coastal Carolina assistant, popped out of Pearl's office in a suit.

Pearl planned to interview perhaps a half dozen other "really strong candidates" at the Final Four starting Wednesday with perhaps more coming in later. Another former Auburn player, Gerald White, was also in town to speak with Pearl, who also wants to bring the Tigers' most famous basketball alum Charles Barkley closer to the program.

"There's been a lot of transition in men's basketball coaches, and I'd like to be successful enough to be here for a while and build the brand of Auburn basketball back," Pearl told The Associated Press Tuesday in his conference room overlooking the court. "One of the things that you do that is by honoring the past. I'm going to work at my relationship with Charles Barkley and make sure he has access to this program. Probably first before that, he's going to want to see us do something before he's going to come around.

"In my going through the process of interviewing coaches, obviously those guys are here. I'm not making any secrets about it."

That much recruiting Pearl can do. He still has to rely on mostly on assistant Tony Jones, with help from Pearl's son Steven to reach out to potential recruits to fortify the roster for a team that has struggled badly.

Pearl, who was hired two weeks ago for $14.7 million over six years, said his son will move to a strength and conditioning job when the other spots are filled.

The head coach remains barred from recruiting by the NCAA until Aug. 24 for misdeeds during his tenure at Tennessee. He was fired in 2011 and placed under a show cause penalty after lying to investigators about violations involving a cookout at his home for junior prospects and their families.

Auburn had 30 days from his hiring to contest or accept the sanctions before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.

"We are definitely going to go through the process of finding out what that looks like from the NCAA's standpoint," Pearl said.

In the meantime, he said he can't so much as reach out to the two players who signed with then-coach Tony Barbee in the fall.

"As of right now, if a prospect visited campus today I could have no contact with them," Pearl said. "There are probably high school coaches out there that wonder why I haven't called about their top sophomore. I just can't make that call right now, so my staff will and then they'll offer their apologies for me."

Auburn has two scholarships available, and Pearl didn't rule out a senior transfer who could play immediately.

The Tigers return only two players — guards KT Harrell and Tahj Shamsid-Deen — who averaged more than three points a game last season.

Pearl runs down the strengths of all eight returning players and areas for improvement, but the shooter Harrell and point guard Shamsid-Deen are clearly his top players coming back.

Pearl has a good idea of the roster he has to work with now.

"The biggest thing we're trying to do is help them improve," he said.