AUBURN, Ala. — The tallest scholarship players on Auburn’s current basketball roster stands 6-foot-8.
Coach Bruce Pearl wants to counter that lack of elite size by focusing on another measurement — 94 feet, or the length of a college basketball court.
“You can see we’re playing 94 feet,” Pearl said Wednesday night after Auburn’s second preseason scrimmage. “We’re changing defenses. We’re trying to play fast and play faster at the end.”
The new brand of Auburn basketball is all about full-court defense and getting good shots in transition. The Tigers’ first practices of the preseason have been at a noticeably higher speed than the typical ones in Pearl’s first two seasons.
While Auburn lacks in height at the center position, it has tremendous length and athleticism across the rest of its lineup. Junior shooting guard TJ Lang, senior guard T.J. Dunans and 5-star true freshman Mustapha Heron are all 6-foot-5 or taller.
The 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Danjel Purifoy, who started the scrimmage at the power forward position, has 3-point range, can take defenders off the dribble and is almost like another point guard on the floor.
“It’s fast-paced, even though you get real tired in this system that BP has,” Purifoy said. “But other than that, it’s real fun, because BP lets you play the way you want to play. He lets you play freely.”
Even with the speed Auburn has across its roster, it’s still trying to adjust to this new emphasis of constant pressure and fast-break possessions.
T.J. Dunans to Danjel Purifoy on the alley-oop. pic.twitter.com/ESuAaj33xj
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) October 13, 2016
Heron, who is the highest-rated signee in program history, said he’s having to put in the extra work to get his body used to the pace of his new team.
“The first thing you do is try to get in shape,” Heron said. “You have to do a lot of it by yourself, on your own and then when you get to practice, you have to be ready to play fast all of the time.”
Having speed and the stamina to keep that speed going for all 40 minutes was a big emphasis for Pearl in Auburn’s Wednesday night scrimmage. Toward the end of a pair of 10-minute periods, Pearl made his team run full-court sprints during a timeout and then told them to finish the game.
“During the course of the scrimmage, I ran them a couple of times hard to try to create some uncomfortable situations for them when they’re really fatigued,” Pearl said.
Pearl knows that wearing his team down now will mean they’ll be in better shape to do the same to other teams in the regular season.
Auburn will play at least 10 players this season in its high-speed rotation thanks to an influx of talented depth from incoming freshmen, a pair of graduate transfers in center LaRon Smith and point guard Ronnie Johnson and the now-eligible Purifoy.
“We have two to three guys at every position that’s like that, so we’re really going to wear other teams down, where they’re going to play six to seven guys and we’re going to play 10,” Lang said. “I feel like we’re going to win a lot of games that way … This year, we’re playing a whole new tempo, and it’s exciting because we have a whole bunch of athletic guys that can get up and down the court.”
Even the bigger men on Auburn’s roster are enjoying the speed of Pearl’s revamped system, including 6-foot-7 freshman Anfernee McLemore, who posted a double-double in the scrimmage.
“It’s absolutely fun,” McLemore said. “I love playing that 94 feet. It’s a style that BP has really instilled in our heads. That’s how we’re going to make our opponents tired.
“That’s how we’re going to win ball games this year.”