Harper competed against graduate transfer Ronnie Johnson for the starting role during the preseason and though the two possess similar skill sets, Harper established himself as the frontrunner ahead of the Tiger’s’ exhibition opener against Montevallo.
“I’ve said that Jared Harper is worth the price of admission. I believe that,” Pearl said. “He is a very a smart player. They’re both fast and they’re both quick and they both can go by and they’re both pretty good defenders, so not a lot changes. They can both shoot the perimeter shot, so there’s not a lot that changes when one comes out and the other one comes in. But you can see how special Jared is and how special he’s going to be.”
In his time on the Plains, Johnson has established himself as a tough, reliable leader who takes care of the basketball. He’s been impressed with the freshman class. He said they came in prepared to contribute.
A graduate transfer from Houston, Johnson has been an asset for Harper. He’s providing experience and guidance about what it takes to succeed at the college level.
“I’m just kind of playing out the year,” Johnson said. “I just want to coach these guys and make them give it their all. I want them to play like it’s their last year too.”
Last season at Houston, Johnson averaged 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He helped the Cougars reach the first round of the NIT.
“Ronnie came here to try to help us. Ronnie came here to try to help us play,” Pearl said. “He wanted to play faster than what he had been playing. Ronnie certainly didn’t come here to share the position, but at the same time, Ronnie knows what being a good teammate is all about. I see him, whether he starts or comes off the bench, being a great teammate.”
Pearl said his decision had more to do with Harper’s abilities than anything else.
“Jared has the edge right now, but they’ll both play,” Pearl said.
Coming off a season in which Auburn never played a true point guard, but experimented with a true freshman, a walk-on and a power forward, having two floor leaders is something Pearl is happy with.
“I think the point is, together, our point guard play is going to be improved,” Pearl said. “That’s what you’re looking for, and I’m hoping the area of improvement is not just from the ability to score. Last year Kareem Canty was a brilliant scorer and won games for us with his ability to score. I think because Jared and Ronnie don’t have that availability, they’re ability is to make others better offensively and defensively, and I think ultimately that will help our team.”
Junior guard TJ Lang has confidence Auburn will have two of the best point guards in the conference, and maybe the country.
“Ronnie is experienced, he’s been at Purdue, he’s been at Houston. He’s been at a winning program. He knows what it takes to win so he brings in that competitive aspect,” Lang said after the Tiger’s first scrimmage. “Jared, I feel like Jared is going to be one of the best freshman point guards in the country. He’s quick, he can really shoot it, he can really pass. There really isn’t anything he can’t do. He’s got the pass first mentality, so the two point guards we have are really going to help us out this year.”
Heading into Friday’s exhibition, Pearl says depth is a strength of this year’s team. While a substitution means a bit of a drop-off, it also creates different dimensions to his team.
“We don’t drop off a lot, so I think there will continue to be (competition) for playing time, for roles, for starting positions as we continue to progress,” Pearl said. “We can withstand injury or foul trouble… I feel very, very confident the 10 guys that I have out there are going to be able to play effectively.”