AUBURN, Ala. — Bruce Pearl foresees the problems he’ll have to navigate at some point, and the Auburn basketball head coach isn’t mad about them.
Auburn leaves Sunday for Italy, where the Tigers will play games in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. Basketball season is still months away, and yet Pearl is confident competition and depth will be aplenty throughout his program in the coming months.
“It’s really competitive,” Pearl said. “It really is, but it’s also the guys are really working hard and playing together.”
That’s been more so the case since the whole team’s been reunited on campus this week in preparation for its foreign trip. Malik Dunbar joined the team on Friday after finishing up academically at College of Central Florida and transfer Desean Murray — who sat out last season — will make the trip, too.
Adding faces has highlighted the second potential issue Pearl is appreciating: depth.
“We literally have two potential starters at every position,” Pearl said.
The Tigers are hoping to put together a season capped with an NCAA Tournament appearance. The time abroad in a way will be a spring board allowing Auburn to get a “head start” on the 2017-18 season.
Already Auburn has worked diligently on improving its transition defense, for example.
“It helps you throughout the season,” Pearl said of his team’s time overseas. “We are further ahead. It takes a little pressure off in the fall, helps the guys get adjusted a little bit.”
Austin Wiley will benefit from some time off, as he’ll be sidelined during the trip with a stress fracture, but the entire group will get some time off upon the return to the states.
“I think in the long run that’s going to help us be fresh, or fresher,” Pearl said.
Perhaps the most important part of the experience for Auburn, though, will come away from the sweltering gyms throughout Italy. Pearl cut the A/C off in the Auburn practice gym on Saturday to simulate conditions the team will face in several venues.
Pearl’s squad will tour, visit children’s hospitals and take in the Italian culture, which could help the players develop chemistry that’ll help combat the problems that arise with depth.
Already there’s chatter about the ensuing starting battle at point guard. And then there’s the question of who will play alongside Wiley.
“If everyone is focused on the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back of the jersey,” Pearl said, “everyone’s going to be happy. We’ll be playing together, we’ll be playing beautiful basketball and we’ll be winning.
“When we are successful, you as an individual have a chance to benefit more than if you as an individual are successful but the team fails.”
And of course, family-style meals won’t hurt, either.