AUBURN, Ala. — In the buzz surrounding Auburn basketball’s underclassmen this summer, praise for coach Bruce Pearl’s two upperclassmen has been scarce.
But junior Horace Spencer is changing that narrative leading up to the Tigers’ trip to Italy.
“I would say the fact that Horace is playing so well so early in his return. He’s active. You can tell it’s his third season,” Pearl said following a Thursday scrimmage. “It’s just great to have him back and see him flying around out there, so he jumps out at me.”
The Philadelphia, Pa., native suffered a shoulder injury against Tennessee at the end of January. Spencer had surgery in mid-February and then was out for the remainder of the season.
The 6-foot-8 forward was sidelined for about 4 1/2 months, and has only participated in contact practices since the end of June.
In that short time, Spencer has been cause for extra energy and volume during Auburn’s foreign trip practices. Following a scrimmage scoring bend on Thursday, Spencer was greeted by Auburn associate coach Chuck Person, who smiled and offered a “Welcome back, H.”
“It feels good to be back,” Spencer said. “I’ve been working on my jump shot and just trying to stay in shape because I’ve been out for a little bit. Just trying to get back in the groove of things, trying to build chemistry with my team again.”
Spencer is technically recovering from his shoulder surgery and is “a little sore” every now and then. It’s also why his experience heading into his third season under Pearl has been so helpful.
It’s also been ideal that with the growth of rising sophomores Anfernee McLemore and Austin Wiley, along with the addition of freshman Chuma Okeke, Spencer can now spend more time at his natural four position.
“I already know the framework of the offense and the defense so really it’s not that hard for me to get readjusted to it,” Spencer said. “I am a lot more comfortable playing the four spot, I know how to play the five spot.”
Spencer’s comfort is just the beginning. He’s hoping to take a leadership role.
“I feel like I have to,” Spencer said. “Bryce [Brown], Danjel [Purifoy] and I are the only three-year returners so we have to be the ones to step up and put everybody in their place so to speak.”
The good news is the Tigers’ current squad isn’t like others Spencer has been a part of. What Spencer has seen recently mirrors Pearl’s expectations, too.
“Right now everyone has a positive attitude. I see everyone in the gym every night. Everyone wants to come work out, hoop, just gel together, but it’s just the summer,” Spencer said. “No one has been though anything yet. No one has to share minutes yet. We’ll have to see how things go on, but it’s a better vibe, a better vibe than it was before to tell you the truth. We have to see how it goes.”