Auburn's big men in big battle for starting spots, playing time

Auburn’s big men in big battle for starting spots, playing time

AUBURN, Alabama–Bruce Pearl said he likes what he is seeing from his front line guys as his Auburn basketball Tigers prepare for the 2022-23 schedule minus two players at those positions who were NBA first round draft picks.

“The front line guys, it is somebody different every day and I think it is because they are all good,” Pearl said of the candidates to replace Jabari Smiththe 2021-22 national Freshman of the Year, and Walker Kesslerwho was the national defensive player of the year.

At center the Tigers return Dylan Cardwell, a 6-11, 256 junior, who was a standout performer on the team’s three-game exhibition tour of Israel in August. They also return 6-10, 245 senior Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola.

Added to the mix is ​​6-10, 235 sophomore Johni Broome, a transfer from Morehead State where he was the Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Broome was also a standout performer in Israel. Broome was third nationally in blocked shots last season at 3.9 per game while averaging 16 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

“Dylan and Johni are head-to-head,” Pearl said of the competition to win the starting spot held by Kessler. “Stretch is close,” Pearl added. “It is good depth.”

At power forward the Tigers return senior Jaylin Williams, at 6-8, 230 senior left-hander, who has extensive experience. He was a starter as a sophomore before losing his first string spot last year to Smith, the third player selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Williams is dealing with competition from another five-star freshman. This time it is 6-10, 225 Yohan Traore from Tours, France via Dream City Christian School in Arizona.

Pearl said that Williams and Traore are also “head-to-head” in their competition to start.

The only other scholarship forward on the roster is 6-6, 230 Chris Moore, who was less than full speed last year due to a leg problem. Moore won praise from Pearl for his performance in Israel. The junior can play as a small forward/big guard and has guarded power forwards.

“He did have a great summer and there has been some carryover, but he is getting pushed by Lior (Berman), he will be pushed by Al (Flanigan) and we will have Chance (Westry) back in a few weeks so it will probably be a moving target,” Pearl said of the small forward role. “At the end of the summer Chris was right there to have a chance at a starting position.

Westry, a 6-6 freshman, is recovering from surgery he underwent last week. Flanigan, a 6-6 senior, is a multi-year starter going into his senior season. He is back at practice this week after being out since late September for what Pearl said were personal reasons. Flanigan suffered a partially torn Achilles in the summer of 2021, but returned to action in December.

In addition to the three exhibition games in Israel the Tigers will play another one vs. UAH on Nov. 2nd at Neville Arena. Before that happens the Tigers will have a private scrimmage when UAB visits Auburn’s homecourt.

Pearl said the scrimmage will be a “barometer” of where the Tigers are as a team. The coach said the Tigers are at the point at which they need to play games vs. outside competition.

Pearl said UAB, an NCAA Tournament team last season out of the American Athletic Conference, is good enough to finish “seventh or eighth” in the 14-team SEC. “I think that is a compliment to a team out of that league because I think that is how good they are,” the coach said. “Last year we went up there and it was a very good barometer of where we were at that time.”

The Tigers, the defending SEC regular season champions, play their season opener on Nov. 7th at home vs. George Mason.

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