For the past few weeks of the preseason, Bruce Pearl has lauded not only the depth of his 2022-23 squad, but the quality of it, with what he thinks will be a solid 2-deep lineup at all five positions.
As a result, Pearl claimed last week that, if the season had started then, he only knew of two starters he would lock down. This week, that number dwindled to one.
And if his highly touted, versatile freshman guard was healthy right now, he could be zero.
Freshman Luck Westry is in the midst of recovering from a minor knee procedure earlier this month — when Pearl himself also underwent knee surgery in Florida by Dr. James Andrews. But before that procedure, the former top-50 overall recruit was contending in practice for playing time not only within a deep rotation, but as a potential starter.
“He separated himself from our guards,” Pearl said on Tiger Talk. “He was going to be a starter somewhere — whether at 1, 2 or 3. I’m not really sure which one because he gave us great versatility.”
At 6-foot-6, Westry was as versatile as Pearl had advertised in the summer, when he played on the wing and ran point for the Tigers during their foreign tour in Israel. He had 31 points and 10 steals through Auburn’s first two games in Israel before going scoreless in the loss to the Israeli national team.
Rated as the No. 44 overall prospect in the 2022 class, Westry committed to Auburn last Halloween and will begin this season as the sixth-highest rated prospect to ever sign with the program.
Pearl added more details to Westry’s knee procedure, sharing Thursday that the Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, native sustained a non-contact injury during offseason work, and Auburn’s staff evaluated it for a few weeks before deciding minor surgery would be the best move for the true freshman moving forward.
Westry and Pearl underwent surgery two weeks ago. Pearl said he was glad to have some bonding time with one of his freshmen—though Westry isn’t as young as the newcomers Auburn usually gets from the high-school ranks, as he turned 20 last week.
“We’ve been able to rehab together early in the morning,” Pearl said last week before Auburn’s pro day. “It’s been a sweet time, really. It’s been a real sweet time to be able to go through that with him. We didn’t plan it that way, but he’s doing great. He’s limping a lot less than I am. …He’s just a great guy. He’s a great young man. He’s humble and hungry, appreciative, respectful, bright, intelligent and wants to be coached. I’m glad he’s here.”
As of Thursday, Pearl said Westry is still looking at a three-to-four-week timetable for his return. He’ll miss Auburn’s closed scrimmage Sunday against UAB and could be unavailable when the Tigers open the season Nov. 7 against George Mason.
“This being his first real surgery, who knows how long that’s going to take?” Pearl said. “I’d say at this point that’s a tough loss.”
Auburn’s guard rotation — one that Westry will hope to impact once he returns — is undergoing some reshuffling by Pearl and his staff as compared to last season. Wendell Green Jr. is likely moving into the starting point-guard role after being the team’s sixth man last year, while Pearl said Zep Jasper and K.D. Johnson are currently competing at the starting 2-guard spot. Those starting designations likely won’t mean much for minutes, though, considering Green Jr. averaged more minutes at point guard than the starter, Jasper, last season.
Considering senior wing Allen Flanigan missed two weeks of practice, Pearl said this week junior Chris Moore would likely be the starter there if the season began today. Senior Jaylin Williams and five-star freshman Yohan Traore are competing at power forward, and Pearl added that Dylan Cardwell is pushing Morehead State transfer Johni Broome at center, too.
“I don’t know if I have any guaranteed starters,” Pearl said. “Probably Wendell at point guard, but without Chance being available, you don’t know what that competition would have looked like.”
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