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AUBURN — Bruce Pearl had a difficult task in front of him when the 2021-2022 season came to a close and the offseason truly began. Freshman sensation Jabari Smith declared for the NBA draft and Walker Kessler, the UNC transfer who became one of the best shot blockers in NCAA history, went to the NBA as well.

As the offseason began, the leaders on a team who had one of the best regular seasons in program history were gone and Bruce Pearl had to reload once again. This is not new for Bruce Pearl, as he built back the Auburn program from the wreckage of the Tony Barbee era, and reloaded once again following the 2019 Final Four run, when the team lost Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke among others. 

Pearl went to work and brought in Yohan Traore, a five-star recruiting and the fourth-highest-rated recruit in Auburn basketball history, and center John Broome, a transfer from Morehead State. 

“Replacing Jabari and Walker with Johni Broome and Yohan Traore, I don't know if we could've done any better,” Pearl said. “Really good players and prospects, great kids. In my mind, it boils down to how much did everybody else improve? That's going to be, in my mind, what's going to make up for not having two first-round draft picks.”

Broome, who spent two years at Morehead State, started in all 34 games for the Eagles and averaged 16.8 points per game and 3.9 blocks as the anchor of the defense. 

As for Traore, the freshman comes from Dream City Christian high school in Arizona and was committed to LSU in March before he withdrew from the Bayou and came to the Plains.

Traore and Broome lead a young group of newcomers to one of Pearl’s most experienced teams since the Final Four run and arguably his deepest bench since he has been at Auburn. 

“Our basketball team's great strength is that I've got 13 great basketball players,” Pearl said. “If I had to put out a starting five right now, I really and truly only know, only one guy who is gonna start.”

This uncertainty has been a common thread for Pearl throughout camp, and he even said he knew two starters at the Auburn Pro Day last week. The change in number is unlikely to be significant, but it goes to show that there is still uncertainty around the roster and an active competition in practice. 

Pearl has always been confident in his teams, and SEC Basketball Media Day was no different. The Tigers were picked to finish fourth in the conference by the media as the SEC grows stronger, but the team has its eyes set on repeating as SEC regular season champions, and going further. 

“We have a championship mindset,” said point guard Wendell Green Jr.. “I'm a leader on this team. Last year, everything was new to me. Now I'm more poised, more relaxed in every situation.”

The countdown continues for Auburn men’s basketball as the season draws closer. The Tigers will have an exhibition in Neville Arena against the University of Alabama-Huntsville on November 2 before squaring off with George Mason in the season opener on November 7. 

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