Since the first exhibition game of my freshman year in 2012, I have attended nearly every home basketball, sat in the same seat, and lost my voice cheering on my fellow classmates. Since those first games, I've stayed after each game to chat with the players. I've seen the highs of demolishing Alabama 49-37 during the 2012-13 season. I've seen the dejection that is an 111-92 loss to Northwestern State last season, in which the Demons had a 72 point second half to win the game. After Friday night's 105-80 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, the third 2013 NCAA Tournament team that Auburn had faced, I saw players having fun. Malcolm Canada had a smile that even a hit from the freight train running through College Street couldn't knock off. That's the moment I knew things had changed.
You can talk about changing the culture of a program all you want. You can send your players to do community work every day of the year. But what Coach Bruce Pearl has done in his short ten months at Auburn has been spectacular. The list of different activities and events he's showed up to already is too long to get into. But that man is making a change. Heck, the man invited me to sit down in his office one early Friday morning after I had sent him an email (it was essay length, I'll admit) congratulating him on the job and a lot more. He remembered me when I shook his hand after the big win Friday. If you need a better example, just look at the players - they're actually having fun again! So many of these guys have gone through a lot in the recent years, only to be disappointed. To see their hard work actually pay off, even just three games into the season, is fun to watch. They certainly deserve it.
In the past three weeks, I've seen the Auburn Arena more packed and louder than I ever have since I became an Auburn University student. The atmosphere is amazing and contagious. I wish you could've heard how loud 2,000 plus students alone were when practicing cheers at the Pearl Jam. The bar has already been set high for The Jungle as well as the paying crowd. I've been so impressed with how loud and energetic The Jungle has been this season. I've enjoyed having to fight a large early-arriving crowd for my same seat - section H, row 1, seat 12 - each game. As cramped as I was for the Milwaukee game, I couldn't complain too much, having sat in the same student section with only enough students to count on a hand or two.
As far as The Jungle has gone, there has been some new additions that have taken things over the top. In the "Every Detail Counts" folder, how about the new Fear the Jungle shirts? Aubie sure knows how to model one! Probably my favorite improvement of The Jungle is the passion from the students. Games have been loud and packed. The baseline seats behind the goals have done a wonderful job distracting opposing players during free throws, something that has only been seen for a few games in the past. Those seats were typically completely empty. Friday night, Aubie got involved with the group beside the pep band and was leading them - UL-Lafayette was 2 of 6 from the free throw line during the first short spurt that Aubie was conducting them. Hey, every advantage, right?
You know how you hear an idea, and just don't know how it's going to go over? Yea, that was me and the giant "Fear the Jungle" banner I had heard about. Well, it certainly blew me away Friday! With about 16 minutes left in the second period, I was called off the floor and the marketing department explained to me what the plan was, and to spread the word around the student section. As planned, the guys I talked to began to march out of the back rooms with the banner. And right before the under-4 media timeout, we let loose, and The Jungle was all out waving around a giant, 80 foot banner around on national television. I heard it looked wonderful on TV, so I'm glad it got the point across!
This team has a lot of talent, and we saw just how well they can play together Friday night. They showed the exact opposite late Monday/early Tuesday. To see them gel that much that quickly is certainly encouraging to me. And to think, I thought we missed Antoine Mason dearly against Colorado, to the point where the offense couldn't produce without him. To score 105 points with the 2nd leading returning scorer in the country, and having five different Tigers in double digits, is a good thing. They certainly made point #3 on my "Three Things We Learned" piece from Tuesday moot. I'm all about being proven wrong if it works out like this.
Auburn now heads out to Las Vegas to enjoy playing in the MGM Grand Main Event tournament over Thanksgiving break. The Tigers face Tulsa Monday, Nov 24, at 10 PM Central Time over on ESPNU. The next Wednesday, Nov 26, the boys in orange and blue will be facing either Oklahoma State or Oregon State, both of which also made last year's tournament, on ESPN 2 or ESPN 3, at a to be determined time slot. The following week has Auburn traveling back out west to face Texas Tech in Lubbock, part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.That game will take place on Wednesday, Dec 3, at 8 PM on the SEC Network. The next home game will be that Friday, Dec 5, against former Auburn basketball coach Cliff Ellis's Coastal Carolina squad. You can catch that game at 8 PM over on FSN.
I hope to see many of you out for the remainder of the games this school year. Hopefully our Tigers can pull out a few wins on this upcoming road trip. If you haven't ever been to an Auburn basketball game, let alone a Bruce Pearl coached game, you certainly need to. It's a night you won't regret. And for the students reading this, keep up the good work. We certainly need America to Fear the Jungle!!