I was 16 when I got my first passport. My family was going on a trip to Russia with a charity specializing in international orphan care. I remember vividly my first international flight. Stuffed in the back of coach between two people from countries I didn’t know, I have never been more uncomfortable and more out of place. It was one of the most formational experiences of my childhood. Now, I am 30, living as an expatriate in Düsseldorf, Germany, and working with students at an International school. I’ve gone through two passports since that first one and had to get additional pages added to the one I currently use. Few things shape the way I think about the world more than my experiences with other countries and cultures.
Several Auburn basketball players received their first passports this fall, in preparation of this week. For many, this trip to Cancun, Mexico, is their first trip outside the United States. While Cancun isn’t across any oceans or continents from Auburn, Alabama, the mere act of getting a stamp in one’s passport can change a life. These players have been given the key to the world. For them, Mexico will no longer be a concept or a shape on a map, but it will be a real, tangible place they can say they have been. Sure, Cancun is a resort town, but it is still Mexico. These players are seeing the beauty and value of another culture and another country.
Hopefully, the international travel experience doesn’t distract the team from the task at hand: winning a dadgum basketball tournament.
Auburn beat Eastern Kentucky on the back of Mustapha Heron’s first career double-double. I would be shocked if that is his last career double-double, but I would be more shocked if this is the last win Heron delivers for the Tigers. He was all over the court. There were only a few negatives I remember from watching this game. One was the lack of half-court offense when Auburn couldn’t score in transition. Auburn appeared to lack creativity in its half-court sets and settled too often for bad shots or just three pointers instead of working for an open basket. Also, in the first half Auburn’s offense was nonexistent when Heron or Purifoy were on the bench. Without 5 and 3 in the game, it looked like Auburn didn’t have an identity on offense. Finally, TJ Dunans had a really bad game. He needs to be a scorer off the bench for this team and can’t go one for nine with three turnovers and three points in 17 minutes. That won’t get it done against conference opponents and will cause Pearl to have to play his starters extended minutes down the stretch.
Heron’s ability as a guard to rebound the basketball, even against forwards, is exceptional. In his young Auburn career it is the skill of his that most impresses me. I don’t know how many guards, if any, in the country who rebound as well as he does. He is averaging __ and __ right now per game and is accounting for over 16 percent of Auburn’s total rebounds, leading the team in that category. That is bonkers for a 6-foot-5 freshman guard.
Auburn 67 Texas Tech 65. What a game. TJ Dunans was a factor in the first half. Completely different from his last outing, but he does still struggle giving the ball up in the half-court. His pass to Spencer in the first half was amazing. Jared Harper is so good. He is worth watching as a fan of pure speed. He gets end to end with the ball before some defenders can even get across half court. Heron was the best player on the court against Tech. Such a polished player for a freshman.
Bryce Brown was nonexistent. Young teams have this problem sometimes, in that you don’t know what team will show up each night. Brown has to be better than he was against Tech.
Offensively both teams were really bad in the second half. Not to mention the officiating was abysmal. I watch a lot of NBA and international hoops and the NCAA possesses far and away the worst referees in the world of high level basketball and it isn’t even close. No consistency with blocks and charges, no clue what makes a foul a foul from one possession to the next, and I think everyone in college athletics knows this. It is time for USA basketball to take over officiating from the NCAA. It’s bad.
Either way, the game should never have come down to the last few possessions. Auburn has to learn to take care of leads. This young team getting this kind of experience is good, but it makes for a rough night for a fan. LaRon Smith earned his scholarship with his block at the end to save the game. He is going to be a welcome presence in the middle this season, because it is always good to have someone who can get that weak stuff out of here.
As Part of the Cancun Challenge, Auburn will play Purdue next on Wednesday. Purdue is far and away the best team Auburn has faced this season. The Boilermakers are big, physical, and tough. Auburn will need to control the pace, hope it is on from beyond the arc, and try to get every available rebound. The Boilermakers are a good rebounding team, but Auburn might be just as good in that category, and it will need to be better on Wednesday.
Things I think about this team:
I sincerely believe this team can play with almost anyone based on sheer athleticism and speed. No one is going to run this Auburn team out of the gym. They will play a few better basketball players this season, but they might not play many better athletes than they have on this team.
Things I know about this team:
I know Auburn will benefit from this tournament experience. Playing close games in weird gyms far from home brings a team together and can help the Tigers establish an offensive identity.
Things I want to see from this team:
As a young team, there will be some inconsistency, but I would love to see Dunans be the player he was against Tech every game. He has so much talent and a scorer off the bench is priceless. I also want to see Horace Spencer finish an alley-oop. If he could finish 60 percent of his shots from two yards away or less, he becomes a real factor on offense.
I WANT TO SEE NEW WILLIAMS PLAY A MINUTE IN A BASKETBALL GAME. I have no idea what he has done to earn a spot with the walk-ons early on. Is he suspended secretly? We need the depth at guard going into conference play, especially if Bryce Brown is gong to have games where he is invisible.
It appears that Auburn is one of the flagship teams for the Clutchfit Drive 3. I have zero confirmation other than almost 100 percent of the team is either wearing the high or low top version of the shoe while other UnderArmour teams seem to be wearing all different sneakers. The only hold-outs appear to be TJ Dunans who is wearing a two-year-old shoe. Also, the UnderArmour billboard on the scorers’ table seems to be advertising the Clutchfit Drive 3 specifically, which makes sense if Auburn is going to be that sneaker’s standard bearer. None of this is verified, but it makes sense to me, even though I am still wanting Auburn to be on the Curry 3 train. #Curry3forAU Y’all.