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Position Breakdown: Power Forwards

This group features one player who looks to be a rising star in the SEC, while another makes his triumphant return from injury.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Auburn vs Clemson Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve almost made it through the week which means we are another week closer to the beginning of basketball season! So far this week, we have discussed Auburn’s Point Guards, Shooting Guards, and Shooting Forwards. Today, we will talk about the Power Forwards, Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke.

#24 Anfernee McLemore, Junior, 6’7”, 220 pounds, Warwick, Georgia

The last time we saw Anfernee McLemore on the court was February 17th against South Carolina. On that day, he suffered a season ending leg/ankle injury that was a devastating blow to last year’s team. Five months later, he was cleared for all basketball activities. It’s a remarkable story for the young man to come back so quickly from that horrific injury. One of the biggest reasons that his injury was a devastating blow was because Anfernee was the heart and soul of that team. His hard work, energy, tremendous defense and newfound ability to make 3-pointers allowed McLemore to expand his role tremendously from his freshman to his sophomore year, all while becoming a fan favorite.

Last season, McLemore averaged 7.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. He led the team in field goal shooting as he shot 53.2% from the field last year. Despite missing the last 7 games of the year, he was 3rd in the SEC with 73 blocks and was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team. In fact, McLemore had 5 blocks or more in 6 of Auburn’s games last year. Here are two of his best ones from last season...

While starting the season coming off the bench, McLemore played so well that Bruce Pearl had no choice but to put him into the starting lineup where he flourished as the team’s starting center. One of the biggest surprises from last year’s team was McLemore’s 3-point shooting ability which he worked extremely hard on improving during the previous offseason. After making only 1 3-pointer his freshman year, McLemore was 18-46 (39.1%) from that range last year. As the team’s center, this made him a matchup nightmare for opponents as he was able to shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, while also being able to protect the paint from a defensive standpoint.

McLemore had several really good performances last year. He tied his career high in points with 19 against Temple in the Charleston Classic early last season. He also tied for the team lead with 3 double-doubles last year in games against Dayton, Gardner-Webb and Kentucky. McLemore had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks against the Flyers. The Gardner-Webb game last year was when we saw McLemore’s 3-point game take off. After making only 2 total in his career, Anfernee went 4-4 from 3-point range that night on his way to a 17 point, 11 rebound and 6 block game in just 20 minutes of game action. McLemore then had 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats on Valentine’s Day, his final full game before getting hurt. In fact, there was a stretch in that second half where McLemore was the best player on the floor for either team and that’s with Auburn facing a team full of McDonald’s All-Americans.

As far as this season goes, I feel like Bruce Pearl will be very careful with him at the start of the year. I think McLemore will settle back in, but I think it’s going to take a little bit of time. If he is anywhere close to how he played last year, he’ll play a huge role on this year’s Auburn team. I cannot wait to see Anfernee back on the court this year and for the ovation he’ll get when he takes the floor at Auburn Arena for the first time this season.

#5 Chuma Okeke, Sophomore, 6’8”, 230 pounds, Atlanta

Note that Chuma has changed from #4 to #5 this season. I’m stating the obvious here but if there’s one guy on this team that looks to breakout this year, it’s Chuma Okeke. Some prominent people in the media tend to agree with that statement.

Okeke showed flashes of greatness during the course of his freshman year and is the only rotation guy on this team that’s not an upperclassmen. There’s a chance that he could become the go-to guy either this year or next year with his ability to take over a game. While I can easily see him starting at some point this year, he is a heckuva guy to have as your first guy off the bench. Not bad to have when he can do things like this... (with a bonus clip of Malik Dunbar included)

Those were 2 huge 3-pointers to create some separation in that Tennessee game. He made 3 3-pointers that night and scored 11 points in a 94-84 win over the Vols. That Tennessee game was a huge benchmark for last year’s Auburn team as it was the night that I think many Auburn fans really began to take that team seriously.

In his freshman season, Okeke came off the bench in all 34 games and was Auburn’s top bench producer scoring 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds a game while averaging 21.6 minutes a game. He was a 45.8% shooter from the field, and 39.1% from 3-point range. He scored in double figures in 15 of Auburn’s 34 games last year and tied with McLemore as the team leader double-doubles with 3. One of those came against Alabama when he scored a career high 16 points and had 10 rebounds in the win over the Crimson Tide on February 21st. Auburn needed someone to step up in that Alabama game with only 7 scholarship guys available and Okeke did just that. It was his best overall game last year as he took the game over in the second half allowing the Tigers to pull away and sending Auburn Arena into an absolute frenzy.

Chuma was a huge help in the rebounding department, especially once McLemore went down. In the last 5 regular season games, starting with the first South Carolina game on February 17th, he recorded 9, 10, 10, 10, and 9 rebounds in those contests. One thing that Chuma needs to improve on is his free throw shooting. He was only a 67.3% free throw shooter last year and I expect him to end up there more often this season.

At times last year, Chuma showed that he is ready for the big moment and I think he’ll have more opportunities to shine that way this season. If he doesn’t end up starting, he could easily become the SEC’s best 6th man, but I just feel like he’s too good to not end starting at some point this year. I don’t envy Bruce Pearl having to make these decisions of who to put on the floor in various situations throughout the year. Regardless, Coach Pearl has two great options in Chuma and Anfernee to use in his frontcourt.

That’s all for today. We’ve almost made it folks and tomorrow, we will put a bow on the roster breakdown by looking at Auburn’s Centers. War Eagle!