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Did Auburn, Bruce Pearl violate their own secret, self-imposed recruiting ban?

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“I do feel like the worst is behind us.”

That is what Bruce Pearl said to Jon Rothstein on a podcast two weeks ago, and they may end up being the words that he regrets the most.

Actually, that’s not true.

What he’ll regret is opening the door into having his program’s recruiting timeline scrutinized.

On that same podcast, Pearl hinted that Auburn had already started serving self-imposed penalties as they away the inevitable Notice of Allegations from the NCAA. Some digging by AL.com led to a story that the school “did not conduct recruiting of any kind from September 2017-April 2018,” and an Auburn spokesperson released a statement to NBC Sports saying that “Auburn took a proactive approach by self-imposing recruiting restrictions that limited unofficial visits, official visits, contacts, evaluations and phone calls.”

Well, that may not be entirely true.

You see, Auburn was doing some recruiting during that period of time. For example, there’s this picture from Rivals reporter Dan McDonald, which features two future Auburn commits (Babatunde Akingbola and Isaac Okoro) as well as five-star 2020 target Sharife Cooper visiting Auburn. That picture was posted on Feb. 3rd, 2018, which fell smack in the middle of Auburn’s alleged self-imposed recruiting ban. Akingbola committed to Auburn on Jan. 11th, 2018. Yahoo’s Pat Forde dug up a couple of other examples of Auburn continuing to recruit while they were supposedly serving a self-imposed ban.

There are two things that are worth noting here.

For starters, Auburn’s statement, the one released to NBC Sports, used the word “limited” when referring to visits, contacts and evaluations. Not banned. Not prohibited. “Limited.” That language is important, and often when sanctions are self-imposed or delivered by the NCAA, there are simply restrictions put into place instead of recruiting being stopped for an extended period of time.

It’s also important to point out that an Auburn spokesman told both Yahoo and AL.com that exceptions were made to accommodate visits and trips that were planned prior to Person’s arrest in September of 2017. That, according to the school, explains away the picture of the Auburn prospects on campus.

The truth, it seems, is going to come down to how the school frames these punishments when dealing with the NCAA, but given that Bruce Pearl had his Tennessee tenure end because he tried to create an elaborate cover-up of Aaron Craft visiting his house for a barbecue, it’s only fitting that Auburn could wind up in more trouble with the NCAA because they couldn’t find a way to follow their own recruiting restrictions.

Auburn gives basketball coach Bruce Pearl 5-year extension

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn has given basketball coach Bruce Pearl a five-year contract extension after the program’s best season in years.

Pearl led the Tigers to a share of their first Southeastern Conference regular season title since 1999 last season despite having two top players ineligible. The extension announced Monday runs through the 2022-2023 season.

“It was a historic season for Auburn basketball and one that was matched by excellence in the classroom as well,” athletic director Allen Greene said.

Auburn went 26-8 and snapped a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought, beating College of Charleston in the first round. Only the 1998-99 team won more games.

Pearl is set to make $2.6 million this year with a $100,000 annual raise. The five-year total not counting bonuses will be $14 million.

Pearl faced questions about his job security all season despite the on-court success. Before the season, Auburn fired associate head coach Chuck Person, who is facing federal charges as part of a probe into corruption in college basketball. The NCAA ruled center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy ineligible last season after their families allegedly accepted money funneled through Person to steer them toward a financial advisory after they turned pro.

Pearl is poised to have another strong team next season.

Wiley is eligible while Purifoy must sit out part of the season. Wiley and guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown all opted to return after exploring their NBA draft status.

Second-team All-SEC guard Mustapha Heron also withdrew from the draft. But St. John’s announced Monday that Heron is transferring to play for the Red Storm. The school said Heron plans to apply for a hardship waiver to be eligible next season.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Auburn AD says Bruce Pearl will ‘absolutely’ return barring new information

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Auburn athletic director Allen Greene gave men’s basketball head coach Bruce Pearl more public support on Wednesday during a radio interview on WJOX.

After already giving Pearl a vote of confidence last Friday on a school-issued podcast, Greene was even clearer with his intentions in this public interview on The Roundtable. Greene, the new Auburn AD, appears to have taken Pearl off of any kind of theoretical hot seat as long as Pearl isn’t involved in the recent FBI and NCAA investigations.

“I have not had a chance until I got here to really interact with coach Pearl and his staff and really to get an understanding a lay of the land,” Greene said on WJOX on Wednesday. “I felt that after being on campus for a few weeks and being around that team that I had a good enough chance to understand coach, look at his program and then just realize, you know what, we do have a great person here for us and we want to see that success continue.

“We want to do it the right way and it’s unfortunate that the state of college basketball is where it is. We didn’t get that way overnight. We certainly won’t fix things overnight. But knowing the process of the FBI and NCAA investigation is – who knows how long it’s going to be? But it’s going to be lengthy. So, I think it’s in our best interest to stay the course.”

Greene was then asked if it’s his intent and desire for Pearl to remain the coach, barring something changing during the course of the investigation. Greene responded with, “absolutely.”

There has been speculation that Pearl’s job could be in jeopardy after assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested last fall. With Greene’s recent comments, however, it looks like Pearl should be okay for now. As long as Pearl stays out of the FBI and NCAA investigation, we will likely see him back and coaching the Tigers next season.

(H/t: James Crepea, AL.com)

 

 

Auburn AD Greene gives Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence

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Speaking publicly for the first time about head coach Bruce Pearl, new Auburn athletic director Allen Greene gave his embattled head coach a vote of confidence.

Greene was on an in-house podcast produced with the voice of Auburn sports, and was asked about Pearl’s standing in a pod that lasted less than five minutes and felt more like a press release than anything else.

“He’s been a tremendous blessing for the Auburn family,” Greene said. “The FBI investigation is a long process. We’re going through that process to make sure that we, as a university, are doing what it is that we’re supposed to do to comply. Coach Pearl has been excellent in that regard and I look forward to continuing to work with him as we continue to do the very best to support he, his staff and the student athletes of Auburn University.”

This is the first time since former assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested that a member of the Auburn athletic department had spoken so positively about Pearl. In the fall, Auburn’s president Steven Leath lamented Pearl’s lack of cooperation in the investigation, but just last week released a statement saying Pearl is “working with university officials as part of our due diligence.” Pearl said after his team’s 84-53 loss to Clemson in the second round of the NCAA tournament that he would like to return.

There has been speculation that Pearl’s job was in jeopardy ever since Auburn was mixed up in the FBI’s complaint. Two players were forced to sit out this entire season after the FBI alleged they had received money funneled through Person from a runner for an agent and a financial advisor.

“One of the challenges that we have facing the industry is college basketball,” Greene said. “We want to make sure we work incredibly hard to clean up the game, to make it as pure as it can possibly be so that our student-athletes can enjoy the intercollegiate athletic experience. one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that the state of college basketball is not in a good place right now and I’m a little bit disappointed that auburn is involved in that, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent job that Coach Pearl has done.”

VIDEO: Bruce Pearl, Alabama strength coach have heated postgame exchange

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After Alabama put a beating on Auburn, the top seed in the SEC tournament, on Friday afternoon, Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl and Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach Lou Deneen got into a bit of an altercation when Pearl bumped into Deneen after the handshake line:

Pearl was not happy and eventually had to be separated by security:

The Tigers lost 81-63 despite holding a 41-31 lead at the break. Collin Sexton scored 31 points for the Tide.