College Sports

How Auburn won a recruiting battle with Charlotte to build its Final Four foundation

Pearl: ‘It’s an honor just to be on the court’ with programs like UK

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl talked about what it meant to beat a team like Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.
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Auburn coach Bruce Pearl talked about what it meant to beat a team like Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.

Less than two months before he signed with the Auburn Tigers in the fall of 2014, Bryce Brown made his college choice.

The guard, ranked outside the top 300 of the 247Sports.com composite rankings for the Class of 2015, had just finished official visits with the FIU Panthers and Georgia Southern Eagles, but decided he wanted to go play for the Charlotte 49ers in Conference USA.

“I didn’t like him when he first saw him, I loved him,” coach Bruce Pearl said Monday on a teleconference ahead of the Final Four, “but I couldn’t offer Bryce a scholarship that I’d promised to somebody else.”

Brown’s future roster spot at Auburn was, for the time being, on hold in case the Tigers landed Jacob Evans.

Even though Pearl didn’t exactly think Auburn would get Evans — who wound up signing with the Cincinnati Bearcats and now plays for the Golden State Warriors — he didn’t want to pull a scholarship offer. He asked Brown just to be patient. It would work out.

More than four years later, Brown is now the Tigers’ leading scorer, guiding No. 5-seed Auburn to the Final Four for the first time in school history. Pearl expressed confidence in Brown, so the guard showed faith in the him.

It did work out.

“Bryce had agreed to not sign with anybody else until we were able to let him know what we were going to do,” Pearl said.

The Tigers found Brown mostly by chance. A three-star shooting guard, Brown didn’t play for a big-name Amateur Athletic Union program and former assistant coach Harris Adler just happened to watch him play “off the beaten path,” Pearl said.

He told Pearl to look into Brown because he was certainly better than his ranking would suggest.

Pearl invited Brown to his elite camp and on the day Pearl’s show cause ended he got to watch his future leading scorer in person.

As much as Pearl would have liked to offer Brown the same day, he wanted to stay loyal to Evans. He explained the situation to Brown.

“Would you consider waiting a little while and see how that thing plays out?” Pearl remembered saying. “Because I promise you, if he doesn’t take it, I want you to take it.”

Although fellow guard Jared Harper hogged most of the attention with his 26-point performance against Auburn’s 77-71 overtime win against No. 2-seed Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight, Brown has been the centerpiece of the Tigers’ three-happy off all season.

The senior leads Auburn with 16.0 points per game. He hoists up 8.6 three-pointers per game and makes 3.6 of them. His 137 makes from three-point range are third most in the country this season.

Harper was a more highly touted prospect — he ranked No. 90 overall int he Class of 2016 — but Pearl admitted the Tigers could land him only because most other traditional powers were turned off by the four-star point guards 5-11 frame.

The junior’s only other Power 5 Conference offers were from the Ole Miss Rebels and Kansas State Wildcats.

It’s an unlikely elite backcourt pairing, which is befitting for Auburn, the most unlikely team in the national semifinals this season.

“Thanks to him and Bryce, and several others,” Pearl said, “we’ve become competitive.”

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