Tipoff at Toomer's

Fans enjoy Tipoff at Toomer's in 2019

As far as events go, Tipoff at Toomer's has had a rough time since it first tried to leap from idea into the streets of downtown Auburn in 2018. 

That year, the event was canceled because of the potential impact of Hurricane Michael, which knocked out power and spread debris across the Auburn area. 

Tipoff at Toomer's finally made its debut in 2019, when throngs of Auburn fans joined Auburn University's men's and women's basketball teams downtown for an evening filled with dunks, three-point contests and fist pumps from head coach Bruce Pearl. 

In 2020, the event didn't even get off the launching pad due to the pandemic. 

After a year hiatus, Tipoff at Toomer's returns tonight, with a basketball court laid over the iconic Toomer's Corner intersection and players and fans gathering to build up excitement for the 2021-22 season.

"I asked the players, 'So what do you guys think?' And it was a big deal to them. They loved it two years ago," Pearl said. "They missed it last year; they wanted to do it. And so we're full speed ahead. 

"The court itself doesn't allow us to do a ton of basketball stuff. There'll be a dunk contest and three-point shooting, but it's more about celebrating with our fans and kind of getting ready for the Georgia football weekend. It's a great way to tip it off."

Auburn fans will also get their first opportunity to welcome new Tigers to town, including Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, two highly touted big men who will make up a formidable frontcourt for the Tigers this season. 

"I'm really excited," Smith said. "Older guys were telling me about it when they were here their freshman year and how much fun it was, the experience, how much love they got from the fans. And I'm just really looking forward to it. This is the first time me being in front of all of the Auburn fans."

Kessler said he's also "super excited" and hopes the weather holds out so he can take part in the event.

"I've seen videos of it and stuff, so I'm pretty excited about that," he said. "It looks really fun."

Preparations for the event started early this morning, as downtown streets closed at 3 a.m. to set up the court. There is some worry that rain might alter plans for the event again, although Pearl said he hopes Auburn fans would still come downtown to enjoy the festivities even if some of the basketball events have to be scaled back.  

"We're hoping that if it does rain some that what it would do is it would then cut back a little bit on the basketball stuff that we do, but that wouldn't necessarily have to stop the downtown festival and the rally unless it's pouring down," said Pearl. 

Downtown streets — College St. from Tichenor to Thach avenues and Magnolia Ave. from Wright to Gay streets —will be closed until 2 a.m. on Friday, with an entertainment district in effect from 4 to 10 p.m. today, allowing adult beverages to be consumed downtown. 

The Samford Lawn Fest will begin at 4 p.m. today, with the Tipoff at Toomer's event kicking off at 6 p.m. with Tiger Talk with coach Bryan Harsin broadcasting from the court. The men's and women's basketball teams will be introduced at 7 p.m., followed by dunk and three-point contests. The free event will be televised on SEC Network+ for those unable to attend.

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said cheers should also be given for a number of people who help pull this event together, including the Public Safety Department. 

"To close the whole downtown off for that long takes a huge effort, and they did a great job two years ago," said Anders. "I thank our downtown merchants for being willing to have their lives interrupted for a day as we head into a huge ballgame weekend for Auburn. I thank coach Pearl for thinking outside the box, for just having such an infectious enthusiasm for his program and our community and coming up with this crazy idea that was so well received two years ago. 

"It just takes a huge effort to do something that extraordinary, and there's a committed group of people trying to make that happen."

Pearl also expressed his gratitude for the City in helping make the event happen in what could end up being a big recruiting weekend for the Tigers, who will also host its Pro Day on Friday, with all but two NBA teams currently sending representatives to check out the team's talent.

"One thing that doesn't get talked about much is how the City of Auburn has been supportive of Tipoff at Toomer's," said Pearl, who added that the event itself isn't the only rewarding aspect of the day with students being out of school for Fall Break. "With classes being out during the course of the day, I'm kind of hoping our students will go downtown and have lunch, shop and hang out. And I'm hoping that as soon as school's out, that families will say, 'Let's go downtown and let's grab something to eat for dinner and let's hang out.' And it's going to be more of a street festival feel."

Those wanting to attend may find parking in the Wright Street Parking Deck or AuburnBank's Burton Street Parking Deck, the Gay Street or East Glenn parking lots, and Felton Little Park.

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