Bruce Pearl took a page from Auburn football's recruiting playbook last weekend when the Tigers' basketball program hosted a group of high-profile recruits for Big Cat Weekend.
The group included bluechippers like five-star point guard Sharife Cooper, five-star shooting guard Brandon Boston, three-star shooting guard Justin Powell and one of the most prized centers in the nation — five-star Fairburn, Georgia native Walker Kessler, who is ranked No. 16 overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings..
The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Kessler's offer list is full of schools with championship pedigrees, including Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Gonzaga. He's also a Georgia legacy — his father, Chad, played for the Bulldogs during the '80s.
Despite being chased after by bluechip programs and his father's alma mater, Kessler says Pearl's Auburn program is very much in the mix for his commitment.
"Auburn definitely has a shot more than any other school," said Kessler. "I think they’re in my top three probably because it’s so close to home and you have the appeal of a coach like coach Pearl who can get all his players to play for him and just have your back, and that’s really appealing."
Kessler arrived on The Plains last Friday and stayed through Saturday's festivities, which included a scavenger hunt. He spent a lot of time hanging out with fellow recruits, mainly Powell, Cooper and Boston.
"Coach Pearl’s trying to get all the guys to know each other," he said.
Kessler mentioned the close proximity of Auburn's campus to home and the "beautiful" campus and facilities as appealing to him. And then there's the appeal of Pearl's style of coaching.
"All his players play for him," he said. "It’s all together; the camaraderie that’s not like at other schools, and that’s why they went so far because everyone’s playing together."
Kessler isn't your typical big man who just hangs out on the inside — he's also got a nice touch on his mid- and long-range shots, a feature of his game that had Pearl comparing him to the Lakers' Kyle Kuzma.
"You look at all the bigs. Austin Wiley (is) not really the biggest shooter, but everyone else, just the versatility — you can use the bigs on the perimeter, you can use them in the post, you can use them in the high post," he said. "It’s appealing."
In addition to Georgia and Auburn, Kessler said he really likes Duke and Virginia and also plans to visit Gonzaga and North Carolina at some point.
Despite being pursued by so many established basketball programs, Kessler is taking his recruitment in stride.
"I don’t really consider myself a high-profile guy just because of the fact that I haven’t been here," he said. "This is my first year in the rankings and all that. I’ve always been some no-name guy, just a tall, white, skinny guy who can kind of shoot a little bit.
He also plans to take more unofficial visits to Auburn in the coming months, which he said wouldn't be hard because he often stays at his family's lake house at Lake Martin.
Kessler, who wants to commit somewhere in October or November, says Auburn's program is definitely on the rise, and that's largely due to Pearl
"The thing is you look at the recruits that go into Auburn, they’re not four or five star guys. Coach Pearl takes these talented players — I’m not dogging them at all — and he takes them and develops them and makes them play together," he said. "And that’s how you win is you get a team that all plays together."
The Tigers made headway with other recruits on campus, including Boston, who said the Tigers made the cut for his final four teams, which also includes Duke, Kentucky and Florida.
Boston, ranked No. 8 overall in the nation, doesn't plan to commit until next April.
Auburn is currently the favorite to land Cooper, a 6-foot, 160-pound point guard out of Marietta, Georgia who is ranked 18th overall in the nation. The Tigers' main competition for his commitment is Kentucky.
Auburn also got an early start on its 2021 class when four-star point guard Daeshun Ruffin committed to the Tigers after returning home from his visit for Big Cat Weekend.
Ruffin, the No. 7 point guard in the class of 2021 according to 247Sports, chose the Tigers over offers from Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and others.