With the addition of six-foot-eleven center Dylan Cardwell to the signee class, Coach Bruce Pearl’s basketball team has added much needed height for the upcoming season’s roster.
Last week, Cardwell, whose hometown is Augusta, Georgia, became the fifth member of Auburn’s 2020 recruiting class when he chose the Tigers over the UConn Huskies, Georgia Bulldogs, Tennessee Vols and Vanderbilt Commodores.
The Tigers have a major rebuilding project with all five of their starters to replace plus sixth-man Anfernee McLemore, who was a starter a year earlier on the Final Four team.
From the 2019-20 starting lineup the Tigers are replacing two guards (Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick), two forwards (Danjel Purifoy and Isaac Okoro) and center Austin Wiley. Doughty, McCormick, Purifoy, Wiley and McLemore were seniors last season and Okoro, a freshman, is expected to be an early pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Cardwell, the nephew of Auburn football assistant coach Rodney Garner, is part of a class ranked No. 7 nationally by 247Sports. The group is headed by McDonald’s All-American Sharife Cooper, a six-foot point guard from McEachern High in Powder Springs, Georgia. The class includes 6-7 forward Chris Moore from West Memphis (Ark.) High and 6-10 forward J.T. Thor from Norcross (Ga.) High along with 6-5 combo guard Justin Powell from North Oldham High in Goshen, Kentucky.
While the group of five freshmen is expected to provide immediate help, if the Tigers are going to have another strong season it will most likely be because members of the previous signee class step into larger roles and handle those assignments at a winning level. Sophomores Allen Flanigan, Jaylin Williams and Devan Cambridge all showed flashes of high-level play last season, but have the potential to do much more.
Two other players who will return as sophomores, center Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola and guard Tyrell “Turbo” Jones, should be ready for much larger roles. Jones got off to a slow start as a freshman while recovering from an injury and Akingbola was getting back into basketball shape after missing his senior season while back home in Nigeria trying to get his paperwork in order so he could return to the United States.
Because of those situations and because the Tigers had a deep and experienced playing rotation even without Akingbola or Jones, it is no surprise why both were not major contributors as freshmen.
There is still the possibility the Tigers could add one more scholarship player to the roster. The No. 1 prospect in the 2021 class, 6-8 forward Jonathan Kuminga, may skip his senior season at The Patrick School in Hillside, N.J., and sign with a college team this year. Auburn is one of the programs he is considering, so it makes sense for Pearl to leave a spot open for Kuminga if he wants to play for the Tigers this year. If he doesn’t, there is a possibility of adding a graduate transfer if the coaches find one they believe could make an immediate positive impact for the 2020-21 season.
MarkMurphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.