Bruce Pearl

The Auburn men's basketball team continued practicing this week in preparation for its season-opening exhibition game against Eckerd on Nov. 1. 

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said there is still a lot to be implemented over the next couple weeks before the Tigers are ready to play. 

"We've got about two-and-a-half weeks left," he said. "It's amazing how much we don't have in and I leave practice every day going, 'Man, we got a lot done' because we have a lot to cover."

The biggest adjustment facing the Tigers' eight newcomers, including Isaac Okoro, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Tyrell Jones and Jaylin Williams, is defense, added Pearl. 

"The intricacies between high school defenses and college defenses are just night and day," he said. "It's almost a completely different game because the offensive players are better and the schemes are so much better and there's a lot of difference in the way the players were coached and their backgrounds."

Aside from Okoro, who is likely to earn a starting position at small forward, one of the newcomers turning heads the most in practice is Akingbola, or "Stretch," a 6-foot-10, 236 center from Ogun, Nigeria who played his high school ball at McEachern High in Georgia. 

Akingbola has earned praise from his fellow teammates and Pearl not just for his strong play on the court, but also for his vocal leadership, a rarity for a true freshman who only arrived on campus this summer after finally securing a visa to return to the United States. 

"He is dedicated. He is hard-working. He wants to be coached and he is a great communicator on the floor," said Pearl. "I have got 18 guys on the roster and 17 are American-born, and he is Nigerian-born and he is the best communicator. 

"He speaks the language now, he is motivating and he is fun to be around."

Akingbola is expected to play in a reserve role on the inside for the Tigers, which are expected to rely more heavily on the inside game this season as opposed to last year. Akingbola's physicality on the inside and strong defense will make it hard to keep the youngster on the bench. 

"Right now, he is the best ball-screen defender that I have at the inside position because he will go up there and impact that ball screen," said Pearl. A lot of times when you see a big kid you say, 'Fine, let's bring him out on a ball screen and let's take advantage of his size.' They are going to see Stretch jump on a ball screen once or twice and they will never bring him out against, so that is a good thing and the way you want it to be."

Auburn fans can meet Pearl, women's head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy and both the men's and women's basketball teams at Tipoff at Toomer's in downtown Auburn on Oct. 17. 

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