Two games into Auburn’s three-game exhibition tour to Israel a highlight for Coach Bruce Pearl‘s basketball team has been the play of his freshmen.
The group includes five-star forwards Yohan Traorefour-star guard/forward Chance Westry and four-star point guard Tre Donaldson.
“All three of the freshmen are talented kids, and they are mature kids,” Pearl said on Sunday after his team defeated Israel Select, a group featuring veteran pro players, by a 107-71 count in Tel Aviv.
“The thing I like about them is they have got a little experience,” the coach noted. “Our veterans have welcomed them, trained them. You could see the talent.
“Look, we are only going to be as good as the guys that returned,” Pearl said. “That’s going to be a focus for us. (Monday) night we are going to play the Israeli National Team and that team is going to be 30-40 points better than the team we just played tonight. It will be a great challenge for us physically.
“They are going to run great stuff, they’ll have a scouting report on us because they will have seen us play twice,” Pearl pointed out. “We pretty much don’t have anything else in right now so we’ve got to kind of go with what we’ve got.”
Traore led the Tigers in scoring with 20 points vs. Select after scoring the same total last Tuesday in a 117-56 victory over the Israeli Under-20 National Team. In his second half he hit 8-10 shots from two-point range, 1-2 treys and was 1-3 at the free throw line. He added two rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in 18 minutes and 42 seconds of playing time.
“It’s all about confidence,” said Traore. “I came ready to play, ready to help my teammates win. I was just bringing some great energy, playing hard and playing defense.”
During his time on the court the Tigers outscored their opponent by 21 points. Traore said he was impressed by the fourth newcomer on the roster, a 6-10 junior Johnny Broome, a transfer from Morehead State University who scored 18 points while hitting 9-13 field goals. Broome pulled in four rebounds and finished with blocked three shots. “He went crazy, the freshman said. “Rebounding, blocks, hitting shots. He was incredible.”
Traore, who is 6-10, 225 pounds, agreed with Pearl about what to expect on Monday’s game at noon CDT in Tel Aviv vs. the Israeli National Team. “It’s going to be a great challenge,” Traore said. “This is going to be the best team that we have played so far so I’m just excited and looking forward to play.”
Westry, who can play both guard spots and small forward at 6-6, 195, scored 13 points and came up with three steals vs. the Israeli Under-20 squad. On Sunday he bumped up his numbers to 18 points and a game-best seven steals. The Tigers outscored the opponents by 15 points during his 17 minutes and 10 seconds of playing time.
“Pressure brings everything,” he said of his team’s defense, which forced 30 turnovers and allowed the Tigers to outscore Select 46-13 in points off of turnovers.
“By pressuring an offensive player and turning them and turning them, they are going to get tired and turn it over sooner or later. Bringing pressure to the other team and making them frustrated is the goal for us.”
Westry made 6-8 shots from two-point range, was 1-4 on threes and 3-5 at the foul line. The freshman noted the victory was a group effort.
“Everybody stood out,” he said. “Everybody played hard and gave it all they got. We are our brother’s keepers so at the end of the day, if one brother is down–Wen (Green) got hurt–we just had to pick it up and keep going. Yohan (Traore) plays hard around the rim, he can spread the floor, and he’s just an energy bunny so seeing him and KD (Johnson) out there is lovely. Two guys you love to play with and just the whole team. We all come as one.”
Giving his take on the team’s dominating victories so far in Israel, Westry said, “Just listening to Coach (Pearl) and playing hard and spreading the floor have been the main factors. By playing hard, what you’re going to do is win and give it all you’ve got. It means a lot to us when we play hard and communicate.”
Playing with intensity is one of the reasons Pearl liked Donaldson when he was a two-sport star at Florida State University School in Tallahassee where he led his team to the state hoops title as a senior as the MVP in the championship game.
On Sunday the six-foot-two guard, 190-pounder was on the court only 13 minutes and 57 seconds, but during that time the Tigers outscored Select by 27 points, second on the team to Chris Moore‘s plus 32 points.
In the first game Donaldson played 13 minutes and 12 seconds and during that time the Tigers outscored the Under-20 squad by 20 points with the help of strong defense by the freshman, who finished with four rebounds, two steals and two points.
In game two of the tour Donaldson made 2-3 field goals and finished with five points, five rebounds as a steal. He and his teammates will wrap up their tour with a noon CDT start on Monday and the contest will be televised on the SEC Network.
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