Auburn, Kessler, Walker Kessler discussed on The Lead

The Lead


Shooter really good three point shooter. So they know they can get a bucket from him at any point. The other way. Going to take it from there. He's got it from there. You got a hug him. I think he's got the ability in the leg. To stretch. He's just lit up the crowd again. You know, his father played at LSU who played in the NBA a little bit overseas. So I've always felt like kids who grow up with that as their model besides having excellent DNA, which of course my kids will never have. He also grew up understanding what it takes to be a professional player. You know, those two hours that you're playing a basketball game is a small fraction of the time and effort devoted to being great at this sport. And so a real strong presence in the home with his mom in terms of the values and just really came to auburn with a square head on his shoulders and with good intentions and his heart. And he's a really good teammate. You know, Bruce even told me that he just didn't quite appreciate the intangibles. Clearly, you could see the talent. But the intangible is not just to work hard, but to fit in, be a good teammate. Do all the things that you need to do to be part of a winning team and not just someone who gets a lot of statistics. So the physical gifts are not all that surprising, but everything else that goes with it. The fact that it could surprise Bruce pearl, who had obviously recruited him and spent a lot of time with him and seen him play a ton of games in high school, just tells you the kind of season this kid is having. I think on every single draft board that I've seen every person that I'm talking to there's a widespread assumption that you probably Smith will be the number one pick in the draft. So enjoy why you can't auburn fans. He ain't gonna be staying long. So that's the jabar factor. Component number two behind this auburn success has been in your words. The Kessler effect. So for anyone who hasn't watched the team, introduce us to walker Kessler. Well, the folks who are probably most chagrined to see walker doing what he's doing, are fans of the university of North Carolina, because they are having a horrible season and last year as a freshman at Carolina Kessler played under 9 minutes a game now. They had some other guys in the front court who were very good players, but he actually almost went to auburn coming out of high school. He grew up about an hour and a half away across the state line in Georgia. And at the last, he took this visit to North Carolina and like a lot of players do fell in love with the place decided to go there. So once he went into the portal, it was a pretty easy decision for him to come back. And again, as good as we all thought he would be in as good as Bruce pearl thought he would be. He realized early on that Kessler was even more dynamic as an athlete and as I wrote in that column, Bruce has walker Kessler doing what 7 foot sophomores in college usually do not do. And that is switching out on ball screens and what that means is when a guard comes around a ball screen, he'll do a complete switch. So now you have a 7 foot one center guarding a little guard, 1920 feet from the basket. Most coaches would have their center play what's called drop coverage where they're getting help so they're not left in that one on one matchup. And by pushing Kessler to do that, it has made him a much better defender and made auburn a really good defensive team because Kessler is also number one in the country in blocks percentage. So he's the best rim protector in the country. With the left hand to be such a force at that rim. And then when you throw in his ability to play off the pick and roll, finish at the rim. A floater. Underneath you can't let them get the lane. Walker Kessler with back to back slams has let the arena up and cut the lead to four. He's only averaging 11 points, but again, he has the ability to really blow open a game, even just having to worry about him on those hard rolls. So he had 19 points against Kentucky and Kentucky has a really good player in Oscar. She weighed 8 for ten shooting 7 rebounds to assist two blocks. That's a pretty good day's work for mister Kessler and a big reason why they won the game. So they've got these two dynamic stars, but foreshadowing to the second part of our story, you've also got to have people get along, which leads us to the third part of this auburn equation, the chemistry element. What's the story there, Seth? Well, in contrast to what's been happening at Memphis, which I know we're going to talk about, you know, a big part of managing your program these days with the transfer portal being what it is, is managing egos and setting expectations because there's a reason why guys transfer most of them aren't very good to be honest. You rarely see a team's leading score transfer, at least from a power conference school. Now, what happens is you can get some mid major transfers and auburn has a very good one and window green who came from eastern Kentucky. They're coming in looking to shoot. They're coming and looking to score. They want to make the NBA. They want to show that they belong. So to ask those guys to come in and fit in, can be difficult, but what's really difficult is to ask the guys who are already in the program to accept these guys and compete fairly. And everybody gets out on the court, but eventually only 5 guys could be on the court at a time. Now Bruce pearl makes things a little bit more palatable for everybody by playing a deep rotation, which because of the tempo and defensive pressure he applies he kind of needs to do. But they still have to be willing to take sometimes those supplemental roles, sometimes coming off the bench playing fewer minutes because somebody is better. And that is not easy to do. I can tell you most coaches struggle with that very thankful for whatever reason and a lot of it frankly is luck. It seems to be working in auburn. Everybody's on board on the same page. And they certainly seem to be enjoying themselves with all these wins. Well, Seth, taking all of this into account, the talent, the chemistry, the coach. Is there any doubt in your mind about how far this auburn team could go? Well, there's certainly capable of winning a championship. I would just caution everybody maybe to tap the brakes a little bit. It is hard to win a national championship. Ask Gonzaga, right? You know, they are certainly on track right now to be a number one seed. I'd be surprised, even if they lost a couple if they fell below the two line, and that makes it easier because your games early in the tournament aren't as difficult, but so much can go wrong between now and then injuries, especially can be a problem or just bad luck or somebody gets sick. Are you just running into a hot team? You know what happens. It happens. So they are absolutely capable of winning the national championship of Bruce probe the first to tell you there's no guarantees in this all we know is right now it's the end of January and auburn is.

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