How Auburn landed Johni Broome, and what his addition means for next season

Bruce Pearl picked up his phone at 1:58 pm Saturday, unsure of what awaited him on the other end.

Auburn’s head coach and his staff put the full-court press on Morehead State transfer big man Johni Broome, who they viewed as the best available frontcourt player in the transfer portal. He was a player the Tigers wanted badly — and one they felt they needed to reload a frontcourt that lost a pair of All-Americans in Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler. Broome, who visited Auburn in mid-April, was down to Pearl’s program and Florida, where Pearl’s former assistant Todd Golden recently took over as head coach.

Read more Auburn basketball: Auburn lands Morehead State transfer Johni Broome

Auburn taking summer foreign tour to Israel

Two-sport signee Tre Donaldson focusing on basketball only

The big man was set to announce his commitment shortly after 2 pm Saturday, and neither finalist knew which way his decision would go.

“The more I recruited him, the more I liked him—the more I liked him a lot,” Pearl said Tuesday in Montgomery before speaking at an alumni event. “Not just as a player, but as a kid. Then I got to know the family, and I really like the family a lot, too. Then it becomes personal. However, now we’re waiting on him, we’re waiting on him, and now I’m starting to lose some other pretty good big kids I think I could’ve gotten. We’re losing some guys, and (I’m wondering), ‘Am I outsmarting myself?’”

When Pearl picked up his phone shortly before Broome’s announcement, he could only hope for the best as Broome addressed him from the other end of the line. Pearl put the call on speakerphone to better hear what Broome had to say, but even then he had trouble discerning the message.

Coach, this is Johni. I made my decision. I’m coming to play for you at Auburn.

“I didn’t hear that, but I think he told me something,” Pearl recalled Tuesday, replaying his celebratory fist-pumps. “He could’ve said Florida, but I didn’t hear it; I was assuming-selling.”

Broome’s decision to come to Auburn was the latest key offseason addition for Pearl’s program as the Tigers retool a roster that won the SEC regular-season title and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season. Broome joins five-star combo forward Yohan Traore as Auburn’s newest frontcourt members, reshaping a frontline that lost two projected first-round picks in Smith and Kessler.

“I’m so pleased, and I’m so relieved,” Pearl said. “We thought it was possible that we’d lose both Jabari and Walker. Certainly likely for Jabari, but probably really just possible for Walker, considering his first year at North Carolina and the mountain that needed to be climbed. I have climbed it. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in college basketball; he was first-team all-conference. He was a dominating player in college basketball last year…Then all of a sudden, the season’s over, and you’re down two first-round picks on the frontline.”

Smith’s departure was always inevitable, but Walker’s meteoric rise during his lone season on the Plains changed the dynamic for Pearl and his staff heading into next season. The question arose: How do you replace the best shot-blocker and rim protector in program history?

If you’re Pearl, you go out and grab the next-best option.

That’s what Auburn believes it is getting in Broome, who was one of the nation’s premier shot-blockers and rebounders last season, averaging 3.9 blocks, 10.5 rebounds and 16.8 points per game for the Eagles.

The addition of Broome provides Auburn with a natural replacement for Kessler, who declared for the NBA Draft last month. Kessler was the nation’s most prolific shot-blocker during his lone season on the Plains, finishing the year with a program-record 155 blocks, tying for the national lead with 4.6 blocks per game and posting the best block rate (19.1 percent) in Division I in at least a dozen years. Broome wasn’t too far behind Kessler while earning OVC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder out of Plant City, Fla., finished third nationally in total blocks (131) and blocks per game (3.9), while his block rate of 13.9 percent was the fourth-best mark in the nation. Beyond just his defensive prowess from him — he was fifth nationally in defensive rating (84.1) and defensive win shares (2.9) — Broome was one of the best rebounders in college basketball last season, finishing ninth among all Division I players in rebounds per game . He had a defensive rebounding rate of 28.1 percent, ranking in the top-25 nationally, and finished with an offensive rebounding rate of 14.1 percent, which ranked top-50 in Division I. Both those rates surpassed Kessler’s last season (22.2 percent defensive, 10.9 percent offensive).

That’s big for an Auburn team that not only loses both members of its All-America frontcourt and two leading rebounders from last season in Kessler and Smith, but one that at times struggled on the glass during the 2021-22 campaign. The Tigers finished 75th nationally in total rebounding rate last season at 52.5 percent (oddly enough, that was just behind Broome’s Morehead State team at 52.6 percent).

While Broome should help mitigate the loss of Kessler from a defensive and rebounding standpoint, his addition will also help address its need to develop a better post-up weapon offensively. Broome displayed an ability to be a strong rim-runner off pick-and-rolls last season, but he also proved to be efficient while playing with his back to the basket. I have finished the year shooting 56.1 percent on two-point tries while proving to be one of the best mid-major players in the country.

“He could really score his back to the basket,” Pearl said. “We didn’t have anybody that really could score with their back to the basket this year, so we’re going to have a little more of a low-post threat.”

While Broome has a polished post game, Pearl believes his skillset will translate well to the perimeter and believes the big man has what it takes to stretch the floor a bit, develop into a playmaker away from the rim and guard multiple positions.

It’s those traits that made Pearl believe Auburn was a better fit for Broome than Florida, which returns big man Colin Castleton for another season. Castleton was second-team All-SEC last season and will be one of the top returning frontcourt players in the conference next season. He, like Broome, is at his best with his back to the basket.

That’s a topic Pearl said he broached with Broome and his family during the recruiting process, noting that it was the only somewhat “negative recruiting” the Tigers used to help land the Morehead State transfer over the Gators. Pearl, for his part, said he did not enjoy his first major recruiting bout with Golden, but he also credited Auburn assistant Steven Pearl for the job he did in leading the recruitment of Broome.

“I told Johni, and I had told the family, quite frankly, that the biggest issue was Castleton at Florida coming back for his fifth year or whatever it was,” Pearl said. “He’ll be the first-team All-SEC coming back, and what does he do best? He scores with his back to the basket. What does Johni do best right now? He scores with his back to the basket. So, that was the only negative recruiting aspect that we did. That was the only thing, that sort of stated fact. Otherwise, you should want to go to Florida and play for Todd Golden. You should want to go home.

“Man, going home was a real factor for him. He’d been up in Morehead State; it’s in Kentucky but it’s practically West Virginia. It’s up there. Going home was a real factor, but I think he saw the player development. I think he saw the Auburn family. I think I have seen the resources I have with my coaching staff. I didn’t enjoy winning that one. I enjoyed getting Johni; I didn’t enjoy beating Florida. I don’t think I did. I think Johni made the right decision, because I think Castleton is going to be a dominating player.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button