AUBURN, Ala. – Once in a lifetime.
That’s the phrase that keeps coming up when describing the voyage to Israel the Auburn men’s basketball team is about to embark on over the next 10 days. The team arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday.
“Auburn is going to allow us to go take my kids to Israel and experience something that could be a once-in-a lifetime thing for them,” head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I’m just so grateful.”
“We couldn’t be more honored to be able to go with Auburn and Bruce Pearl and his staff for this once-in-a-lifetime trip,” added ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “We’re thrilled beyond words.”
Bilas, who will call Auburn’s games on SEC Network alongside Roxy Bernstein, is no stranger to foreign tours with college basketball. In the summer of 1983 while playing for Duke, he traveled to France where he and his teammates bonded together.
“When you’re that close – not only close in proximity but in a foreign country – and spending that much time together and then at the same time competing and practicing, I don’t think there’s anything that helped our development as a group more than that trip,” Bilas said. “And I think Auburn will find that at an even higher level with this trip to Israel.”
— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) July 31, 2022
Auburn will play three games while in Israel, beginning Tuesday with a matchup against the Israel U-20 National Team. The Tigers will also play an Israel Select All-Star Team on Aug. 7 before wrapping up with the Israel National Team on Aug. 8. Games will feature four quarters, as opposed to two halves, and there will be a 24-second shot clock.
“One of the things our guys are going to find out in a hurry is they love their basketball in Israel and they’re good,” Pearl said. “A lot of times you go on these summer tours and you do the best you can to try to play some competition, and there just flat out isn’t any competition over there. We’re going to get all we want.”
It’s an Auburn team that features some familiar faces from a year ago with the likes of Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper, KD Johnson, Allen Flanigan, Chris Moore Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola and Dylan Cardwell all back. But there are some new faces as well.
Freshmen Tre Donaldson, Yohan Traore and Chance Westry will all be making their Auburn debut on this trip along with Johnny Broomea transfer from Morehead State.
In 2017, Pearl took his team on a similar trip to Italy in the summer. Though the competition wasn’t as challenging, it still brought that Auburn team together, and the Tigers went from being picked to finish ninth in the SEC to winning the regular season championship.
Pearl is hoping to recreate that same bond with this year’s team.
“When you think of your life’s greatest moments, whatever they were – the birth of a child, a marriage, certain experiences – they were the greatest moments of your life because of who you shared them with,” he said. “So, whether it’s a Final Four run or the birth of a child, it was because of who you shared it with.
“We’re going to share this trip together, see things for the first time that we’re never ever going to forget. That’s what makes it so special, and that’s what will give us a chance to be able to come together and get to know each other better.”
It was also important for Pearl, who has been on international trips with teams all over the world, to take this team to Israel to experience the culture and the history.
“The greatest way to understand Israel and the amazing place it has become is to see it for yourself,” Pearl said. “Seeing is believing.”
And when the idea of traveling with Auburn men’s basketball to Israel was initially proposed to Bilas, his response was quick. “Absolutely. Can I please do this?”
“A lot of teams take trips that are great,” Bilas said. “I don’t think I’m out on a limb here saying I think this has an opportunity to be the most significant trip that I’ve ever heard of.
“For a close program like Auburn to get even closer together and do it in a in a setting with a backdrop like Israel will have long-term benefits and ramifications that I think none of us can even fathom right now. It’s something that you have to feel. It’s one thing to tell someone something; it’s another thing to have them feel it. And I think everyone involved in this trip is going to feel the significance of it on a very deep level.”