When No. 21 Auburn visits South Florida on Friday night, the talents of 6-10 freshman forward Jabari Smith will be on full display in Tampa.
Smith, regarded by several sources as a potential top-five pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, has the athleticism to guard the perimeter and the length to protect the rim. He’s also a key part of Auburn’s offense.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl raves about Smith, who is second on the Tigers in scoring (15.5) and co-leader in assists (3.0), while leading the team in rebounds (8.5) and steals (3.5).
“Jabari has an advanced skill set,” Pearl said of Smith, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in Auburn’s most recent game, a 93-65 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 12. “He’s a great jump-shooter. He’s a hard worker, and he’s going to continue to get better.
“He is special.”
The same could be said — potentially — about the Tigers (2-0). Besides Smith, the Tigers start 7-1 center Walker Kessler; 6-6 wing Devan Cambridge; 6-1 guard Zep Jasper; and 5-11 guard Wendell Green Jr.
Kessler, a North Carolina transfer, has 3-point range but is off to a slow start, averaging 4.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. However, he leads the team in blocks (4.0).
Green, an Eastern Kentucky transfer, leads the team in scoring (17.0). He averaged 15.8 points last season.
“He’s always overlooked because of his size,” Pearl said of Green. “He’s got a bigger chip on his shoulders than I do, and that’s a pretty big chip.”
Jasper, a transfer from College of Charleston, and Cambridge, who scored in double figures in 11 of Auburn’s final 16 games last season, round out the starting five.
Guard K.D. Johnson, a Georgia transfer, leads the bench brigade — he is averaging 15.0 points.
Meanwhile, the Bulls (2-1) have yet to play a Power Five team this season. They beat Bethune-Cookman 75-54 in the opener, lost 53-41 to Georgia Southern and needed a late basket to overcome winless North Carolina A&T, 56-54.
USF’s Javon Greene made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds left against North Carolina A&T on Monday night, and that turned out to be the game’s final tally.
The Bulls trailed by double digits with less than seven minutes left on Monday but closed with a 17-3 run, including 10-0 in the last 1:51.
Greene hit just 1-of-3 of his 3-point attempts, but he made the big one in the clutch.
“It’s all about trust,” Greene said. “We have that in each other on this team, even when shots aren’t falling. We never give up.”
USF coach Brian Gregory said he likes the maturity of his team.
“We took a step up defensively in the second half,” said Gregory, whose 59 wins at USF are tied for fifth in program history. “That (defense) is what it’s going to take until our shots start falling.”
–Field Level Media