Bruce Pearl’s time with the Auburn Tigers hasn’t gone according to plan — at least not yet. The former Tennessee Volunteers coach, and world-renowned BBQ expert, has been doing a swell job on the recruiting trail, however. His latest big get is 2018 prospect E.J. Montgomery.
It is worth noting that Pearl’s incoming class should help Auburn improve its place in the SEC. 2018 is, obviously, two more seasons away. By the time Montgomery hits campus, the landscape of the entire program might be far more dramatically positive than it currently is.
The problem for Pearl is that patience is often a virtue athletic departments lack. While his incoming class should help him do enough to fend off naysayers for the time being, the big picture could still swallow him: If things don’t begin to more immediately turn around — or the rest of the SEC begins to evolve to a higher level — we might start to hear whispers of Pearl’s figurative demise.
As for Montgomery, he has been on the national radar since seventh grade — for good reason too. He is the type of player that doesn’t come around very often — even if he only functions in the realm of what he might become.
It is likely hyperbole — high-school competition isn’t exactly a known indicator — but the 6-10 combo-forward has been compared to Grant Hill. He can do a little bit of everything. He has dominated in nearly every game he has ever played. His star will continue to brighten the closer he gets to his first college season.
As it is with most players this young, Montgomery isn’t perfect. He is a good shooter, but his release on his jumper is not only slow, but chest-level. This can easily be attributed to very literally being a kid. It’s something that can be fixed by simply going through the maturation process that comes hand-in-hand with a teenager taking a voyage into young adulthood.
Outside of that extreme nitpick, it is all sunshine, rainbows, and pasta salad. Even without projecting what he might end up being, we already know that some of his current skills tend to translate well to the collegiate level.
Montgomery has incredible court vision. He is lengthy and athletic enough to guard multiple positions, and his handle — especially for being a 6-10 marvel — is well above average. Those abilities alone, considering he still has two years of high school basketball left in him, should leave Auburn fans salivating.
There’s even more.
ESPN currently has the prospect ranked the 23rd-best player in his class. Other outlets are higher on him: 247Sports slots him as the No. 14 prospect. The reality is more likely this: Montgomery might have maxed out the number of stars we attach to his name, but the closer we get to fully evaluating the 2018 recruiting class, the more likely it is he will be considered a top-five talent in the nation.
While that is projecting, it isn’t a wild assumption — it isn’t every day that 6-10 basketball-unicorns trot about the hardwood with ease. Furthermore, if Montgomery ends up being that type of prospect and college player, Pearl — who, by 2018, may have already turned the program around — will have his crown jewel.
This is all far off in the distance. So many things can change between now and the time Montgomery is slated to hit Auburn’s campus. He can change his mind, Pearl can leave the program, a zombie horde can overrun the planet.
However, assuming everything remains the same, all while Montgomery continues to improve his game over the next two years, the same overwhelming hype-train that regularly visited LSU last season because of Ben Simmons will make its 2018 stop at Auburn.
All aboard for E.J. Montgomery.
Who knows how it will actually play out, but the hope this player should provide Auburn should be enough to silence many people who will want to question Pearl’s job security.
After all, if Montgomery — who is by now a mythological beast — wants to play for Pearl, Auburn better make sure the coach is still on the sidelines when he graduates high school.