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August 24, 2014

Back to work


AUBURN | Bruce Pearl was back where he always wanted to be Sunday afternoon -- on a basketball court searching for that next superstar recruit.

He hasn't done that in years.

The Auburn coach's show-cause penalty expired Sunday morning, which restored his ability to talk with recruits, coaches, most anyone with a connection to organized basketball. After speaking with recruits between midnight and 3 a.m., Pearl took to the court during the afternoon hours to monitor his first high school camp as Auburn's coach.

"It was fun also to deliver a message to the campers," Pearl said. "We had great camps this summer, but I couldn't take anybody 7th grade or above (before Sunday). Those messages were a little watered-down. This was a message where I could hit them right in the mouth and … challenge them and help guide them and mold them and inspire them and motivate them and encourage them. It was good to evaluate and have those evaluations have some impact on me and our program."

Before speaking with recruits during the early-morning hours, however, Pearl spoke with the program's most recognizable former player. Charles Barkley phoned in at 12:01 with an inspirational message.

"Just that he's glad that the difficult time and period was over for me," Pearl said. "Glad it was over for me."

Pearl already was riding an emotional high when Barkley called. Hundreds of students and supporters gathered at Auburn Arena around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night to show their support for Pearl, who reciprocated that support by inviting them into the arena and addressing them.

"It wasn't a fan thing," Pearl said. "I didn't know man of those kids, but it seemed like they knew me, they knew my circumstance, they wanted to show me support. That doesn't happen everywhere; it happens at Auburn."

So what's next for Pearl?

He plans to make many phone calls and texts between now and Sept. 9, which is when the next open evaluation period begins. Until then, all NCAA coaches cannot recruit off campus.

Pearl also plans to maximize the eight hours per week the NCAA allows staffs to work with their current players. Basketball programs may adopt a full practice schedule beginning in early October.

"We're going to go as hard as we can go," Pearl said. "Last week was a really hard first week for the guys. I'm sure some of them went: Whoa! If we can get some things done in recruiting, then I can, but as quickly as possible I return my focus to the team. That's really where my focus needs to be in the fall."

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