Jared Harper Shines, Propels Auburn Tigers to First Final Four

Jared Harper
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KANSAS CITY, MO– On the Auburn campus tomorrow, Jared Harper is going to be the talk of the school. The sophomore guard is going to be hailed as an Auburn hero, after his performance in the Regional Final against the Kentucky Wildcats. His team-leading 26 points helped propel Auburn to its first Final Four in school history, surviving Kentucky 77-71 in overtime. After the game, Harper was very congratulatory of his teammates, crediting them for getting to this moment.

“Coming into the season, our goals were to go to the Final Four and be able to compete for a national championship,” said Harper. “I know I can’t do it without any of my teammates, and I know we are all going to be prepared and ready to go, compete for a national championship.”

Auburn was Focused on Recruiting Jared Harper

At 5’10, 165 pounds, Jared Harper being an undersized basketball player would be an understatement. But the moment that Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl saw Harper play, he was instantly convinced.

“He’s the best little guard I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Pearl said. “I said that if you come to Auburn, we’ll be playing for championships.”

Size did not prevent Harper from flourishing in high school. In his junior and senior years at Pebblebrook High School, the guard reached the Georgia Class 6A State Championship game. He concluded his high school year averaging 27 points, 10.1 assists, and 5.7 rebounds, en route to a scholarship to play at Auburn University.

In his freshman year at Auburn, he only missed two games, averaging 11.4 points and 3.0 assists per game. Harper experienced a meteoric rise in his sophomore season, averaging 15.3 points on 40-percent shooting and 5.7 assists per game. This earned the sophomore second-team All-SEC honors.

As Coach Pearl states, Harper is Auburn’s “little maestro.” The general leading his players into battle.

“It’s my way of giving Jared credit for having a high basketball IQ. There will be times when I’ll have something called, and he will have already had a play called, and I’ll defer to him. It’s sort of out of respect,” Pearl said.

Jared Harper the Spark for Auburn Getting to the Elite Eight

A case could be made that no team has garnered more confidence than Auburn. They would roll through the SEC Tournament, earning the fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their pressure-free, confident play continued through to the Elite Eight, defeating perennial programs Kansas and North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.

But against the Tar Heels, Auburn’s star player, Chuma Okeke, would tear his ACL, forcing him out of the tournament. Losing a player that put up 20 points and 11 rebounds in Auburn’s Sweet Sixteen victory would hurt most teams. But not these pesky Auburn Tigers.

“These guys will tell you that there’s no question we missed Chuma because you can’t replace him. He’s our most valuable player,” says Pearl. “But I think with our confidence going in, our guys didn’t think we can’t win without him, we may miss him, but the other guys would step up.”

Don’t Count Out Jared Harber and the Tigers

Kentucky had beaten Auburn twice earlier this season. But beating a team three times is a tall order. Jared Harper, along with fellow Auburn guard Bryce Brown, made it extremely difficult for Kentucky to achieve the three-peat. Harper’s speed, particularly on the transition, caught the Kentucky big men off balance in the post. In overtime, Harper scored and assisted on 14 of the team’s 17 points in the extra frame. This included making all six free throws, giving the surging Auburn Tigers a Final Four berth.

“As a team we just looked to make the right plays at all times, whether or not it’s a 3 or a mid-ranger, trying to get to the basket,” said Harper. “I feel like they were trying to limit our 3 ball tonight, and Kentucky is not a team that usually helps off the wings. We had to drive and get downhill. Make tough 2s and continue to play our game.”

As Auburn prepares for its first Final Four matchup against No. 1 seed Virginia, they will still have to survive without Okeke. But this adversity has shaped Auburn into a threat to win this entire tournament. For Jared Harper, he’s been counted out and doubted his whole career. Too small, no way he could play Division I basketball.

The energy and enthusiasm Harper brings on and off the court is palpable. With Auburn being the second SEC team in three years to make the Final Four, Coach Pearl will look for Harper to anchor the offense, in the hopes of pulling off another historic upset.

“The thing I love about him is they he is a self-made guy. He works as hard as anybody,” said Pearl. “All of our players, including Jared, deserve this moment. We will be ready.”