OPELIKA, Alabama – Charles Barkley won two Olympic gold medals, was the Dream Team’s leading scorer, was the NBA’s MVP, and was twice inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Even with that resume, his biggest hoop thrill came three seasons ago, when his alma mater reached the Final Four.
“Probably my biggest sporting experience,” Barkley said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think Auburn would one day qualify for the Final Four. I will never forget that day. It was an incredible accomplishment.”
The 1984 SEC Player of the Year returned to the Plains on Monday for the sixth annual Bruce, Barkley & Basketball Golf Classic presented by YellaWood, raising funds to fund the quadrennial international travel of the men’s basketball program. Auburn and other extras like Tipoff at Toomer’s on October 7th.
“The fact that we have a good team on a consistent basis makes it even better,” said Barkley, expressing his gratitude to Auburn fans who traveled to Minneapolis in 2019 to support the Tigers in the Final Four. “I was really proud of my Auburn family for showing up in droves,” he said. “It was pretty awesome.
“This team was very well trained. If anyone had told me we were going to beat the top three winning programs on our way to the Final Four, I was like ‘Wow.’
Barkley and Auburn Men’s Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl took photos with each team ahead of the event’s start at the Grand National, with Barkley exuding confidence in his game of golf after playing daily for the past two months.
“Probably my greatest sporting experience.”
Charles Barkley on @AuburnMBB Final Four 2019
Bruce, Barkley & 🏀 today at the Grand National ⛳️
– Jeff shearer (@jeff_shearer) September 27, 2021
“I’m going to play well today,” Barkley said over the PA system after thanking attendees for their support of the event. “I’m going to play well today, I can’t wait to get in there and slam it a bit.”
For Pearl, Bruce, Barkley & Basketball marked the end of Auburn’s preseason events, with training officially starting Tuesday after summer conditioning and limited practice on the field.
“The workouts have been really good, the hardest workgroup I’ve had,” said Pearl, who ramped up Auburn’s fitness program to prepare the Tigers for non-conference competitions, including the Battle 4 Atlantis.
“I’m interested in being in great shape in January,” he said. “We need to be more ready in November.”
Always accommodating, Barkley took time for each photo and autograph request on the way to his golf cart.
“That’s why Charles is back, because he loves Auburn,” Pearl said. “He really does. He loves Auburn’s basketball. It’s fun being his coach.”
“I am excited about the future of our program,” said Barkley. “I can’t wait for the season to start. It’s fun when Auburn does well in basketball.
“We have a great coach, we have a great AD and I’m excited about our program,” said Barkley. “I am very excited about our football program, I really like Coach Harsin. I feel very good at our school.”
Jeff shearer is a senior writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer