Bryce Brown is back in blue.
He and a couple of the boys are putting the old colors back on today, fitting on a familiar navy jersey with bold burnt orange stripes, then stepping out on the court in front of national television cameras and before the whole basketball world watching beyond.
It’ll be a sight for sore eyes.
And before War Tampa even tips off tonight at TBT in quarantine, the team will have accomplished something special for a certain set of fans watching from their own bubbles back on the Plains and all around.
For one game, they all might just feel like they’re all back together again.
“I know the Auburn Family will be proud and can’t wait to see us,” Brown said this week.
Brown is teaming up again with his former Auburn teammates Horace Spencer and Desean Murray, all suiting up for War Tampa for its showdown against House of ’Paign at 7 p.m. tonight on ESPN. The game is part of The Basketball Tournament, a single-elimination, winner-take-all event placing 24 teams onto a bracket and pitting them against one another in isolation in Columbus, Ohio between now and the million-dollar championship game July 14.
And it also marks a return for team sports to national television for the first time in the United States since the coronavirus pandemic flipped the sports world upside down in March.
Auburn was hurt then, just like everyone else. Bruce Pearl had to step on a bus in Nashville the day sports stopped, and tell his players that their dreams for the SEC Tournament were over. Spring sports were all canceled later, careers ended in the most unfair way, and Auburn fans didn’t get the chance to feel the magic of the NCAA Tournament again this year. That basketball team coasted back to Auburn on that bus having already played its last game together. Nothing can fix what’s happened.
But with careful planning, stringent testing, and countless personal sacrifices made by leaving their families to enter the bubble in Ohio, three recent Auburn alums have given the fans a glimmer of something to get excited about in today’s big game against House of ’Paign.
It’s a single-elimination tournament and nothing is guaranteed beyond tonight, but already, before the tournament has even started, those Auburn alums have felt a familiar love from the fans even in trying times, and they’re ready to offer something special right back.
“The Auburn fans have been great,” Murray said, speaking from the TBT hotel on Thursday. “It wasn’t even surprising, because I remember when I was playing there, I know how the fans were.
“So the fan support is great, it’s amazing, but I knew it was going to be like that, so it’s not too much a surprise.”
It’s an unofficial connection. It’s not Auburn basketball, but it’s basketball with an ‘Auburn flavor,’ Spencer has called it, and that’s been enough to get the fanbase excited. The War Tampa jersey the team will be wearing is navy with burnt orange numbers, with familiar orange and white striping. Brown, Spencer and Murray all played together on Auburn’s 2017-18 team which won the SEC’s regular-season championship, before Brown and Spencer guided Auburn as seniors to the program’s first-ever Final Four in 2018-19. Another former Tiger, LaRon Smith, who played at Auburn on the 2016-17 team, was crucial in bringing this group together but announced on Twitter on Friday that he would bow out from playing on the team this year.
“It will be kind of weird because we’re an Auburn alumni team, but we’re not an Auburn team anymore,” Brown said. “It will be interesting to see how they react, cheering for the Auburn team and going to cheering for the War Tampa team. I know we’ve gotten a lot of support so far, and I know it will keep growing because we’ve got so many guys like Desean, Horace and LaRon who all had impact on teams. We got to the tournament for the first time in I don’t know how many years — and then me and Horace had the impact on that team with the Final Four.”
This could also be the start of something special, Spencer said, adding that it would make sense for Auburn to embrace more alumni-led summer teams in the future.
“That would be a big move,” Spencer said. “That would be just another thing to make Auburn more popular, I feel like. I like that. It’s a good idea, to integrate more Auburn alumni into the TBT because I feel like it just makes it a little bit more exciting.”
For now, though, it’s just one game.
But after all that’s happened, one game is worth celebrating for Auburn faithful.
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