Auburn senior Samir Doughty (above) is the leading scorer on unbeaten No. 4 Auburn. (Photo courtesy Auburn athletics)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
On the road to Tuscaloosa late Tuesday afternoon, on a bus with his Auburn University teammates, Samir Doughty talked fondly about his high school, Math, Civics & Sciences. He spoke about the Mighty Elephants’ league game being played at the same time.
“Yeah, I talk to coach (Lonnie) Diggs, he checks up on me and I check up on him every week or so,” Doughty said as the Tigers’ bus rolled toward the University of Alabama for Wednesday night’s game. ”I know they play today, they play Audenried, so I told my dad to go over there and check them out, he’s over there right now.”
His dad saw MC&S win 81-72. You can be assured Doughty, a 2015 grad, knew the score by the time the wheels stopped on the team bus. Maybe even before.
Doughty is a big-timer now. Playing last year in the Final Four and being friends with Charles Barkley certainly qualifies him for this elite status. But the Auburn senior guard still embraces his Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood. He wears the scars proudly from grinding his game at the Kingsessing Recreation Center.
“Ever since he’s been in college, he has matured a lot and he sees the bigger picture now and he’s making the progress towards that,” Diggs said with pride in his voice.
The 6-foot-4 Doughty is growing as a player, averaging 15.7 points in 32 minutes a game this season for coach the undefeated Tigers, ranked 4th nationally. But the scoring average – up eight points from last year when Auburn reached the national semifinals for the first time in school history – isn’t what coach Bruce Pearl values most about his game.
“Samir is a fighter,” Pearl said. “He doesn’t take one possession off defensively. He shows a lot of grit, heart and character. When he gets downhill, he can be really effective.”
Doughty also shows a lot of humility, not boasting about being a star player on Barkley’s favorite college team.
“He comes to a few practices and comes to a few games every year, so he always gives us a speech,” Doughty said about the “Round Mound of Rebound,” as Barkley was known affectionately at Auburn. “I’m pretty sure everyone enjoys it when he comes around, but yeah he tries to support us as much as we can.
“He’s a busy person, but he is still tied in with Auburn basketball.”
Of course, Barkley went on to star for the 76ers after being the 5th pick of the 1984 draft, so Doughty enjoys the Philly connection with Chuck, too.
“Yeah, we have a relationship, but he kind of treats everyone the same, he’s nice to everyone,’ Doughty said. “But yeah, we have a nice relationship,”
Really, Doughty speaks with the same enthusiasm about MC&S hoops as he does about the famed and funny TNT analyst.
On the court, Doughty doesn’t need to say a word.
“Samir Doughty plays with great confidence and real swag,” Pearl said. “He has a great flow to his game. He makes plays, offensively and defensively. It’s good to have him on the ball. It’s good to have him off the ball. He has great composure and gives us great confidence as a team.”
Doughty (above, right) was a key player on the Tigers' 2019 Final Four run, where they lost by a point to Virginia in the national semifinals. (Photo courtesy Auburn athletics).
Truly, Auburn’s climb on that national landscape in basketball - making the Tigers not just a football power - coincides with Doughty’s arrival at Auburn, where former Penn swingman Ira Bowman is an assistant for the Tigers.
“Yeah,” Doughty said with a laugh when asked about if he knew Bowman starred for the Quakers in the early 1990’s, “that was a little while ago.”
Not even Barkley’s sizeable shadow can keep Auburn from living in the present. The Tigers (15-0 and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference) are one of two unbeaten teams in college basketball going into Wednesday’s televised game on ESPN2 at backyard rival Alabama.
The Auburn fans aren’t the only ones thinking more than repeating as SEC champions.
“We got the experience and we got the potential and the coaches around us to get back,” Doughty said about the Final Four. “We talk about getting back and that something we definitely think we can do.”
On Saturday, in front of sold-out crowd at Auburn, the Tigers pounded Georgia, 82-60 as Doughy collected 17 points, six rebounds and a team-best four assists.
Again, though, Doughty isn’t chasing numbers. Just the letter W.
“Honestly, it’s really not about me scoring or my statistics, it’s about winning,” said Doughty, who averaged 24.9 points a game his senior year at MC&S. “It’s about winning, I’m not worried about anything else.”
Doughty cherishes where he is even more dearly because he didn’t start on this path. He began at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he averaged 9.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game as a freshman before transferring to Auburn when VCU coach Will Wade went to LSU.
“It’s been good the past couple years, I mean he had a rough start, originally redshirting at VCU and transferring with the coaching change at VCU,” Diggs said. “It’s been a rocky start, but the last few years at Auburn has been great for him and he’s progressing on and off the court.”
The journey for Doughty, who sat out the 2017-18 season after transferring to Auburn, to the top of the college basketball mountain isn’t lost on Diggs’ current players.
“They look up to him, they know he has been at the same place they are,” Diggs said, “where he is, it makes them think they can do similar things.”
Diggs went to the Final Four last year to see Doughty play in the national semifinal 63-62 loss to Virginia, and he went to Auburn’s game against Davidson earlier this season.
“I’m going to try and make it down when they play Kentucky,” Diggs said about the home matchup against the No. 10 Wildcats on February 1.
In some ways, Diggs might not recognize his former star player, who scored 45 points in a playoff game as a junior, when he sees him in a few weeks. Doughty has grown that much.
“It’s good to see the progress he has made since he originally came to us, not just on the court as a player, but how much he has matured as a young adult,” Diggs said.
Yet, it is heartwarming to see how much Doughty still cares about his high school program while he is riding the big-time bus with his eyes focused on the road ahead.
“Right now I’m just taking it one game at a time,” Doughty said, “trying to get back to the Final Four.”