The SEC’s Proudest Jew

Mar 17, 2022; Greenville, SC, USA; Bruce Pearl interview before shootaround at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Shannon/AU Athletics
Photo courtesy of Auburn Athletics

“I’m grateful.” 

That’s how Auburn Basketball’s Bruce Pearl described the opportunity to be a head coach. 

“I love my country, I’m grateful for my country,” said Pearl. “These United States of America have allowed for a Jewish basketball coach to be coaching in Auburn, Alabama, and the SEC. Are you kidding me?”

Mar 18, 2022; Greenville, SC, USA; Bruce Pearl before the game between Auburn and Jacksonville State in Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Shannon/AU Athletics

Pearl is widely known as one of the NCAA’s best current college basketball coaches. He led the Auburn Tigers to their first ever Final Four in 2019. But, before he became the face of Auburn’s blue and orange, Pearl wanted to represent the Red, White, and Blue.  

He fulfilled a dream at the 2009 Maccabiah, showcasing the pride he has for both his country and his Jewish roots. 

“I wanted to be a coach for Maccabi for a long, long time, but I was just an assistant coach until I was 32 years old,” said Pearl. “I became a coach at Tennessee and got to the NCAA tournament every year. And then all of a sudden the phone rang, or maybe at least they picked up the phone.”

That phone call and the opportunity to become the head coach of the Maccabi USA Basketball Team changed Pearl forever. 

“Coaching in 2009 in those games was as important a coaching responsibility as taking my team to the Final Four in 2019, or being number one in the country,” said Pearl. “It’s forever ingrained in me.”

Pearl and Maccabi USA won the gold medal, beating Israel in overtime. He says it wasn’t easy beating Israel on its home court, but the team’s values led them to victory. 

“I put together how we recruited and evaluated,” said Pearl. “There was a responsibility of taking a dozen young Jewish boys over to Israel, and bringing them home, as Jewish men.” 

The 2009 team featured some amazing players. Pearl’s son, Steven, along with former professionals Danny Grunfeld, Zack Rosen, and the current head coach of the Florida Gators, Todd Golden, were featured on the roster. 

“On a budget and a shoestring, a very little budget, we went over there (Israel) and we brought home gold,” said Pearl.

Thirteen years later, Pearl remains committed to the organization that helped turn his dream into a reality. He is an outspoken supporter of Maccabi USA, both vocally and financially. 

“Maccabi USA gives the experience of Jews coming from all over the world to bond together,” said Pearl. “See (Israel) for yourself. Live it. Experience it. You’ll never be in a place physically on this Earth where you can get closer to God.”

Even though Jerusalem is more than 6,500 miles from Auburn University, Maccabi USA and the land of Israel have a very proud advocate roaming the SEC sidelines in Bruce Pearl.

About the Author
Zach Gershman is a rising senior at the Pennsylvania State University. Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, Gershman is an award-winning journalist specializing in long-formed, in-depth storytelling. This summer, he will cover the Maccabiah, serving as a member of Maccabi USA's inaugural media program. As part of the program, he will provide coverage of the games while sharing the exciting and inspiring stories of those taking part in the action.
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