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Auburn has big weekend planned as Pearl's restrictions are lifted

Bruce Pearl (USATSI)
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl's NCAA recruiting restrictions will be lifted Sunday. (USATSI)

What will you be doing late Saturday night/early Sunday morning?

Partying?

Sleeping?

Finishing a rerun of SNL?

I imagine there are lots of answers to that question, and my guess is that lots of you have no idea how to answer it, which, by the way, is the great thing about Saturday nights -- how they often take us in unexpected directions. (Elton John explained this well four decades ago.) Either way, Bruce Pearl knows exactly what he'll be doing late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, and it's none of the things mentioned above. The first-year Auburn coach will instead be in his office, hosting a recruit named Horace Spencer, who is ranked 57th nationally by 247 Sports and expected to arrive at 12:01 a.m., otherwise known as literally the minute Pearl's three-year show-cause penalty with the NCAA expires.

"I'm looking forward to finally talking to him," Spencer told CBSSports.com on Friday. "And I want to hear what he has to say about my recruitment, too."

Spencer is one of many prospects who will be on Auburn's campus this weekend, and the timing is hardly a coincidence. Pearl told me back in May when I visited him on campus (for a story that posted in June) that he'd already scheduled an "Elite Camp" for the morning his show-cause penalty expired. At the time, it seemed like forever away. But now it's here. And the weird period between the day Auburn hired Pearl (March 18) and the day he's free to communicate with prospects again (Aug. 24) is just about over, meaning Pearl will suddenly be free to pursue recruits without restrictions for the first time since he was fired at Tennessee in March 2011 for essentially lying to investigators about rules violations.

"He's really excited for the penalty to be over Saturday at midnight," said Todd Golden, Auburn's director of basketball operations who spent time on the road recruiting this summer while Pearl was prohibited from evaluating. "When 12:01 comes Sunday, he will throw himself back into the fire. Our whole staff will be in the office."

In other words, things are good at Auburn.

But that doesn't mean the transition hasn't been challenging.

Pearl, again, wasn't allowed to be on the road at all in July, and he still, to date, hasn't had any contact with recruits via phone calls, text messages, emails or anything else. Basically, Pearl's assistants -- Tony Jones, Chuck Person, Harris Adler and Golden -- have had to rely on Pearl's celebrity to create interest on the recruiting trail while Pearl has been reduced to watching film at home or in his office. During visits, Pearl often left the basketball facilities to avoid any incidental contact with prospects that might violate his show-cause penalty.

"I've even gone back to Knoxville [during visits]," Pearl said. "I just leave town."

But not anymore.

All of that awkwardness will officially be in the past early Sunday, when these complicated times become a memory. What's remarkable, though, is how Auburn was still able to recruit effectively over the past five months despite Pearl being sidelined, and the Tigers have been involved with a number of elite products from the Class of 2015 -- among them Spencer and Danjel Purifoy, the latter of whom is a 6-foot-6 wing and top-60 national recruit (according to 247 Sports) who committed to Auburn on Friday.

That's a testament to Pearl's name and reputation.

His time spent as an analyst for ESPN undoubtedly helped, too.

"I don't know much about him right now," Spencer said. "I just know him from ESPN."

(Note the power of television.)

Bottom line, Spencer sounded excited when I spoke to him during his ride to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, and the fact that he's taking an unofficial visit across the country is proof that Pearl's presence is opening previously closed doors for Charles Barkley's alma mater. Now, Pearl's hands are about to be uncuffed. And the commitments and wins and annual NCAA Tournament appearances probably won't be too far behind.

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