Why Auburn’s brotherhood of NBA players is ‘like a little family.’

By the time Jabari Smith Jr. reached the league, he was far from the only Auburn Tiger in it.

Smith’s selection as the third overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft by Houston cemented him as the highest selection of an Auburn player in the history of the draft, but by the end of the event he was the sixth player to don an Auburn jersey and was also an active player. NBA player.

In just two years, Smith has seen and felt a kinship among his fellow professional Tigers.

“It’s like a little family,” Smith said June 8 at his youth camp in Loachapoka. “When you play against them it’s cool. You know who they are, (and) they know who you are.”

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Twenty-three of Smith’s 155 career NBA games were against a team with an active former Tiger on it. That includes Davion Mitchell, who transferred from Auburn after the 2017-18 season and spent two years at Baylor.

Mitchell is actually the former Tiger that Smith has played with the most, playing his Sacramento Kings seven times. Former teammate Walker Kessler comes closest, with the Rockets and Utah Jazz having played six times in Smith’s NBA career while both were active.

“Walker was my teammate, so it’s always fun to play against him, but guys like Chuma (Okeke) always show their love for me after the game; Chuma, Isaac (Okoro),” Smith said. “I didn’t play with them (at Auburn), but we’ve been here at the same time, played pickup together and built a strong relationship through Auburn.

“It shows how close a group is. Guys like Jared (Harper), just former players and players who are still playing now, are still keeping up. Former players still watch, still come back and it shows how much of a family atmosphere BP has built.”

Which former Tigers are in the NBA?

Rockets Cavaliers Basketball

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro (35) shoots while Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (10) defends in a game on December 18 in Cleveland.

Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

Smith is one of six former Tigers, including Mitchell, still in the NBA. He has also played against all five of his counterparts.

These five include both Kessler and Mitchell, but so do Issac Okoro, Chuma Okeke and JT Thor.

The only pair playing together on the Plains not named Smith and Kessler are Okeke and Mitchell, who overlapped for the latter’s lone season at Auburn. Despite not playing alongside each other, all five Tigers played for Auburn within at least two seasons of each other.

While Mitchell left after the 2017-18 season, Okeke’s Auburn career ended with the 2018-19 season and 2019 Final Four run. Okoro, who was considered a top-10 player at his position in the 2019 class , was done and only played the 2019-2020 season with Auburn. Thor followed a similar path the following year, entering the 2021 NBA Draft after just one season.

Magic Cavaliers Basketball

Isaac Okoro (35) of the Cleveland Cavaliers takes on Chuma Okeke (3) of Orlando Magic in the second half of an NBA basketball game on November 27, 2021 in Cleveland.

Tony Dejak/The Associated Press