Fall 2022

Auburn men's basketball players baptized in Jordan River during exhibition tour of Israel

Under the leadership of head coach Bruce Pearl, the Auburn men’s basketball team recently returned from a preseason trip to Israel that had significance far beyond the basketball court.

In addition to playing three exhibition games and winning two against professional competition, the Tigers also took the opportunity to draw closer to God.

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“My players are going to see their Judeo-Christian roots, and for those who want to get baptized in the River Jordan, they will,” Pearl told The Jerusalem Post last week. “They’ll walk in the garden where Jesus walked, and they’ll pray at the Western Wall. And they’ll experience firsthand God’s presence in the Holy Land. Just come and see it — you’ll be changed forever.”

A number of Auburn players were baptized in the same river as Jesus was almost 2,000 years ago, including junior guard Wendell Green Jr., freshman guard Tre Donaldson and junior forward Chris Moore.

Junior center Dylan Cardwell detailed the unforgettable experience on his blog.

“First, we went to see the Mount of Olives, which had the most amazing view,” Cardwell wrote. “From there, we walked down the mountain and visited the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane, which has been preserved since the days Jesus walked the Earth. We even walked along the Via Dolorosa, which is the historic path Jesus walked before His crucifixion.

“My personal favorite was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was buried. It was an amazing sight to see. … The next day, we traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. It was another significant scene. Just to be able to stand where Jesus once stood was a crazy experience.”

The Auburn players weren’t the only ones in awe. So was Pearl, who first visited Israel in 2009. He is of Jewish heritage and joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in May 2019.

“I think there’s going to be other college teams who want to come over and have this competition and have this kind of historic, educational, religious, spiritual experience,” he said in an interview with SEC Network. “It was nothing short of amazing.”

The Tigers played their first game in Israel against the under-20 national team and won convincingly, 117-56. Their second game against the Israeli All-Star Select Team was also lopsided, as they cruised to a 107-71 victory. Auburn’s third and final game of the exhibition tour was a hard-fought 95-86 loss to the Israel national team.

Many expect the Tigers to be a top-15 team nationally next season, and they will begin their quest to defend their SEC regular-season championship on Nov. 7 with a home game against George Mason.

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