Auburn was seeking its first winning season since the 2011-12 campaign when senior forward Horace Spencer signed on in 2015. Four seasons later, after winning their first Southeastern Conference tournament since 1985, the Tigers have reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time in 16 years. They are set to face North Carolina on Friday at 7:29 p.m.

Auburn "wasn’t a powerhouse school, so I came to try and change the culture,” Spencer said. “I feel like I did that.”

Spencer, who started his high school career at William Tennent before transferring as a junior to the prestigious Findlay Prep in Nevada, had plenty of options when he chose the Tigers. The No. 61 recruit on ESPN’s 2015 Top 100 recruits, Spencer had 10 scholarship offers, including from Temple, Seton Hall, Maryland, La Salle and West Virginia.

When Spencer was a 6-foot-8 middle schooler, his dunks went viral as he soared past opponents nearly two feet shorter. Known for his athleticism at an early age, Spencer recalled that his first dunk came when he was 12.

Spencer (right) defending against Abington's Jordan Simmons in a 2013 game.
Spencer (right) defending against Abington's Jordan Simmons in a 2013 game.

“I just happened to run up to the net in some jeans and some [Timberland] boots to see if I could dunk, and I wound up doing it,” Spencer said. “I just couldn’t stop [dunking] from there.”

While at Tennent, Spencer, also a top high school high jumper, earned the nickname “LeBron Who?” for his high-flying dunks.

As the Auburn program continued grow, so did Spencer. He is a father to his 2-year-old son, Avery, who lives with him, Spencer said he has matured a lot during his four years on and off the court.

“Having him is more motivation,” Spencer said of his son. “He is the shining light at the end of my tunnel every day.”

While the Tigers continued to add talented players to the program, one was a familiar face. Samir Doughty, a 6-foot-4 junior guard who played at Math, Civics and Sciences, transferred from Virginia Commonwealth to Auburn in 2017, and the former AAU opponents were reunited.

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The two met when Spencer was playing with the Philly Aztecs and Doughty was with Philly Pride in middle school. When Doughty, who has a Phillies logo tattooed on his left shoulder, visited Auburn, Spencer was his host and a big help in Doughty’s adjustment to his new school and team.

“It definitely made the transition much easier,” said Doughty, who averaged 23.3 points as a high school senior. “Having someone from my area that knows what I had to go through to get here, it definitely helped.”

Doughty going by Church Farm's Michael Mohamed in a high school game.
INQ Robertson
Doughty going by Church Farm's Michael Mohamed in a high school game.

This season, Doughty and Spencer have been key members of a reserve unit that outscored opposing benches, 105-52, in the SEC tournament. As Auburn advanced in the NCAA Tournament and eliminated historic programs such as Kansas, the vision that Doughty and Spencer saw when they signed up has come into focus.

“Before I got here, everybody was asking me, why did I pick this school, [Auburn] is not a basketball school,” Doughty said. “Now that we’re making a run, everybody is saying, ‘Auburn is a great basketball school,’ and now people are putting the respect on Auburn’s name like I feel like we should have.”