Injury causes early end to Lior Berman’s final season at Auburn

Lior Berman (24) during the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Auburn Tigers at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Saturday, Mar 4, 2023. Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Lior Berman in Auburn’s March 2023 game against Tennessee. Courtesy Auburn athletics

The Bermanator was on a roll, and now his season is over.

Lior Berman, a 6-foot-4 guard for the Auburn University basketball team, suffered an ACL injury during the March 2 game against Mississippi State. At first, the fear was that he had completely torn his ACL, but additional tests showed it was not a complete ligament tear.

Berman, from Mountain Brook, had been averaging over 10 minutes per game recently off the bench.

“He meant a lot to our program over the last five years, both on and off the court,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said on March 5. “So disappointed for Lior… He’s such a great example of when you don’t always get what you deserve, stay with it. I probably should’ve been playing him more, sooner, almost every year that he’s been in the program.

Pearl said it is hard to understand why the injury occurred. “To miss March, he’s worked so hard to put himself in this position. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to recover.”

Two days later, when the extent of the injury turned out to not be as severe, Pearl added that Berman was “playing 10 to 15 minutes behind Chad Baker-Mazara and doing a really, really good job. It was a tough injury.”

Berman will undergo rehabilitation for three or four weeks, Pearl said. “I don’t anticipate him being back this year. It depends how far we go” in the NCAA tournament. Instead of a six month recovery, it will be four to six weeks, enabling Berman to do professional tryouts. Pearl said Berman is looking to play professionally in Israel, if not the NBA.

Auburn is seeded fourth in the SEC tournament, and on March 15 around 2:45 p.m. will face the winner of the match between South Carolina and the winner of Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The Tigers are projected to be a four seed in the NCAA tournament.

Berman played his high school ball at Mountain Brook, a Birmingham suburb, which won the state championship three times. He had offers from Division II and Division III schools, but after a two-hour recruitment visit at Auburn, Pearl offered him a spot as a walk-on.

Pearl wanted to give Berman a scholarship, but Auburn was dealing with the fallout of the 2017 Chuck Person bribery scandal that drew the attention of the FBI. The loss of a scholarship was part of the NCAA penalties.

Last year, after Berman’s fourth year with the program, that spot became available again, and without fanfare, Pearl shifted Berman to scholarship status for his fifth year of eligibility.

Though Berman likely could have had more playing time elsewhere, there were unforgettable experiences along the way, including being a Jewish player playing for a Jewish coach in the Power 5 level.

He also was able to experience two NCAA tournament games at home in Birmingham, including a highlight-reel reverse layup in a win against Iowa on his 22nd birthday.

After his junior year, the Auburn basketball team made a historic trip to Israel, becoming the first Power 5 program to do so. When the team arrived, Berman was already in Israel, having just finished a gold medal run in the World Maccabiah Games, the fourth in a row for Team USA — a streak that began in 2009 when the team was coached by Pearl.

In the Maccabiah championship game, Berman had 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals against France. In an earlier game against France, he had 21 points, including 3 3-pointers, and 6 rebounds. He also scored 16 against Israel and 13 against Argentina.

This year at Auburn, he averaged 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. In his final three games, against Georgia, No. 4 Tennessee and Mississippi State, he averaged 11 minutes, 4.8 points and 1.3 rebounds, shooting .750 from the field.

He was first-year SEC Academic Honor Roll his freshman year, and then was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll the next three years.

Pearl said Berman “does it the right way on and off the court. He is going to be incredibly successful in life because he’s incredibly successful in everything that he does. He’s great for all the guys to kind of learn from. Just be like Lior. At the same time, if you’re not being like Lior, you recognize that you’re going to have challenges on and off the court.”

Berman said “I want to give thanks to my coaches, staff, administration, teammates and the Auburn Family. I have loved every second here and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”