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April 7, 2014

Coming home


AUBURN | Chuck Person has spent the past 27 years of his life working in and around professional basketball.

It was time for a change.

Person, one of five men to have his jersey retired at Auburn, was formally introduced Monday as the Tigers' newest assistant coach. His time in the NBA gave him a strong understanding of strategy. His heritage, specifically his time at Auburn and his upbringing in Brantley, will ensure name recognition as a recruiter throughout the Southeast.

"I came to find out that everything that was said about him (was) true," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "I couldn't believe he could live up to all those things -- but he did."

Person, now 49, has been working in an unofficial capacity since the middle of March. He was spotted last week honing the post moves of senior forward Allen Payne.

Shooting mechanics have been Person's passion. He was known as "The Rifleman" primarily because of his shooting ability, which made him one of the most prolific long-range shooters in NBA history. He finished his career with 1,220 three-point baskets.

He also developed a reputation in the NBA for his understanding of defense -- both how to teach it and how to exploit it.

That will be a big part of his contribution at Auburn.

"We've talked about defense, about putting pressure on the basketball for 94 feet and making teams feel uncomfortable, and we're going to do that for 94 feet," Person said. "Then when we move back into half-court game, we're going to be more conservative making sure we keep guys off the three-point line and out of the paint. Make them shoot tough, contested twos, that's the way to win in this league, in any league."

Person was flanked Monday by his most influential mentors -- former Auburn coach Sonny Smith and Earl Henderson, who coached Person at Brantley High. Smith said Person's return to the court with the Tigers already has brought him much joy.

He believe supporters soon will feel the same way.

"I knew Chuck was going to be successful whatever he chose to do," Smith said. "It didn't matter if it was a head coach, assistant, or a player, I knew you could trust him to get there."

Person's opportunity will be unique. In addition to coaching at his alma mater, the two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year will be given an opportunity to finish coursework for the degree he never attained.

He didn't want to put a timetable on that enterprise Monday, but said Pearl and the program's academic advisers are committed to making the degree a reality.

"I was very lucky that I went to the pros and stayed in the pros for such a long time and became a coach," Person said. "It was a career for a long time. I was very lucky. If I had been a younger kid at age 30 trying to come back to Auburn to coach, it probably wouldn't have happened without a degree. I'll eventually get a degree from Auburn. The amount of time it will take, I'm not sure, but it will happen because we have a plan in place."

Person joins Tony Jones as the Tigers' current crop of full-time bench coaches hired by Pearl. Auburn currently is searching for a third.

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