HOOPS NOTEBOOK: Pearl has high expectations for Wiley
MIRAMAR BEACH, Fla. | Austin Wiley signed with Auburn in 2016, he was expected to the program's first one-and-done millionaire.
Still, the center remains on campus.
It's a bittersweet development for Wiley, who's on track for an Auburn degree hasn't yet accomplished anything on the court worthy of serious NBA regard. That doesn't mean his story is written. Not by a long shot.
Coach Bruce Pearl said Wiley's troublesome thumb injury has been resolved and he's preparing for a summer-long grind in an effort to get a bit lighter and a bit more explosive.
"I’m just excited about the potential for him to have a dominating year," Pearl said Tuesday from the SEC Spring Meetings. "He’s got to stay healthy and I think if he does, we’re going to be the beneficiary. He’s got a great future. He’s only 20 years old. That’s the thing you have to keep reminding yourself. The other thing, too, is he’s had a lot of summer travel and he’s been on a lot of different teams — and this summer it’s going to just be training. There’s not going to be spring combine work. There’s nothing else like that."
Wiley, who will be a senior next year, was expected to be an integral part of the Tigers' plan last season. He instead was serially slowed by a stress reaction in his left leg, which required two separate rehabilitation stints. Wiley returned for good during Auburn's win against South Carolina at the SEC Tournament on March 15, though he never logged more than 14 minutes in any single game.
He was a part-time player — albeit one that made a difference. The center was 9-of-15 from the floor during the NCAA Tournament and his usually spirited play in the regional final win against Kentucky may have saved the game.
Pearl believes Wiley will be able to play 20 minutes per game or more next season.
"The reason why last year he wasn’t able to play more because he didn’t come back to us, especially the second time around, until mid-SEC season," Pearl said. "And I’ve got Anfernee out there, we have Chuma out there, we have Horace out there, we’ve got some other guys out there. Danjel was playing some. And so a combination of not being 100 percent healthy and just the chemistry with our team — he played a great role off the bench but I just didn’t want to mess with the chemistry."
• FINAL FOUR AFFECTING THE SCHEDULE: Pearl has experienced difficult in the past getting high-profile teams to agree to home-and-home series with the Tigers, who were seen as a drag on RPI.
That reputation is changing. So is Pearl's ability to negotiate with more esteemed opponents.
"There are some teams that are interested in us going there — and coming to Auburn," Pearl said. "We haven’t announced some things but we’re definitely in some conversations with some higher-profile people. Whether or not that plays out and finishes out, we’ll see, but in other words I’m actually now able to make a call and talk to some, let’s say, top-25, non-conference opponents that are even a little higher than the ones we’ve talked to in the past. I would say it’s probably helping our ability to schedule tough."
• A CAUTIONARY TALE: Pearl said Tuesday that's he excited about his Class of 2019 newcomers, most of whom will report to campus this weekend, but is attempting to lower expectations in a general sense.
Auburn lost its top three scorers from a year ago — and Pearl wants to make sure everyone understands what that means to the team's 2019-20 equation.
"Can we pick up a grad transfer? Can we pick up somebody who maybe can give our program a little bit more? Yes," he said. "But we’re not able to just get involved late with the best (shooting) guard in the country because Jared’s not coming back or the best power forward that we weren’t recruiting all year long because we thought Chuma would be coming back. We just don’t have that ability."
• SAYING GOODBYE TO THE BRAMBLETTS: Like many Auburn dignitaries, Pearl is planning to attend the Thursday event inside Auburn Arena to celebrate Rod and Paula Bramblett. Rod Bramblett, the "Voice of The Auburn Tigers," died along with his wife Saturday night after an auto accident.
Pearl teared up a bit when asked to talk about the Brambletts Tuesday.
"The things I loved about Rod is Rod never apologized for loving Paula and telling you how much he loved her and how much he appreciated her," Pearl said. "Didn't brag on his kids, but you could tell how important it was for him to be a great father. And then the other thing that people don't understand — while he had the job of his dreams, and he wouldn't do anything other than what he did, I don't think anybody realized how hard he had to work to do what he did. I mean when you go to football to basketball to baseball, all the preparation, and he never complained. He never complained."