When Austin Wiley joined the Auburn basketball team last December ahead of SEC play, the then-17-year-old had one question.
“Last year he came in and said, ‘Where can I help?'” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl recently told SEC Country following Team USA claiming a bronze medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup. “And he certainly helped. There were games we won that we couldn’t have won without him. He learned a lot.”
The growth Wiley has experienced in less than a year was clear in Cairo, Egypt.
That’s where the rising sophomore, alongside a pair of players aligned with Kentucky in Hamidou Diallo and PJ Washington, was dubbed team captain and proved he was more than deserving of the title. Wiley was the only American to average a double-double (10.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game).
Pearl believes the international experience will only help Wiley when he plays with his college team later this year. And make no mistake, it’s at least partially his team.
“Now that he’s part of this team he is a foundation that we’re going to build around,” Pearl said. “It’ll not only be his ability on the court, but his leadership and work ethic and the fact that he’s a legacy player. Both parents played at Auburn, his mom is a former Olympian. This is a legacy player and he wants to make his career at Auburn. He wants to be a part of the history like Charles Barkley or Chuck Person or Chris Morris or any of the great players. He wants to make history.”
And Wiley already is on the right path and demonstrating the skills he’ll need to accomplish his goals.
“I think from a basketball standpoint he is, obviously internationally in his age category, one of the most physically dominant players in the world,” Pearl said. “That’s huge. He has the ability to run the floor and post up and rebound the ball, and it’s something that most men his size can’t do. I think the experience will help his confidence and should put him in a position to have a dominant year in Auburn.”
Perhaps the best part is that Wiley won’t be alone. Auburn was the only other team besides Kentucky to have more than one player at the U.S. training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. Though incoming freshman Chuma Okeke left early after suffering a minor injury, Pearl said the two underclassmen had a chance to bond.
“In Colorado Springs, it was sort of big brother, little brother,” Pearl said. “And those guys are going to be playing together on the front lines for the rest of this year. To have a freshman and a sophomore that quality size, is hard to come by. We’ve got two really good front-line players.”
Wiley’s overseas showing has pro scouts excited about the future. First, however, there’s a little more work to take care of on the Plains.