AUBURN, Ala. — As Auburn’s three signees faxed in their official paperwork Wednesday, it became clear the Tigers were continuing the basketball culture change under Bruce Pearl.
It hasn’t been a secret that Auburn’s 2017 class — with Austin Wiley, Davion Mitchell and Chuma Okeke — once sat atop the No. 1 spot of the rankings. Even Wednesday, when it officially added the three top-60 prospects, the Tigers were at No. 5, only behind national powers Arizona, UCLA, Louisville and Washington.
To Pearl, it’s a sign of the future for Auburn basketball.
“This class is historic,” Pearl said. “It started with Austin Wiley — about a year and a half ago — committing to us prior to his junior year. You might say that was a no-brainer. His mom, Vickie, was an All-American. His dad, Aubrey, led the SEC in rebounding his senior year. Both of them are part of the Auburn Family, but Austin could’ve gone anywhere in the country. He had offers from everywhere, but he wanted to be an Auburn man.”
Wiley was the shiniest jewel of them all.
As Pearl referenced, both of Wiley’s parent were student-athletes at Auburn. It might’ve seemed like a guarantee for Auburn, and in some cases it was. But the Tigers weren’t, until recently, the squad 5-star basketball prospects looked at as a possible college destination. That’s something that has generally been left for 5-star football prospects.
Wiley was different. He originally went to high school nearby in Spain Park, Ala., before transferring to Conrad Academy in Orlando. Wiley is the 16th overall prospect in the country, which pitted him as the top player in the state of Alabama. Among power forwards, the 6-foot-10 Wiley is ranked 7th. He averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds per game as a junior at Spain Park High.
Perhaps the most important part of it all: Pearl landed Wiley in September 2015, which has created an unwavering momentum for Auburn basketball.
“More importantly, he wanted to start to lead even before he got here. He knew that his verbal commitment might attract others. All he’s done between then and now is work so hard to build his body to represent our country in international basketball and wear that USA jersey,” Pearl said. “Now, he’s going to come here and add to the history and legacy of his family.”
Wiley’s addition makes this the second straight signing class with a 5-star prospect, to go along with freshman Mustapha Heron, who showed in last week’s scrimmage why he earned a 5-star rating. But Wiley isn’t the only big prize in the early-signing period.
Mitchell is exactly what a coach looks for in a college point guard. The 6-foot-1 guard from Liberty County (Ga.) bring his championship pedigree to Auburn. He won the 2015 state championship in Georgia, a talented state for basketball, alongside his Liberty County teammate Richard LeCounte III, who will play college football at Georgia. He averaged 24.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game during that title run.
He’s ranked the No. 40 basketball player in the 2017 class, coming it at No. 4 in Georgia and No. 11 among point guards. His 3-point shooting ability — he shot 41 percent from long-range last season — will fit right in line with the let-it-fly mentality of the current Auburn roster.
“Davion Mitchell is one of the most physical defenders anywhere in high school basketball,” Pearl said. “There is not a better on-the-ball defender than Davion Mitchell. If I put you on him, you’re not going to score that night, but he can also score. He can also make plays. He’s a winner. He brought a state championship to his hometown. He’s a terrific young man. We’re going to have great point guard play because of Jared Harper and Davion Mitchell running that position.”
Don’t forget Okeke, though.
The 6-foot-7 small forward signee from Atlanta is the lowest-ranked prospect among the additions, but he’s no slouch. Okeke was a highly-offered prospect, grabbing interest from the likes of Kansas. Ultimately, Okeke selected Auburn over Kansas, Florida State, Georgia and others. His length and versatility make him a dangerous weapon at the college level.
He’s ranked 56th in the nation and 8th in Georgia.
“Chuma Okeke is a rare talent. He wins without necessarily always having to have the basketball in his hands … He’s a nightmare matchup for people because he can shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Pearl said. “He can put it on the floor. He can score for himself. He reminds you of Danjel Purifoy, but he has little bit more size. He’s creative like Danjel as well. He has a great future in professional basketball.”
Three home runs and a strikeout
The three Auburn basketball players added in the 2017 early-signing period will be monumental for the Tigers’ future on the hardwood. Another prospect, with major local ties, could’ve added to the mystique Wednesday.
Garrison Brooks, a 4-star power forward from Auburn High (Ala.), made his college announcement at the local high school Wednesday. The 130th overall prospect in the country chose between Auburn, UNC, Mississippi State, Georgia and LSU. Brooks picked Mississippi State, where his father is a coach for the Bulldogs.
Brooks signed immediately after, which means Auburn could’ve gotten its full 2017 class complete in the early-signing period had he chosen the Tigers. Instead, Auburn inked three, which leaves room for one more addition. That will come during the regular signing period, however.
Missing out on Brooks means that four top-150 prospects isn’t necessarily a guarantee for this class. Brooks, who garnered legitimate interest from North Carolina coach Roy Williams, would’ve added more size and athleticism to the class. Auburn ended up whiffing on the local talent who, understandably, chose to go play his college ball for his dad.
It will be the first time his father coaches him.
Isaiah Buggs has one important decider
Wednesday was a big day for Auburn basketball recruiting. That shouldn’t be under-apprecited. But I won’t let you get out of here today without some football notes.
Isaiah Buggs’ decision process is approaching an end. He announced earlier in the week that his choice was coming “soon.” He later confirmed with SEC Country that, since his Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. season is complete, his final pick is looming.
SEC Country’s LSU recruiting reporter Sam Spiegelman caught up with Buggs, as well. LSU and Auburn have long been considered front-runners for the No. 1 junior college defensive end. Buggs released a top 4 earlier in the season that included Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. Recent releases have added a few schools — Florida and Florida State — to the mix.
Follow the visits, right? Well that would make LSU the expected choice. Auburn would also be a dark horse candidate. Buggs landed in my most recent 2017 class projection, but Spiegelman also has him in his LSU projection. LSU is the smart money, since he’s an Auburn native.
And also, take a look at one of his biggest deciding factors.
“I love my mom to death. She’s the No. 1 lady in my life right now,” Buggs told Spiegelman. “She’s going to be a top priority in my life and help me make this decision … Wherever I go, she’s going to go. If it’s LSU, it’s close to home and easier for her to get down and see me. Any decision I make, she’ll be at the top of it.”
That makes LSU seems like the favorite because of proximity to his mother. But it should be noted that parents and family members always seem to have a special appreciation for the Plains. If Buggs and his mother can make a trip to Auburn one last time before he decides, that could help its chances.