CAIRO, Egypt— Austin Wiley is ready to take center stage in the SEC.
Auburn’s 6-11, 255-pound center initially wasn’t scheduled to graduate from high school until this June. But he decided to change his timetable last summer when he transferred from Spain Park in Hoover, Ala. after averaging 21.7 points and 11.8 rebounds during a spectacular junior year to Conrad Academy in Florida last summer.
‘“My family and I sat down and had a long discussion about my future—how could it help me, how could it hurt me,’’ Wiley said. “Nobody was opposed at the time. We just thought it was a great idea and it worked out.’’
Wiley, the 16th ranked player in the class of 2017, opted to graduate in December so he could enroll in Auburn and play second semester. He committed to the Tigers in the summer before his senior year and signed in the early November window. “So, I knew where I was going,’’ he said.
Wiley was a rotation player in Bruce Pearl’s rebuilding project, averaging 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds and shooting 58.6 percent during second semester for the SEC Tigers, who finished 18-14 with a 7-11 record in the conference, are suddenly more visible than they have been in decades.
But there is no holding him back now.
“I feel playing second semester really helped me a lot,’’ he said. “It put me above the curve physically. And the game has slowed down for me.’’
Wiley gave us a preview if coming attractions when he scored 16 points and ripped down 16 rebounds in just 20 minutes as USA Basketball’s U19 team smothered Angola, 109-68, last night to improve their record to 2-0 in pool play at the youth World Cup here. Wiley had nine offensive rebounds—just two fewer than the entire Angola team. He shot 4 for 9 from the field, but did most of his damage when he shot 8 for 12 from the line, a huge improvement from his freshman season when he shot just 49 percent from the line.
“I see my role on this team as a rebounder, scoring when I get the ball, cleaning up missed and hitting my free throws,’’ he said.
Wiley had a double double at halftime with 13 points and 12 rebounds as the U19s raced to a 60-26 lead over the African power. The U.S. overpowered Angola in the boards, 63-36, and forced 23 turnovers, 14 of which were steals. They outscored Angola, 60-20, on the fast break and 58-26 in the paint.
Sophomore guard Josh Okogie of Georgia Tech finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Kentucky freshman guard Hamidou Diallo had 15 and all 11 US players scored as the Americans scored over 100 for the second straight day. High school senior guard Romeo Langford from New Albany, Ind. did not play because of back spasms. He is listed as day-to-day.
“I thought we made some strides,’’ U.S. coach John Calipari said. “We’re defending a little bit better; we still have to talk more. All I’m trying to get them to do is play with great pace and then, if it’s not there, run something. You know, just make a play.
“I keep telling them, ‘Let’s play against ourselves, let’s not worry who’s out there,’’’ Calipari said. “ Let’s just keep seeing if we can execute better, if you concentrate more, if we can talk more, so by the end of this we’re in pretty good shape and we’ll be a pretty good team.’’’
“Everybody is not as talented as us,’’ high school senior guard Immanuel Quickley from John Carroll in Bell Air, Md. said. “They’re good teams but not as talents, so you just want to go against yourself to get better.’’
None of Wiley’s monster individual statistics should come as any great surprise for a player who already has been penciled in as a first- round pick in the 2018 NBA draft and would be the first Auburn player to go that high since Mamadou N’Diaye in 2000.
Wiley comes from a distinguished basketball family that is Auburn royalty.
When Wiley was born to Aubrey Wiley and Vickie Orr Wiley in 1999, he became part of a rich blood line. His mother was one of the great players in Auburn history, a three-time All American and a 1992 Olympian who led two teams to NCAA championship games. His father was a powerful inside player, who lead the SEC in rebounding in 1994 and has coached basketball at Lawson State Community College for close to 20 years. His mother led Auburn to two national championship games. His father is first cousins with two Auburn All Americans, Chuck and Wesley Person.
Wiley began hearing their stories when he first started playing at age six. “It was pretty cool, finding out your parents played at such a high level,’’ he said. “As I got older, they started telling me stories: One day if you work hard, you can get to that level, maybe even higher. It made it very competitive in our house.’’
Wiley got a taste of celebrity last summer when he averaged 8 points and 6.4 rebounds for the U17 national team and helped his country win a gold medal in front of his mother, who attended the tournament in Zaragoza, Spain.
But he is so much quicker this year, and so most more explosive. “He’s always been fast, but now he’s utilizing his speed to his advantage,’’ Pearl told his local media. “He is going to stand out. When Austin was 17 and he was going against guys who were 20, 21-22, you could tell it was there, but he wasn’t going to dominate in the SEC against some of our older players like he was able to dominate against players his own age. It’s a combination, a double- edged sword. He’s doing great.’’