Auburn, Ala.--Growing up watching the Auburn Tigers play and dreaming of one day putting on that uniform, early enrollee freshman Austin Wiley had that opportunity on Sunday and he didn’t waste any time making his presence known on the Auburn Arena basketball court.
Entering the game seven minutes into the contest against Mercer, Wiley was immediately fouled and made 1-2 free throws to get his career off to a productive start three seconds after it began
Finishing with nine points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots in just 15 minutes, the 6-11 newcomer got quality minutes and was on the court in the final minute in a very close game.
In the end he contributed a great deal to getting the victory, according to Coach Bruce Pearl, and that was his goal coming in, although he wasn’t quite expecting the key minutes he got right out of the gate on Sunday.
“I didn’t envision that at first but we played great today,” Wiley said. “Everybody played their game. It was a great win.”
It’s hard to envision just how much he could impact the game considering the lack of practice time he’s gotten in since getting cleared on Friday afternoon. Practicing just twice, Wiley didn’t miss a beat on Sunday and Pearl said that was perhaps the most impressive part of his play.
“I can't tell you what the last couple of days have been like, trying to prepare for that game and trying to get Austin ready to play 15 minutes when his teammates have been together for six months and he's been with us for six hours,” Pearl said. “Yeah, his timing wasn't perfect. Obviously, we didn't plan but 15 minutes. For him to have picked up on the things he needed to do in such a short period of time is remarkable.
“I thought that potentially his presence would be such a distraction as far as he wouldn't know where to go or what to do. That could hurt us beating Mercer. That wasn't the case. His presence helped us. As he continues to learn what to do and where he's going, you can see what a special player he is.”
With his mother, Vickie Orr, and father, Aubrey Wiley, both in Auburn Arena for his first game, Wiley got a standing ovation when he entered the game with 12:55 remaining in the first half. For a player who looked unflappable from start to finish, he said that was the most difficult part of the day.
“It meant a lot,” Wiley said of the love from the fans. “I even got a little emotional out there.”
He didn’t let the emotions show, however, as he showed veteran poise, knocking down 5-8 free throws and making a key late basket to put the Tigers in front with 45 seconds left. Just three days into his college career, Wiley played a big role in an important win for Auburn.
Now with challenging games coming up against Oklahoma and Connecticut, Wiley showed he’s capable of making this Auburn team better. Just how much better remains to be seen, but Wiley said it feels good to finally get his career started on the Plains.
“At first I was nervous but as the game started flowing, I started picking it up and got comfortable out there,” Wiley said. “I was just trying to get a win, but now that I think about it, it’s crazy.”