By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Austin Wiley is no longer that 17-year-old kid playing college basketball.
He turned all of 18 Sunday, has now played in six college games since joining Auburn in mid-December and will be looking to add to his resume at Missouri on Tuesday night.
"Austin has done a great job," says coach Bruce Pearl.
The 6-foot-11 Wiley is averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game overall, and is averaging slightly better numbers in his last three games, all in SEC play. "You talk about being thrown into the fire as a young player…" Pearl said.
Auburn will be looking for more of the same when the Tigers, 10-5 overall and 0-3 in the Southeastern Conference, meets Missouri, 5-9 overall and 0-2 in the league, in Tuesday's 6 p.m. game that will be shown on the SEC Network.
Auburn will be without one of its top scorers, Danjel Purifoy, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday's loss to Missouri. He didn't make the trip, so Auburn will need to find a guard to step in.
Wiley will be standing tall near the basket as learns on the go.
"The first game, he didn't know hardly anything," Pearl said. "Now, he's probably got about 75 percent of our package in.
"For us to continue to grow as a team, we need to continue to take better advantage of what Austin does."
Wiley arrived on a Friday and played on a Sunday. He played three games in his first six days on the team. It's been pretty much non-stop ever since with Pearl trying to find teaching moments where he can.
"Offensively, he's a load down in there," Pearl said. "We have to find him and get him the ball more. That will make our offense better.
"Defensively, he does a good job protecting the rim. The biggest area of growth for him will just be ball-screen defense, but you know that’s going to be the case with every young player with every freshman coming in."
Auburn's Bruce Pearl says freshman Austin Wiley has done a great job six games into his college career. Video pic.twitter.com/o2IeO3AiDw
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) January 9, 2017
The SEC is Wiley's new classroom, but it's been a new experience for most everybody. Auburn has started four freshmen the last five games, and though it's been a tough go in the conference, Pearl said the team is doing OK.
"Our locker room is great. I'm very, very proud of that," Pearl said. "There have been some things said and written that are accurate and sharp and critical. We have to own up to that.
"We're disappointed that, after getting off to one of the best starts we've had in Auburn basketball in the last dozen years, that we weren't able to take better advantage of it against teams that are most likely going to be in the middle of our league. I want to get to this middle of the league and to the postseason. That's where I want to get to. That’s what I think is realistic. I’ve said it all year. I have not changed that. I still feel it’s realistic. But when you don’t beat the teams that are there, that makes it more challenging.
"But the locker room is tremendous considering what we've been through."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine