April 8, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. - It was as much a celebration as an announcement, a welcoming home as much as the hiring of an assistant coach. If you couldn't feel good Monday for a smiling Chuck Person returning to his school as an assistant coach, you just weren't going to feel good.
Person isn't just a former Auburn player returning to join first-year coach Bruce Pearl's staff. He's not just a former NBA player. He is, arguably, the best basketball player ever to wear an Auburn uniform. He is a winner. And he is an Auburn man through and through.
Maybe Charles Barkley was a better pro. You could make an argument for John Mengelt. But, for my money, Person stood alone as Auburn's best. And he did it the right way. He was a class act from the day he arrived as a player. And he's still a class act.
Closing in now on 50 years old, Person still wanted Earl Henderson, his high school coach, and former Auburn coach Sonny Smith with him Monday when it was officially announced he was home again. Talk to him about his years at Auburn and you'll hear as much about Frank Ford, Gerald White, Chris Morris and Jeff Moore and friends as you will about Chuck Person.
"It was a special group of people," Person says. "I couldn't be where I am without those guys."
Barkley and Person, as NBA stars on different teams, went their separate ways for a while. There was a time when they just didn't like each other. But those days are gone. Barkley was highly supportive of Person returning to Auburn.
"We lost our way a little bit when we first got to the NBA," Person says. "I don't think that's unusual. Everything is back to where it should be. Charles is a great supporter of Auburn and great supporter of me coming back and joining the staff again."
Like everyone who cared about Auburn basketball, Person watched in dismay as it fell apart in recent seasons. Tony Barbee, try as he might, could not put it back together. Person fervently believes Auburn can be a force in basketball. Why wouldn't he believe that?
"We were two minutes from going to the Final Four," Person says. "We need to correct that, to finish that."
Person will work tirelessly to that end. He'll do it because that's the kind of man he is and because he loves Auburn and Auburn people. He has since he arrived on campus in the fall of 1982.
Even then, nobody could have predicted that a poor kid from Brantley would be an NBA lottery pick and that he would play and then coach on the highest of levels. Now Person is back to share his experiences, his knowledge and his belief in hard work with another generation of Auburn basketball players.
Those players will learn lessons of basketball and life. They'll be better because Chuck Person came their way.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: