July 15, 2011
By: Michael Stagno, Auburn media relations
Charles Barkley is not only one of the most successful basketball players to ever come out of Auburn University, but in the world. He is also one of only four players in NBA history to have compiled at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists. He was voted as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. Now, he is one of the biggest media personalities in the world and is recognized anywhere he goes.
Barkley came to visit Auburn for the first time since the grand opening of the Auburn Arena on Oct. 15, 2010, to talk to campers at the Tony Barbee's Basketball School on July 1. He remembers what it means to be an Auburn athlete and notes that he tries to visit as much as possible, but no matter where he goes, he hears a familiar chant.
"Auburn is a unique place," Barkley said. "I've been all over the world and people scream, `War Eagle!' at me wherever I go."
Barkley's message to the campers was simple: Work hard in school, the game of basketball and at life. He preaches a harsh reality to the kids in attendance that not everyone is going to make the NBA and that without a proper education and respect for the rules and laws many players tend to lose their way.
Barkley also admitted that being a correspondent outside of the court is a whole new ballgame and while he may never be scared to say what is on his mind, considering both sides of the situation is important to make it in media.
"When you are a player, you have to just toe the line," Barkley said. "Whether you are on television or part of the media, you have to remain fair and balanced. Depending on what job you have, you think your way is right."
From 1981-84 while at Auburn, Barkley averaged 13.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.7 blocks while being named a first-team All-American in 1984, the 1984 SEC Player of the Year and was an All-SEC selection all three years at Auburn.
During his 16-year NBA career in which he played for the Philadelphia 76ers (1984-92), the Phoenix Suns (1992-96) and the Houston Rockets (1996-00), Barkley averaged 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals. Five times he earned All-NBA First Team honors. He also earned All-NBA Second Team honors five times as well. He was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1993 and was MVP of the NBA All-Star game in 1991.
Mike Mitchell, a former Auburn basketball player from 1974-78, passed away on June 9. Mitchell is Auburn's all-time leading rebounder with 996 and is the Tigers' second all-time leading scorer with 2,123 points. He was the 15th overall selection in the first-round of the 1978 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He spent 10 years in the NBA with the Cavs and the San Antonio Spurs in which he averaged 19.8 points and 5.6 rebounds. He concluded his 22-year professional career playing 12 seasons in Italy. Barkley recalls that though he did not know Mitchell that well, the Auburn connection was a big part in helping him make the transition from college to the NBA.
"One of the first things he did for me was welcome me to the NBA and spent a little time with me," Barkley said. "That is part of the Auburn tradition, though, as I still stay in touch with guys like, Paul Daniels, Gerald White. I spent some time with Evan Bufford. I talk to Greg Turner all the time. He's doing fantastic."
Barkley noticed positive signs in the way Auburn's players progressed during the season and also noticed that head coach Tony Barbee seemed to bring a much-needed tenacity to the sideline that was contagious as the players fed off of it.
"Auburn got better as the season went on," Barkley said. "They had some big wins in the final stretch of the season, and they had a lot of close games. That tells me the players didn't pack it in. They were competitive down the stretch. A lot of players are motivated off of emotions. You could tell that Barbee had those kids engaged when a lot of teams would just pack it in."
Barkley likes the direction that Auburn basketball is heading and feels that Coach Barbee is making all the right moves in getting the program back to an elite status. He notes that he is excited about Auburn Arena, the incoming players and, what he feels is most important, the enthusiasm of the coaching staff.
"We want our school to do well," Barkley said. "Let me rephrase that. We want our basketball team to do well. Tony has had a chance to recruit, and I expect them to be much better this year."