Suspended Auburn players Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy to test NBA Draft waters
Bruce Pearl told CBS Sports that the players caught up in the FBI scandal will consider turning pro
Both players have not played this season due to their involvement in the FBI's probe into illicit college basketball recruiting. Among other federal charges, former Auburn assistant Chuck Person has been accused of providing the families of Wiley and Purifoy money, in addition to fraudulently pocketing tens of thousands of dollars for himself.
Wiley has already been declared ineligible for 2017-18 by the NCAA, per a ruling in mid-January. His appeal on that decision was denied last week.
"After an internal investigation, Auburn self-reported violations involving recruiting, extra benefits and agent-related activity," the NCAA said via formal statement on Jan. 11.
Purifoy is not expected to be cleared but is yet to get official word from the NCAA on his status. Pearl could not offer a timeline on Purifoy's case getting a verdict, but at this point he and the team are operating under the idea that Purifoy's fate will be the same as Wiley's. Despite their ineligible status for competition, Pearl said both players have practiced with the team all season.
"They're both ready to get evaluated," Pearl said. "One of the good things you get with this process is there's time to be evaluated now. Even though it pains us to not have them out there ... if they're in position to go get drafted, that's what they should do. If not, then hopefully will both will have the option to return."
Ineligibility for this season and a draft declaration doesn't necessarily mean the end of either player's career at Auburn. If either player opts to remove their name from draft eligibility this spring -- in addition to not signing with an agent -- they could possibly return to school. In Wiley's case we know that to be certain. He has already been cleared for next season if he chooses to return. Purifoy is still waiting because, according to Pearl "the process, the interviews, the discovery, things like that, Austin got started a little sooner."
Wiley and Purifoy combined to average more than 20 points and nine rebounds per game last season. From a production standpoint, they were thought to be two of the team's three best players heading into the season. Wiley is a 6-foot-11 center who was a five-star recruit in the Class of 2016. Purifoy is a 6-7 combo forward who was a four-star recruit and the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama in the Class of 2016. Wiley is considered the more legitimate NBA prospect at this point.
Pearl has repeatedly said he considers both players "victims" in how this situation played out.
Despite the drama surrounding the FBI case, the inquiry by the NCAA and Auburn's own internal probe, Pearl has managed to pull off the improbable. The Tigers are 21-2 -- the best start in school history. In Monday's AP Poll,. Pearl is a candidate for national coach of the year.
Speaking on the subject of Auburn's surprising push to a No. 1 seed, Pearl said his team's adaptation to positionless basketball has been a big reason for Auburn's leap. He also noted Auburn's ability to make foul shots this season vs. last (the Tigers ranked 281st in free throw percentage in 2016-17; this season they're 10th) and an improvement in rebounding despite a lack of size. From an execution standpoint Pearl noted his team is so much smarter when running offense at the end of the shot clock.
"Small-ball is not such a bad thing," he said. "Give all the credit to the kids."
Without Wiley and Purifoy, Auburn has nonetheless managed to win at Tennessee for the first time in 20 years, win at Ole Miss for the first time in a decade and, over the weekend, knocked off Vanderbilt for the first time in 13 tries. But a game with Kentucky, plus road trips to Florida and Arkansas, still await.
"You've got to be competitive before you can be good, before you can really win," Pearl said, referencing his team's 23-3 non-conference record the past two seasons. "This is not a one-hit wonder. ... They want to say we came from nowhere. No. We had a bunch of freshmen last year, we have eight guys back, and nobody's approached it that way."
Auburn's next game is at home Wednesday against Texas A&M, a team Pearl labeled as arguably the most talented in the SEC.
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