Following the conclusion of its first SEC Championship season since 2003, Auburn basketball was set to be loaded next year after an NCAA Tournament run and the reinstatement of Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy.
Then the offseason began.
Bruce Pearl saw backup point guard Davion Mitchell and starting power forward Desean Murray transfer to Baylor and Western Kentucky, respectively, and Wiley, Mustapha Heron, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper declare for the NBA Draft.
The Tigers' quartet of draft entrants neglected to sign agents however, allowing them a return to school.
Pearl believes he has a shot to get all their names back on the roster for next season.
"I think all four (Wiley, Heron, Brown, Harper) have gone into this process in great shape, worked out really well," Pearl said in a quote gathered from The Opelika-Auburn News' Josh Vitale. "And they're gathering information ... they're all going to consider coming back. There's a chance they could all come back, but that's been the case from the very beginning.
"As we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me still to see a couple of them stay in."
Wiley is the golden prospect from The Plains, despite sitting out all of last season in accordance with eligibility issues thanks to the college basketball-wide FBI investigation. At the combine on May 17, Wiley measured at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds with 5 percent body fat and tied for the third-largest hands.
.@__Austinwiley50 (@AuburnMBB) works on his mid-range game ahead of game time! #NBACombine— NBA Draft (@NBADraft) May 18, 2018
: ESPN 2 pic.twitter.com/UhHXQS60fE
While Wiley is widely regarded as a first-round talent, Heron is fighting to be considered on draft boards. Auburn's leading scorer the past two seasons reportedly worked out with the Nets and Cavaliers, and Pearl said the 6-foot-5 wing scorer has a pair of workouts remaining with the Jazz and Nuggets before May 30.
Auburn's head coach added that Harper and Brown, who are both projected to be undrafted, have two workouts apiece under their belts.
Chances are not given, They are Earned✅ pic.twitter.com/jiabwV0LCr— Bryce Brown (@Bwb_2) May 21, 2018
The panic from college basketball fanbases that coincides with the tweets and NBA Draft announcements from their star players should subside in the coming years, as new NCAA rules allow for players to test their draft stock while remaining eligible to return to their school. Prospects can go through the draft combine and hold one NBA tryout before the withdrawal date of June 11.
In essence, testing the draft waters should become the norm for athletes with these new rules that are low risk and high reward. Pearl knew the cascade of "departures" would ensue after the Tigers' successful 2017-18 campaign.
"I expect four or five guys to put their name in for the draft and get evaluated," Pearl said after Auburn's loss to Clemson in the NCAA Tournament. "Fans should not push the panic button. That’s just part of the process. Our job is to help get them from here to there. Until they go through the process, they don’t know how far or how close they are to being able to realize their goals and their dreams."
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Nathan King, senior in journalism with a minor in business, is The Plainsman's sports editor.