The noise isn’t going anywhere.
For two years now, Auburn’s basketball program has been under a microscope and at the center of a federal corruption probe into college basketball. The Tigers expect to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA for former assistant coach Chuck Person’s involvement in a bribery scheme before the 2017-18 season, saying the school was the “victim”.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl wasn't accused of any wrongdoing by federal investigators but does have a history with NCAA violations under his watch from his time at Tennessee.
Pearl, who received a new five-year, $20 million contract in April, says he isn’t worried, though.
"I would say that adversity reveals character way more than it builds it, so I'd like to think the last couple years our character has been revealed, because these have been some challenging times," Pearl said Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama. “So we've done a lot of things the right way in that situation, and we're not done yet, but I'm confident in the process."
One of the players who was forced to sit out the 2017-18 season after the NCAA investigation was senior Austin Wiley, whose father was found to have received $4,500 in benefits from Person. The 6-foot-11 center, who is returning for his final year of eligibility, is healthy entering the season for the first time since his recruitment and said Wednesday that they aren’t distracted with questions hanging over the program.
"He wants us to focus on the season," Wiley said. "If it's not pertaining to us, we have no reason to even talk about it. So we're going to let that be."
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Among the five seniors returning from the Tigers’ Final Four team, Anfernee McLemore joins Wiley in the frontcourt. He shared the same sentiment.
"I hear about it sometimes, but I really just try to focus on school and things,” McLemore said. “I don't know any specifics of any allegations or anything like that, but I just kind of let it go through one ear and out the other."
This year, the challenge is two-fold. Not only is the program engulfed in controversy, it also loses its three leading scorers from the SEC Tournament championship roster. Starters Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Chuma Okeke all signed professional contracts in the NBA.
“I will say this — and anybody who’s had any level of success will understand it — it’s way easier to get something going than it is to keep it going,” Pearl said. “Keeping it going is going to be more challenging than the job we did in getting it going.”
Pearl will be leaning on his veterans, Wiley and McLemore, to lead what he hopes will be a repeat campaign. And despite finishing with a 30-10 record and the school’s first Final Four appearance in program history last season, McLemore knows they still aren’t a household name in college basketball.
“We had a couple of back-to-back years, but we're definitely not, I want to say we're definitely not respected around the basketball world,” McLemore said. “But we're getting there.”
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