Auburn basketball suddenly has 2020 vision, and it’s never seen anything like this.
Today’s Auburn-Georgia game, for example:
One NBA professional analyst has Auburn’s Isaac Okoro and Georgia’s Anthony Edwards ranked as the No. 4 and No. 1 prospects, respectfully, in the next draft.
It’s a pretty sure bet that both will be millionaires by this time next year, and both freshmen are a mere 18 years old.
Good move, Auburn
First things first: Auburn University made the right call in moving today’s game from an appealing, high-exposure 5 p.m. time slot on national sports network ESPN to an 11 a.m. tipoff on lesser-viewed ESPNEWS because of the much- predicted forecast of severe and life-threatening weather.
If the clouds part and Auburn doesn’t get a drop of rain or a whiff of wind, that would be just fine with local Lee County residents all too emotionally drained still from the killer EF-4 tornado and its 170-mph winds that wreaked havoc here last March.
It killed 23 people, injured almost 100, and cut a devastating swath of destruction a mile wide and 70 miles long. But it could have been worse.
Emergency management officials confided soon after the storm that the giant tornado narrowly missed a touch-down window that would have placed it striking Auburn and moving right through heavily populated subdivisions and the campus-downtown area, in which a monster the size of EF-4 likely could have killed hundreds.
Pray nothing serious happens today, but common sense and experience dictate that we be prepared if it does. Know where to go to be safe, stay alert with the latest forecast, and act.
The immediate area surrounding Auburn Arena is expected to see the worst of the storms between 2 and 8 p.m.
Kudos to Auburn University, among others including Georgia and ESPN officials, for not making the almighty dollar and excellent opportunity for national exposure of the basketball program more important than the safety of those coming, attending and leaving the game today.
Auburn, fresh off last year’s Final Four run, knows it will have more opportunities to shine in the national spotlight coming its way, and that’s another example of how 2020 is different from years past.
Austin? Free throws?
The host Tigers are ranked No. 5 in all the land and go into the game today against the revamped and high-flying guest Bulldogs as one of only two teams remaining undefeated.
Auburn’s seniors already have set a record as the class with the most wins in program history.
Tiger center and senior Austin Wiley suddenly has found range at the free-throw line, hitting 9-of-10 in Wednesday night’s game against Vanderbilt.
Keep that up, and Auburn might see another of its starters going high in the NBA draft.
“Austin was great. I mean, he shot the ball from the foul line,” said an impressed Pearl after that game. “To go 9-for-10, shoot 90 percent, that tells you how hard he’s worked. You don’t go from a career 50 percent free-throw shooter to shoot 9-of-10, and he’s about 70 percent now.”
Folks reading this from the Notasulga-Reeltown area might be proud to know that Pearl credited team graduate assistant Ryan Langford for following orders and working with Wiley to practice and develop a smoother shot from the charity stripe.
Wiley “spent a lot of time in the gym. He changed his stroke,” Pearl said. “Ryan Langford, my graduate assistant, spent a lot of time with him. We simplified it. I kind of made him change it.”
That, and Wiley’s emergence of confidence and aggressiveness in the big-man combat zone, could easily make his personal stock soar as the season progresses; and for the team, a rising tide raises all boats.
No cheap seats here
Speaking of dollars earlier, have you tried to buy a ticket lately on the open market for an Auburn basketball game?
On Friday afternoon, one online ticket site had tickets for today’s game available starting at $70 and going as high as $800 for a courtside seat.
A standing-room-only ticket for the Feb. 1 Saturday home Auburn-Kentucky game, which also will be this year’s AUTLIVE Cancer game, starts at $125.
Not even the Charles Barkley days brought that kind of value to Auburn tickets, as the school continues to see sellout after sellout pack Auburn Arena.
So if a winning record, national ranking, history-making roster, future NBA talent and the buzz of sell-out crowds don’t convince you the 2020 season is different, just tune in to the next episode of “The Bachelor.” That ought to do it.
One of the several beauties often sitting behind the Auburn bench is Prewett’s oldest daughter, Madison, who made quite the splash in the season premiere of the reality-TV show last week on ABC.
That instantly moved her from “coach’s daughter” to celebrity status of her own. But it’s not like Madison doesn’t have an excellent jump shot and four state title rings as a savvy basketball player herself, so look out, any future husband marrying into this Auburn family.
Have fun; stay safe
No matter how today’s tough rival game or stormy weather shakes out for the Tigers, things are looking bright here in 2020.
Even on a cloudy day.