Auburn flying high as college hoops signing period begins
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl felt like a winner two days before his team even plays its first game.
The Tigers assured themselves one of the nation's top recruiting classes when the early signing period began Wednesday. It is headlined by top-10 prospect Austin Wiley, whose parents both starred for Auburn, and includes four-star prospects Davion Mitchell and Chuma Okeke.
''This class is historic,'' said Pearl, who is trying to bounce back from an 11-20 mark in his second season with the Tigers. ''It started with Austin Wiley, about a year and a half ago, committing to us prior to his junior year. … He had offers from everywhere, but he wanted to be an Auburn man.''
His mother, Vickie, was an All-American for the Tigers. His father, Aubrey, was a star rebounder.
''But Austin could have gone anywhere in the country,'' Pearl said. ''More importantly, he wanted to lead even before he got here. He knew that his verbal commitment might attract others. … Now he's going to come here and add to the history and legacy of his father.''
Wiley, Mitchell and Okeke sent in signed letters of intent on the first day prospects are allowed. Some of the biggest names in this year's class have yet to make their decisions.
Unlike football, where signing day usually represents the finish line, it is merely the starting line in college basketball. The early period doesn't end until Nov. 16, and some will wait to see how things shake out at other schools before signing a letter of intent in the spring.
Still, the early period gives some barometer for where schools are in their recruiting efforts:
DESERT SWARM: Top-ranked prospect DeAndre Ayton, a 7-footer from Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, leads Arizona coach Sean Miller's star-studded class. He was expected to land letters of intent from three more top-100 recruits in Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee and Alex Barcello, and he's in the running for five-star swingmen Lonnie Walker and Brian Bowen, top guard Hamidou Diallo, and big man Brandon McCoy.
PAC-12 POWER: Arizona may top the early returns, but its conference as a whole has been tearing up the recruiting trail. Oregon landed five-star guard Troy Brown despite overtures from Kansas, Georgetown and Alabama, while five-star forward Michael Porter headlines a five-deep class at Washington.
Porter will be joined on coach Lorenzo Romar's floor by four-star guards Jaylen Nowell and Daejon Davis, St. Louis-area forward Mamoudou Diarra and North Carolina guard Blake Harris.
CHAMPS RELOAD: Villanova coach Jay Wright has reeled in 6-foot-6 forward Jermaine Samuels, who appears tailor-made to replace senior Josh Hart. Wright also hooked Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, a somewhat undersized post player from Philadelphia, who had offers up and down the East Coast.
Villanova is also in the running for Walker and Philly guard Quade Green.
BLUEBLOODS HUNTING: Duke has only one commitment in Georgia guard Alex O'Connell, Kansas has one in Dallas guard Marcus Garrett, and Kentucky has yet to land its first commitment for next year.
That may sound ominous for now, but just wait until things shake out.
The Blue Devils are in the mix for top-10 prospects Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr., who some believe could be a package deal, along with top-100 players Matt Coleman, Kevin Knox and Mohamed Bamba. The Jayhawks are pushing hard for guards Collin Sexton and Trae Young and forward Billy Preston.
The Wildcats are also coveting Young, a 6-foot-2 guard from Oklahoma, while five-star prospects P.J. Washington and Nick Richards are expected to sign letters of intent with Kentucky later this week.
BIG TEN'S BEST: Illinois coach John Groce has started what could be a make-or-break season by landing a four-man class headlined by St. Louis-area forward Jeremiah Tilmon – though it's unclear when he will sign his letter of intent. Michigan State hopes the combination of Jaren Jackson and Xavier Tillman is only the start of another talented class in East Lansing.
''They played together on the same AAU team. They kind of fit together,'' Spartans coach Tom Izzo said of his two new power forwards. ''And we're not done. Hopefully we can add one, two, maybe even three more, but we have a great base, a base people want to play with guys like this.''
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