As Auburn was en route to its first SEC men’s basketball championship in 19 years, Austin Wiley, a 6-foot-11 center and former five-star recruit, could only sit and watch.
“It was bittersweet,” he said.
Wiley was one of 60-some participants at last week's NBA combine. He hasn’t signed with an agent and has the option to return to school at the end of the month.
In some ways, Wiley can relate to Brian Bowen. He, like the South Carolina freshman, was connected to the FBI investigation. On Jan. 11, the sophomore was ruled ineligible for the 2017-18 season.
“Pretty much,” Wiley said Thursday at the Quest Multisport Complex, “I took money from my cousin (former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person) and the NCAA ruled it as an improper benefit.”
So he could only practice with the Tigers last season as they won 26 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Bowen, who transferred from Louisville to USC in January, was also on practice-only status as the Gamecocks went 17-16 and missed the NIT.
But here’s where their tales differ: Wiley knows he can play for Auburn in 2018-19. His suspension is over. The NCAA has told him this.
Bowen, meanwhile, is still waiting for such a ruling. As of Saturday, he’s still ineligible. His only option, some 10 days before the decision deadline, is to go pro.
That’s unfair, ESPN’s Jay Bilas told The State.
“It’s absolutely unfair to the kid, especially since every bit of information I have says the kid is not at fault here,” Bilas said, nodding to Bowen’s repeated assertion of lack of knowledge in the alleged payment of $19,500 from Adidas to Bowen’s father. “So even if you took the allegations as being true, it’s not the kid.”
Bowen, who hasn’t played a competitive game since he was a senior at an Indiana high school, had mixed reviews at the combine. He admitted rust played a role the first day as he scored five points and committed six turnovers in nine minutes of five-on-five action. The 6-7, 202-pound former McDonald’s All-American came back with a double-double performance the next day.
“I think he did a really good job (the second day),” Bilas said. “He seemed to struggle a little bit (the first day). He played much, much better and kind of showed the ability level that he has and the potential he’s got.”
Bowen, who’s interviewed with several NBA teams, is still not considered likely to be selected in the two-round draft on June 21.
“I know a lot of people want to see him stay (in college),” Bilas said. “But it’s his decision. To me, if I’m in his seat, there’s uncertainty in the college space. And I could go back for all the right reasons and still have to sit. Or do I just move on and leave all that mess behind me, when I have no certainty whether it’s going to be figured out in my favor or not?
“That’s what frustrates me. If we can say Austin Wiley’s all set, why can’t we do the same with Brian? That’s really frustrating.”
Jason Setchen, Bowen’s lawyer, has been at the forefront of this maddening process for months. Louisville didn’t apply for Bowen’s reinstatement in the fall. South Carolina did, but only after he enrolled in January.
“Think about the arc of retroactivity,” Setchen said. “Let’s assume Louisville was quick and they said, ‘OK, look. We have all the facts. They gave us everything we needed. We fully cooperated. Submit the papers to the NCAA.’
“And they did that when we met with them before the season started. And (the NCAA) came back to Louisville and said, ‘He’s suspended for x-amount of time' — let's say, hypothetically, a year — it would be over already.
“So by just sitting on that all that time and doing nothing and forcing him to transfer and putting all the onus on South Carolina to do all the work to catch up on the story and then submit the papers, that further delayed things."
Setchen tweeted that Bowen “deserves due process after a year in limbo.”
Bilas, a lawyer himself, agrees.
“I joke about this, and it’s probably not funny,” Bilas said. “When I was in school, it was the good old days where the players got the money. Now the players are just a pawn in the whole thing.
“So unless there’s information that I don’t know about — and there very well could be — it’s absolutely unfair. It’s like a lot with the NCAA. They don’t have bad intentions, but it always winds up screwing the player, and everybody else seems that they’re OK. And that’s always bothered me. We don’t err on the side of the player. We err on the side of the NCAA and the rules. And that’s never been a good place for me.”
Said Wiley: “I’m just going to hope that he gets through it. I’m pretty sure he’s doing everything he can. So, hopefully, he’ll get a decision soon.”