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Photo courtesy of Ted Melton / actionsportspix.smugmug.com.
SPHS Basketball Austin Wiley 1Spain Park center Austin Wiley drives the lane during a game against the Pelham Panthers in January. The 15-year-old freshman has already received multiple scholarship offers.
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Photo courtesy of Ted Melton/actionsportspix.smugmug.com.
SPHS Basketball Austin Wiley 2
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Photo by Jeff Thompson
SPHS Basketball Austin WileyAustin Wiley
SPHS Basketball Austin Wiley 1
SPHS Basketball Austin Wiley 2
SPHS Basketball Austin Wiley
Shaking hands with Austin Wiley is like reaching into the mouth of an alligator.
Wiley, starting center for the Spain Park Jaguars, stands 6-foot-9 and weighs in at 190 pounds. During the 2013-2014 regular basketball season, he averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game — remarkable numbers for a player his age facing older competition.
At 15 years old the freshman might be a newcomer to the varsity team, but he’s fluent in the game.
Austin started playing basketball at the Hoover Recreation Center at 6 years old. Led to the court by a pedigree, he said the sport is and has been not only his love but also his life.
“I was always the tallest kid,” he said. “It took me a while to get used to it. I’d say about sixth or seventh grade was when I started being known or recognized. I didn’t want to be the center of attention, but I got used to it.”
The recognition kept coming through middle school, and in his first year at Spain Park he not only became a staple of the game plan but also a target for college recruiters. He’s already received scholarship offers from The University of Alabama, Auburn University, UAB and Mississippi State University, he said.
His parents, Vickie Orr Wiley and Aubrey Wiley, are both former players for the Auburn Tigers. But Vickie Orr is also known as one of the best basketball players to ever come from the state of Alabama.
Playing center like her son, she led Auburn to two straight NCAA championship games. And before she graduated in 1993, she played on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team that won the bronze medal. In 2013, she was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
“The difference is, I wasn’t recruited this early,” Vickie said. “My recruiting, even though it was by every school in the country, didn’t start until the end of my 10th-grade year. For Austin it started in eighth grade from the exposure he gets from playing AAU.”
AAU, or Amateur Athletic Union, is a nonprofit national sports organization that offers players additional court time and often more promotional opportunities. Following his eighth-grade year, Austin received an invitation through his AAU exposure to attend NBA player Chris Paul’s basketball camp in North Carolina.
The event was important for Austin to attend, Vickie said, but it also led to a daily barrage from recruiters.
“I just want to make sure his head’s in the right place,” Vickie said. “Especially at AAU, there are so many people standing around waiting to get a word in about what they can do with him — how their camp can make him better. It’s not easy keeping those sharks away from him.”
Vickie, who currently serves as an administrator at the Harris Early Learning Center in Birmingham, said she and Aubrey make point to keep everything open with Austin, and she sees him embracing the pressure with a sense of personal pride. Austin said having his family by his side couldn’t be more important to him at this point in his life.
“The good thing about having parents who played in college is they went through the recruiting process,” he said. “They give me good advice like, ‘You’re just a freshman, don’t worry about it or stress about it. Stay humble and focus on school and basketball.’”
Thankfully for the Wileys, Vickie said Austin doesn’t give them much to worry about. He’s enjoying history and English in school, and likes to spend time with friends and listen to music when he isn’t on the court. He’s even looking at a future in nutrition.
“If my career in basketball does come to a sudden end, I still want to work with athletes,” Austin said. “I want to be around the game.”
Facing three more years of recruiting, the pressure doesn’t appear to be mounting. Austin’s relaxed, cordial demeanor comes across as that of a respectful teenager working hard to reach his goal of playing in the NBA.
“For me, I feel nothing but pride,” Vickie said. “I know how hard he’s worked. And because he asks — after every game or practice he finishes he asks for critiques — I know he’s serious.”