Auburn landed a late commitment for the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night as three-star athletic wing Devan Cambridge pledged to the Tigers.
A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, Cambridge had a very strong showing at the Nike Peach Jam last week as he averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during pool play at the event. A big-time athlete who easily gets off the floor, Cambridge fits Auburn’s athletic, up-and-down style as he’s accustomed to playing fast and making plays with his game-changing athleticism.
Cambridge joins a seven-man mega class for the Tigers as he’s a versatile athlete who should play a number of different spots. Cambridge is still working to become more of a consistent perimeter shooting presence, but Auburn has landed a solid late commitment because there aren’t many better pure athletes in the class. If the Tigers can develop Cambridge and take their time with his development then he could turn into a very useful player.
Former NBA referee Rashan Michel accepts plea deal in third college hoops corruption case
Rashan Michel, a former NBA referee and lone remaining defendant in the third federal college basketball corruption case, accepted a plea deal from prosecutors on Tuesday.
Michel was initially charged with six felony counts related to soliciting bribes, wire fraud and travel act conspiracy as he pled guilty of bribery conspiracy. Federal prosecutors had accused Michel of accepting bribes from Sept. 2016 through Sept. 2017.
In March, former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person, Michel’s co-defendant in the case, agreed to plead guilty for taking bribes to influence Tigers players to sign with certain financial advisors when they went pro. Person is currently scheduled for sentencing on July 9 as he faces up to 2 1/2 years in federal prison.
Michel was a suit maker for professional athletes after being an NBA referee from 1997-2001. He helped allegedly broker a relationship between Person and cooperating government witness Marty Blazer.
A $50,000 loan was made to Person from Blazer as the Auburn assistant agreed to steer players towards Blazer once they went pro. According to prosecutors, Person arranged for Blazer to meet with Auburn players and their parents at Person’s home during Dec. 2016 and Jan. 2017.
Michel’s trial was scheduled to begin in New York on June 17 as his plea agreement ends the upcoming third college basketball corruption trial.
The first trial led to convictions from runner Christian Dawkins, Adidas consultant Merl Code and Adidas executive James Gatto in October as they were hit with conspiracy and fraud charges. In that trial, the focus was a pay-to-play scheme to help send elite recruits to Adidas-sponsored programs.
Jurors are currently still deliberating in the second trial — which also involves Dawkins and Code — as the two men are accused of bribing college basketball assistants to steer their players towards Dawkins’ new sports management company.
Without the third trial, and with the jury likely wrapping things up in the second trial this week, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel with the federal college basketball corruption cases. The black cloud that has been cast over the sport the past two seasons might finally start to subside.
But the NCAA will probably begin its investigations of the schools who have been mentioned in the trial shortly. It’s hard to say where things will go with the upcoming NCAA investigations, but the federal trial element of these corruption cases appears to be over for now.
WATCH: Auburn fans react to Tigers’ heartbreaking loss to Virginia in the Final Four
MINNEAPOLIS — The raised right hand of referee James Breeding turned into a fist as he blew the whistle with 0.6 seconds left to make one of the most controversial calls in Final Four history.
With Auburn clinging to a 62-60 lead with 1.6 seconds left, Tigers guard Samir Doughty heavily contested Virginia’s Kyle Guy — one of the most lethal perimeter shooters in the country. Doughty felt he did an adequate job of challenging Guy’s corner three-pointer with the game on the line.
But the Tigers’ upset bid turned into devastating loss in one moment as Breeding made a difficult late call. Guy buried all three subsequent free throws to lift No. 1 seed Virginia to a shocking 63-62 Final Four victory to advance to the national title game.
“That ain’t no foul,” Doughty thought to himself on the floor immediately after Breeding blew the whistle. Doughty’s in-the-moment feelings later evolved into conflicted thoughts as he sat red-eyed at his locker talking to reporters after one of the more gut-wrenching Final Four losses in recent memory.
“I definitely feel like we deserve a better result but it’s not always going to be like how it happened on that last play,” Doughty said.
“I was so surprised. They hadn’t been calling those fouls all game. There was actually plays where there were fouls on three-pointers and they weren’t getting called. So for them to call that foul that last play was kind of surprising.”
Auburn’s staff knew Virginia would take a corner three-pointer on the inbounds play. It was the easiest look for the Cavaliers to get with the inbounder positioned near mid-court. Austin Wiley, the Tigers’ 6-foot-11 center, was placed on Virginia inbounder Ty Jerome to attempt a deflection. Auburn planned to switch everything to keep a defender close to Guy after he had nailed a desperation corner three-pointer on the Cavaliers’ previous possession.
Knowing the play still didn’t matter.
Guy managed to get free, make a clean catch and turn before firing up the look that hit front rim and drew the foul on Doughty. Replays showed that Doughty impeded on Guy’s ability to land cleanly after the shot. But the shock of Breeding’s late call — which could have easily been a no-call — lingered throughout a U.S. Bank Stadium that was buzzing long after the game ended.
“There’s going to be controversy no matter what I felt. I felt like there was no way I was going to land. He was in my space,” Guy said of the play. “Auburn is going to think otherwise. I’ve been in their shoes before.”
Brutal losses are never easy to take. Auburn’s players and coaching staff did everything they could to credit Virginia for the win. Not all of the Tigers agreed with the late whistle, most notably senior guard Bryce Brown. The Auburn consensus still seemed to be that the game wasn’t won or lost on the final whistle. The Tigers played poorly for much of the second half before Brown’s late flurry of threes gave them the lead. Jared Harper also missed a critical free throw that would have given Auburn a three-point lead with under 10 seconds left.
It’s also impossible to tell Auburn not to think about anything other than the call that changed the outcome of their memorable NCAA tournament run. Breeding’s call will be remembered for years to come whenever a late call is made on a game-deciding shot.
“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” Brown said. “I mean, it just came down to that last possession. It’s not where we lost the game… But it was a significant part where I just didn’t agree with the call. Can’t say too much about that.”
Kyle Guy’s free throws push Virginia past Auburn and into title game
MINNEAPOLIS — The confusion hadn’t even been cleared by the time Kyle Guy began to compose himself. While the thousands at U.S. Bank Stadium and millions watching at home tried to make sense of the final 1.6 seconds, Guy was steeling himself for the most important free throws of his life. Maybe the most critical ever in the history of Virginia basketball.
The whistle blew after Guy’s potential game-winning 3 missed the mark, and while it was initially unclear if that was signaling the end of the game or that Auburn’s Samir Doughty had fouled Guy, the Cavaliers junior looked as though he was mourning a loss. Instead, he was preparing to take the fate of a program in his hands and shoulder the weight of history.
“I put my face into my jersey, but that was me focusing,” Guy said. “I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special.”
Guy stepped to the line and swished three-straight free-throws, delivering Virginia into Monday night’s national championship game with a 63-62 win over Auburn as the Cavs continue to survive the NCAA tournament a year after suffering one of its most notorious exits.
“Every round we advance, and every round I say the same thing almost, and it feels a little bit sweeter, a little bit sweeter,” junior Ty Jerome said after his 21-point, six-assist, nine-rebound performance. “But to think this time last year we were starting our spring workouts, and to still be playing at this point in the season with, after tonight, one other team in the whole country on the stage that you dreamed about since you were a little kid, it’s an unreal feeling.
“We’re going to do everything we can to finish the job.”
Virginia has the opportunity to win its first national title thanks to a former Indiana Mr. Basketball coming through in a moment dripping with tension, crushing in its pressure and enormous in its stakes.
“He’s built for that moment,” Virginia assistant Brad Soderberg said. “He lives for that stuff.”
There’s no one else Virginia would have wanted in that moment rather than the 82.5 percent free-throw shooter who was spent his three years in Charlottesville with a sense of confidence and self-assurance that radiates from him. He lives to define the moment rather than be controlled by it.
There, though, with 0.6 on the clock and his team down by two, Guy had three shots to chart the course of history. A year after 16th-seeded UMBC had shattered their season, Virginia now had blown a late 10-point lead to a five-seed with a national title game spot on the line.
Guy had three tosses to save Virginia.
“I was trying to look at my fiance. I couldn’t find her so I looked at my dad,” Guy said. “I got this. I looked at my future brother-in-law, he started smiling. I just smirked at him. I got this.”
That smirk gave way to two swishes. Tie game.
Then Auburn used a timeout, forcing Guy to contemplate the game-winner that lay before him on the other side of a huddle he ignored.
“I didn’t hear one word anybody said. I didn’t want any part of what they were talking about,” Guy said. “I just wanted to focus. I don’t even know what the plan was if I made it.”
His teammates saw Guy drifting from them, and kept their distance, secure in what his process would yield.
“Try to stay away from Kyle. Let him get his space, get in his own head. Don’t try to hype him up or anything,” Braxton Key said.
With the isolation of the free-throw line looming, Virginia left Guy alone.
“You don’t need to talk to someone like that in that moment,” De’Andre Hunter said. “He knows it’s a lot of pressure. You don’t need to add any more to it.”
With the biggest shot of his life forthcoming, Virginia offered no advice.
“He knew what he needed to do,” Jack Salt said. “He didn’t need me to tell him how to shoot free throws.”
There was nothing to say because Virginia knew what Guy knew.
“I wasn’t settling for two,” he said.
So guy walked back to the line, took a dribble, bent his knees and let the ball loose into history.
“He was cold-blooded for that,” Mamadi Diakite said.
A dream delivered.
“To be able to go to the national championship off of that for these guys and coach (Tony) Bennett, I mean, I really don’t have the words,” Guy said. “We all practiced those shots as a kid. They were probably a little bit more spectacular than free throws, but whatever it takes to win.”
After Auburn could find no miracle in that last 0.6, made his way off the the floor and into history, taking a moment as he ran to put his hand to his mouth and blow a kiss toward the crowd. No doubt it hit its mark.
Undersized and underrecruited, Jared Harper a perfect catalyst for underdog Auburn
MINNEAPOLIS — There wasn’t a lot of hype when Jared Harper committed to Auburn in the spring of 2015.
An undersized, three-star prospect from the Atlanta area, Harper led the Nike EYBL in made three-pointers during the spring of 2014. A great sophomore high school season saw Harper lead Pebblebrook to the Georgia state title game as he averaged 21 points and seven assists per game. None of that mattered to high-major programs who were skittish to offer a 5-foot-9 guard with questionable strength.
“I was recruited by some schools and some schools didn’t wanna offer at that time, just because of my size. They didn’t know if I could play at the high Division I level,” Harper said.
Harper’s lack of size didn’t stop Auburn’s coaching staff from going all-in on him early. Assistant coach Tony Jones was the first to see Harper play. Over the next several months, Bruce Pearl’s entire staff began to fall in love with the skills, IQ and confidence Harper brought to the table.
A night after Auburn completed a surprising SEC Tournament run to end the 2014-15 season, Harper pledged to the Tigers. His only other offers at the time were from Kansas State, Ole Miss, UAB and South Alabama.
“BP believed in me from day one,” Harper said. “I just feel like when I stepped on Auburn’s campus for the first time that I could see myself there. It’s a great environment, it’s close to home and my family could come and see all of my games. And being able to play as a freshman was big for me.”
Harper’s commitment, the first Auburn pledge for the Class of 2016, ushered in a new era of Tigers basketball. By committing early, Auburn’s staff could focus on finding pieces to complement their new lead guard while Harper could ignore recruiting and focus on getting better.
By the end of summer 2015, Auburn’s early evaluation was already paying off. Harper elevated into a top-75 national prospect by helping a loaded Georgia Stars team win the Nike EYBL title at Peach Jam. Harper was named co-MVP of the event with Wendell Carter as his blistering shooting was the talk of North Augusta. Even though the Stars featured a loaded roster that had Carter (Duke), Udoka Azubuike (Kansas), Brandon Robinson (North Carolina) and Trent Forrest (Florida State), Harper often looked like the best player on the floor.
“There’s [a couple things] about Jared that made him who he is. He has an incredible belief in himself. A lot of guys doubted him because he’s so little. The confidence is never an issue with him,” former Auburn assistant coach Todd Golden, who helped recruit Harper, said. “And he sees the game like a coach does. He’s been that way since he was young. His father, Pat, put a ball in his hands when he was young. Jared has played a ton of basketball, so when it comes to handling certain situations, he’s already been through it.”
Other players also noticed Harper’s abilities as he turned into a recruiter — helping Auburn land two five-star prospects (Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley) and a quality role player (Anfernee McLemore). Once Harper finally landed on campus, his gym-rat mentality was immediately noticed around the Auburn program. Harper and fellow starting guard Bryce Brown made a habit of living in the gym. Other players followed suit. Harper and Brown’s fathers were also constantly present around the Auburn program, shooting with their sons and talking ball with the coaching staff. A unique father-son dynamic around the Tigers fostered a family-oriented team that never listened to doubters.
“They started that culture of guys being in the gym late at night. They started that culture of guys coming in early in the morning. And now it’s a competition on who can spend the most time in the gym,” Auburn assistant Steven Pearl said. “It’s almost to a fault. We have to tell our guys, ‘get your ass out of the gym, you’re going to be exhausted!’ The guys challenge each other and come in together and it’s just become a great environment with Auburn basketball. We have some of the hardest-working kids in the country.”
Harper’s underdog mentality has fit in naturally with a team making its first-ever Final Four appearance this weekend. A double-figure scorer in all three seasons with the Tigers, Harper is a perfect catalyst for the Tigers with his ability to score and distribute. Auburn will be an underdog when they face No. 1 seed Virginia on Saturday, but they’ve already mowed through blue bloods like Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky the past three rounds. Facing another title hopeful won’t bother a team that has relished the underdog role the past few seasons.
“I feel like we’ve been in the underdog role a lot, I’ve been in the underdog role my entire life,” Harper said. “We’re taking it as it comes, we know what we can do. We know that at the end of the day, it matters what we believe in and what we feel like we can do.”