Charles Barkley is one of the most recognizable Auburn basketball players in the history of the program. Not only did Barkley attend Auburn, but he is one of the best players to have ever worn a Tigers jersey. After Auburn clinched a Final Four birth, Barkley reacted on the air.
“I’m just so proud of these kids and the Auburn nation,” Barkley said, per USA Today. “Man, I can’t wait to get to Minnesota — words I thought I’d never say before.”
Barkley played three seasons at Auburn from 1981 to 1984 before being selected No. 5 in the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Barkley averaged 14.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.7 blocks at Auburn. The school put a statue of Barkley in front of the arena in 2017.
“I get paid to talk; I don’t even have the words to say what it means to me and my family,” Barkley said, per AL.com. “It’s just really amazing. When I came here in 1981, I’ve had an amazing life and it started here.”
Auburn made the Final Four despite Barkley picking them to lose in the Sweet 16 in his bracket. The Ringer’s Tate Frazier pointed out Barkley had little faith in his squad making a potential title run.
“Barkley’s team made it to the final four despite him picking them to lose in the Sweet 16 he’s the new Sister Jean,” Frazier tweeted.
Former Auburn Coach Sonny Smith Noted Barkley Could “Jump Out of the Gym” When They Recruited Him
Barkley was undersized for a traditional big man, but more than made up for it with his athleticism. Sonny Smith coached Barkley at Auburn and recalled what kind of player he was when the school recruited him out of high school.
“We were recruiting a young man at his school [Leeds High School in Birmingham] who was really a good player,” Smith told AuburnTigers.com. “He [assistant coach Herbert Greene] came back and said, ‘They’ve got this kid on that team who’s 6-3 or 6-4, probably weighs 280 pounds, or 290. And he can jump out of the gym. You need to go see him.’ The ball bounced off the board for a rebound. He jumped up and caught it and threw it to midcourt before he ever hit the floor. And I said to myself, ‘We’ve got to have this guy.’ Fortunately, we end up with him, and got one of the greatest players to ever play here.”
Barkley played in one NCAA tournament game while at Auburn. The big man had 23 points, 17 rebounds and four assists against Richmond in a losing effort during the 1984 season. Barkley was named the SEC player of the year in 1984 as well.
Barkley noted that Auburn assistant coach Herbert Greene was one of the first people that believed in his game. Greene played a big role in Barkley choosing Auburn.
“I have always had great admiration for Herbert because he was the first guy who actually thought I could play,” Barkley noted to AuburnTigers.com. “Auburn was actually recruiting another player on my team and wasn’t recruiting me so Herbert is actually the first person who thought I could play major college basketball. I will always be in debt to him for that. He will always be a special person in my heart.”