As you walk into Auburn Arena, the home of the Auburn Tigers, it’s hard not to look up and notice some of the greatest names in basketball history hanging from the rafters. Players such as Charles Barkley and Chuck Person once put this basketball team on the map at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum, and the tradition of greatness is still alive and well today.
With head coach Bruce Pearl at the helm of the men’s basketball team this season, the Tigers are a top-notch team as defending SEC Tournament champions with star players like Austin Wiley, Samir Doughty and Danjel Purifoy leading the program for the 2019-20 season.
There have been other stars to come and go, too. Rex Frederick, Chris Porter, Jeff Moore, Doc Robinson, Chris Morris, Marquis Daniels are all great basketball players of the past and hold a place in history.
But when talking about Auburn’s all-time starting five, this has to be the list:
Guard: Eddie Johnson (1973-1976)
This will undoubtedly be the most controversial pick on the list. The safe decision would be to put John Mengelt (1969-71) here and call it good. That would be a pretty great pick, too, considering the 6-foot-2 guard bucket-getter still holds the school record with 28.3 points per game his senior season, holds the top four spots on the single-game points record list, and is one of six numbers retired at Auburn.
However, “Fast Eddie” Johnson was simply better. Everyone remembers the speedy point guard for his life taking a major turn for the worse, including an expulsion from the NBA and several arrests. He is now currently serving a life sentence without parole at the Santa Rosa Correctional Facility after being convicted of sexual battery of a minor, among other charges.
But, man, on the hardwood, whether it was at the Division I or NBA level, Johnson was phenomenal. He is one of two players in Auburn history to earn All-SEC honors all four years, and he left the program as the all-time leader in career points and assists when his playing days for the Tigers were over.
All of those records were broken while Johnson enjoyed an 11-year career in the NBA, primarily with the Atlanta Hawks where he was a two-time NBA All-Star, but no matter how his life turned out, it’s hard to deny he is one of the best guards to ever play at Auburn University, but his jersey number was never retired.
Guard: Wesley Person (1991-1994)
With one of the purest shots in basketball history, the 6-foot-6 swingman from Brantley, Alabama really burst onto the scene and made a name for himself at Auburn. Sure, many would always think of him as Chuck Person’s brother, but he was an all-time great for the Tigers with over 2,000 career points before being the No. 23 overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft and enjoying a nice journeyman career in the NBA for seven different teams. He would be a great complementary scorer in today’s NBA.
Forward: Charles Barkley (1981-1984)
No introduction is really needed here. When you think of Auburn Tigers basketball, Sir Charles, a.k.a. “The Round Mound of Rebound” should be one of the first things that come to mind. Although undersized for his position throughout his career listed at 6-foot-6, but really 6-foot-4, Barkley was an absolute force for the Tigers, leading the SEC in rebounding in all three seasons he played, and guiding Auburn men’s basketball to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 1984.
Barkley was a special player, but that’s not all. His SEC Player of the Year and All-American honors, along with his sensational NBA career, Basketball Hall of Fame induction, and current broadcasting career, certainly prove his value as an all-time great player and ambassador for Auburn Athletics.
Forward: Chuck Person (1983-1986)
The program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,311 points and a two-time All-American, “The Rifleman” took the SEC by storm after his lone season playing alongside Barkley. He even led the Tigers to the Elite 8 in 1986 before being selected No. 4 overall in the 1986 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-8 forward was a solid pro, too, but his best and most dominant days were arguably at Auburn. Person, who recently was an associate head coach under Bruce Pearl, was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury in the FBI’s college basketball probe, but that should not change his image as a player because he was definitely one of a kind for the Tigers.
Forward: Mike Mitchell (1975-1978)
With big names like Barkley and Person, it’s kind of easy to forget a player such as Mitchell in Auburn basketball lore, but, my goodness, could he play. The 6-foot-8 athletic forward from Atlanta, Georgia currently holds the program’s career rebound record, is second on the scoring list behind Chuck Person, and earned All-SEC honors all four years. Mitchell even enjoyed a fine 13-year NBA career, where he was an NBA All-Star in 1981 with the San Antonio Spurs. Mitchell died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 55.
Coach: Sonny Smith (1978-1989)
The only coach in Auburn history to coach three-straight 20-win seasons, Smith helped the program reach its first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1984 and had the Tigers in the Big Dance for five consecutive seasons. He is also responsible for Barkley and Person playing for Auburn and that alone holds some merit. Smith didn’t have a phenomenal record at 173-154, but he had the most successful stretch in program history. Joel Eaves might have more wins and Cliff Ellis might have earned more accolades, but it’s hard to top the man who ran a clean program during the time basketball really began to boom in popularity.
This article was originally published November 27, 2018.