NCAA: Isaiah Austin Full Of Potential
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Waco, Texas, the home of the Baylor Bears, is a small town. Its only 95 square miles, but that’s just large enough to serve home to one of the best big men in the nation in freshman Isaiah Austin.
The Bears’ advanced to the Elite Eight last season behind the strong play of their frontline of Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. The three of them were all drafted, leaving a major void for head coach Scott Drew to try and fill.
Austin has made the most of the opportunity. He’s playing 30 minutes a night and scoring 13.9 points per contest while grabbing 8.6 rebounds for the Bears, who are 8-3 on the year.
Like most freshmen, Austin battles with inconsistency. On some nights he’s dominant, while on others he looks like a freshman who was playing high school basketball at this time last year.
What separates Austin from other freshmen and most draft prospects as well is his versatile skill set at his size. Austin is a seven footer with the ability to hurt teams with his jump shot along with his length and athleticism. He’s even comfortable putting the ball on the floor and shooting off of the dribble.
The only thing keeping Austin from being just on the outside of the number one overall pick conversation is his size. He’s generously listed at 220 lbs, but needs a lot of work in the weight room in order to hang with the grown men who patrol the paint in the NBA. Eventually he should be able to play center in the NBA, but right now he has the make of a power forward. It’s not out of the question to think that he could eventually settle in at the four spot at the next level since he has the skill set to do so, but his most ideal position looks to be the five with the mismatches he would create. His skill set is far more common in fours than it is fives.
Austin is already a high-impact player as a freshman and the scary thing is that he is only scratching the surface of his full potential. He’s only going to get better as he continues to play a major role for the Bears.
There has to be serious doubt at Baylor over how long Austin is going to be with the program. Although he is far from being physically ready for the NBA, he’s the most-gifted big man offensively to come around since Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was a Kentucky Wildcat. Teams are already falling in love with his potential and will draft him in the lottery based off what he can be rather than what he currently is. If he turns that potential into reality this season and helps lead the Bears to a deep postseason run, we’re talking about a player who could go in the top five.
It’s going to be a difficult decision for Austin to choose whether or not he wants to be a star at Baylor for another year or go to the NBA and have to be really patient for his opportunity to come along.
If Austin needs advice, there are three former Bears who can tell him first handed how difficult life in the NBA can be when you’re not ready to play right away. The aforementioned Acy, Jones III and Miller are rarely seeing the floor for their respective teams. The only instances they see minutes like they did at Baylor is if they are assigned to the Development League.
By sticking around for his sophomore season, Austin could take a Cody Zeller-esque jump up the draft boards. Zeller was good enough as a freshman to guarantee himself a spot in the top 15. However, knowing he could greatly benefit from another year of school, Zeller decided to stick around. Now, not only are his Hoosiers one of the favorites to win a national championship, but he’s at the top of most mock draft boards.
There’s no reason the same can’t be the case for Austin next season.
Regardless of what decision he makes when the time comes, bright days are ahead for Austin as long as he maintains the proper work ethic and dedication level.
Prior to the start of the season, Austin made it clear that he is not focusing on the NBA Draft or looking to be one-and-done. He’s been far too good, though, to ignore the possibility for much longer.
Kabongo’s Suspension Reduced: Texas got a bit of good news as the NCAA has reduced its suspension of their starting point guard Myck Kabongo to 23 games. The 11 games Kabongo has already missed count towards the suspicion; he will be eligible to return on Feb. 13 against Iowa State. That will give him eight games on the year in addition to how postseason games Texas plays.
Kabongo’s suspension is a result of accepting impermissible benefits during a workout trip with former teammate Tristan Thompson, who now plays with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While it is far from ideal for Kabongo and Texas, this is better than the original ruling, which would have had him out for the entire season. It should be enough time for him to show what he can do and how much he’s improved from a NBA Draft perspective. If it’s not, Texas will undoubtedly take keeping him for a third year as consolation for him missing most of this season.
Kabongo is one of the top point guard prospects in the country. He was expected to really boost his stock this year since he didn’t have to share the backcourt with J’Covan Brown any longer. Eight games may not be much, but look no further than Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving and Utah Jazz big man Enes Kanter for an example of how high players without an extensive body of work can go.
Jabari Parker Chooses Duke: This week Jabari Parker, one of the best players in the 2013 recruiting class and a serious NBA Draft aprospect, ended his recruitment by committing to Duke. Parker is a Chicago, Illinois product who attends Simeon High School, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose’s alma mater. BYU, Michigan State, Florida and Stanford were also in the mix for Parker.
Parker is a well-rounded prospect with a high skill level. He’ll be expected to star at Duke from day one in a role that could potentially be similar to the one Chicago Bulls point guard Luol Deng played during his lone season at Duke.
While Parker’s decision hasn’t been received well by the other fan bases, it’s impossible to fault a player for choosing Duke. He’ll have the opportunity to learn from one of the best ever in Coach K and be one and done if he pleases.