Isaiah Austin entered his sophomore year projected to be drafted in the middle of the first round in next year’s NBA draft. The 7-foot-1 center for the Baylor Bears has been relatively ineffective in his sophomore campaign. Austin, who had shoulder surgery to repair a torn posterior labrum in early May, has seen a steep decline in nearly every statistical category this season.
The only positive for Austin this season has been his ability to defend the rim, as evident by his jump from 1.7 to 4.4 blocks per game. Every other facet of Austin’s game is alarmingly in decline. He is still averaging double figures in points, but has only reached double figures in two contests.
The most alarming statistic is the rebounding. At 7-foot-1, Austin had averaged 8.3 rebounds last season, and now has only mustered five rebounds per game. Teammates Cory Jefferson (9.8), Rico Gathers (5.8) and Taureen Prince (5.0) have sucked up rebounds for the Bears. Jefferson, projected to be taken in next year’s NBA draft, is averaging the same amount of minutes as Austin. Gathers and Prince have the same combined average of minutes as Austin.
Numbers never lie, but the woes for Austin exceed discrepancies in the stat column. Austin may be medically cleared, but he does not appear to be psychologically prepared to play this season. His style of play has changed, which could be due to compensation for the recovering shoulder. Austin has been content to float around on the perimeter and has been reluctant to crash the glass.
Entering the Maui Invitational, Austin had only grabbed three offensive rebounds in the team’s first four games. He was able to match that total in the quarterfinals against Chaminade, whose team average height is only 6-foot-4. In Wednesday night’s semi-final contest against the Dayton Flyers, Austin became Mr. Invisible.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew played his star forward eight minutes in the first half, and left him on the bench to start the second half because he was too soft to compete with the aggressive Dayton squad. Forced to sit the first six minutes in the second half, Austin watched his Bears fall behind by double digits.
Austin would respond well after being benched, with 10 points and six rebounds in the second half, a stark contrast to being shut out in the first half. It would be a stretch to say that Austin is back after one half, but he seemed to get a little piece of himself back with each possession.
So much in fact that Dayton took notice on Baylor’s final possession. Two Flyers boxed out Austin which allowed Jefferson to get the offensive put back for the game-winning bucket. The Bears led for two minutes and eight seconds, but still managed to gut out a 67-66 victory against a feisty Dayton team.
Baylor now advances to the championship game Wednesday night, and will face the Syracuse Orange.