Baylor’s Frontcourt Depth Takes a Hit With Loss of Isaiah AustinPosted by Brian Goodman on April 23rd, 2014
This year’s round of early entry decisions has almost come to a close. On Tuesday afternoon, Julius Randle announced that he was leaving Kentucky, and while we wait for official word from a few of his former teammates, we can officially say goodbye to another accomplished collegiate big man. Last week, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Baylor center Isaiah Austin planned to declare himself eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft, and on Tuesday night, Austin confirmed that he would leave Baylor to take the next step in his career.
Austin came to Waco in 2012 as a highly-touted recruit and put forth a solid freshman campaign. While Baylor as a team fell flat and missed the NCAA Tournament despite fielding a talented group, Austin was hardly the problem. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and while he did most of his damage down low, he also stretched defenses by hitting 33 percent of his three-point attempts.
The 7’1″ center initially planned to enter the 2013 draft, but a shoulder injury kept him from taking the plunge. His return to campus — as well as that of Cory Jefferson — led the Bears to be tabbed to finish third in the Big 12 at the conference’s media day festivities back in October. However, Baylor had a disappointing regular season relative to those expectations and finished in the lower half of the standings, though they got hot late, proceeding to the Big 12 Tournament final and a spot in the Sweet Sixteen last month.
Although Austin didn’t develop as much as expected by fans and the media last year, he still enjoyed a very good season. Austin’s shooting regressed both inside and outside the three-point line, but he drastically improved as a big-time defensive presence. Austin swatted 12 percent of his opponents’ shots when he was on the floor, and blocked at least one attempt in each of Baylor’s final 17 games. Those blocks came at the expense of decreased rebounding numbers (Austin averaged 5.5 rebounds per game after posting 8.3 boards per contest in 2012-13), but the presence of Jefferson, Rico Gathers and Royce O’Neale on the blocks meant that Austin could afford to hedge out to swat shots.
Austin’s departure creates some questions for a Baylor frontcourt that will already be without Jefferson, who is on track to graduate next month, but Austin’s contributions aren’t irreplaceable. Taurean Prince and Gathers will return, and the next man up figures to be redshirt freshman Jonathan Motley. On top of that, Austin’s declaration gives head coach Scott Drew another scholarship with which to work. Currently, the Bears are connected to former LSU commit Deng Deng, who stands 6’8″ and could provide additional reinforcement down low if he commits.
Whether Drew uses that open scholarship or pockets it for the 2015 class, the roster turnover in Waco opens up a wide possibility of projections for Baylor next season with Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin also graduating. However, given the production of unheralded players like Prince, Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale on Baylor’s way to a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2014, we should never completely rule out Scout Drew’s ability to find diamonds in the rough to step into new roles and produce accordingly.