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WVU basketball: Baylor freshman is one of nation's best

WACO, Texas - Most of the measures used to define Isaiah Austin explain not only why he was one of that nation's top recruits last year, but how he's become one of the country's best centers in his freshman season at Baylor.

Austin averages 14 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He leads the Big 12 Conference in rebounds, offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds. He's sixth in blocked shots per game (1.51) and 10th in field-goal percentage (48.2).

And Austin, of course, is 7-foot-1. His father Alex is 6-8 and played at Arizona State before spending 15 years in the NBA and several other leagues. Alex's brother, Ike, was a 6-10 center, another Arizona State product who played 11 years of his 20-year pro career in the NBA and was the league's most improved player in 1997.

"I've always been tall," Isaiah said. "I don't think there was one year where I just grew a bunch of inches. I was just always taller than everyone else."

Yet Alex had Isaiah at camps and clinics when he was 3 years old, when he was knee high to a point guard, when dunking was inconceivable and hook shots were darn near impossible. When Isaiah was little, he did what all little guys do.

"I could always dribble," he said. "For some reason, that's something I can do really well. I've got a gift, a natural talent God gave me."

This is where things start to become hard for Austin to explain. He does things that defy his height. He averages 1.1 assists per game. He sometimes bails out the Bears against pressure defense. He's shooting 19-for-58 from 3-point range.

The Big 12 preseason rookie of the year sometimes does things that make the Big 12's preseason player of the year, 5-11 point guard Pierre Jackson, shake his head.

"He's ridiculous," Jackson said. "You're not used to seeing 7-1 players dribble between players, dribble between their legs, dribble behind their backs, do spin moves, things like that. It shows you how much the game is evolving. It shows you how good of a player he is."

Austin had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots Saturday as the Bears (15-8, 6-4 Big 12) snapped a three-game losing streak with a win against Texas Tech. They look for back-to-back wins in Wednesday's 9 p.m. game at the Ferrell Center against WVU (12-11, 5-5).

"Offensively because can he shoot 3s and handle the ball, he really stretches the defense and makes it tough to guard a big guy like that," Baylor Coach Scott Drew said. "He's going to be down low as well, but that versatility makes him special."

Austin has scored in double figures in 17 of 21 games, but two of the four exceptions came in the losing streak. He has 12 double-digit rebounding games and nine double-doubles.

"He's a future pro," Jackson said.

Austin would rank five spots higher in the conference in shooting percentage if he hadn't attempted a single 3-pointer this season, but that would take away from his game and from Baylor's potential. He's made at least one 3 in 15 games - something no WVU player has done.

"I'm not going to brag on myself," Austin said, "but if I'm open, I'm going to knock it down. I can tell you that. I'm confident in my jump shot at all times."

The Bears are fine with it. In fact, they encourage it because it's part of their identity. It's what 6-11 Perry Jones III did for two years on campus before he was taken in the first round of last year's draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Austin, the third McDonald's All-American in Drew's 10 seasons, figures to be next in line.

"I knew Coach Drew was going to let me play," Austin said. "That's what he does with all his bigs. He let Perry bring the ball up a couple times when they needed it. He lets them pop it when they want to. Coach Drew trusts my game and definitely gives me the ability to go out there and let me feel free to do what I do."

Austin is still slight at just 215 pounds and he's not yet the type of post player he may be with more time in college. Austin is also a projected lottery pick in June's draft, though he's spent much of his time at Baylor working on frontcourt skills.

"The only time I work on my jump shot is when I'm on my own," Austin said. "I love shooting. When I'm in the gym, it's like my mind is cleared of everything I know, because they're making me do post drills, only because they want me to become the best player I can be."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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