Nate Austin a pleasant surprise

BYU was expected to be much better and deeper in the post this season than it was late last season, thanks to Brandon Davies returning from suspension and Chris Collinsworth coming back from an injury. Well, BYU has been better, yet Davies has struggled with consistency and Collinsworth still isn't healthy. But freshman return missionary Nate Austin's play has been a real boost for BYU.

Nate Austin returned from a mission to McAllen, Texas in late August, and with BYU's talented returning post players and a host of newer post players on the roster, not many were counting on him playing much.

Austin left for a mission after graduating for a high school, so he also had redshirt available to him this year.

But the true freshman came out of nowhere to play significant minutes so far this season as a backup in the post. He has demonstrated a high level of hustle and scrappiness in the process.

"I think that Nate, when we were recruiting him, we were really excited about his size and his skill, and after his mission his skill level seems to be the same and he seems to be a little bit bigger," said Coach Rose. "So hopefully we can get him as much experience as possible and he can continue to play well. He's playing really well."

"I guess coming out, I was coming in to do my very best and work hard, and usually when you work hard, good things happen," said Austin. "And good things have happened. It wasn't really an expectation of mine, but it's worked out and I'm taking advantage of the opportunities I have."

Of course, as a return missionary, Austin had to deal with the unique challenge that is getting back in shape after taking a two-year hiatus. This was likely made even more difficult given the up-tempo system that BYU runs.

"It was brutal getting back into shape," said Austin. "It's not something I want to do again. I'm glad I have that out of the way. My legs are a lot better, my body's feeling a lot better than it did three, four months ago."

He credited the team's trainers and coaches for helping him get back into shape.

Austin said that despite his progress, he doesn't feel his conditioning is all the way back to his pre-mission days just yet. Nevertheless, he did say his confidence level is all the way back for the most part.

Helping Austin develop has been BYU's formidable one-two punch of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies. Hartsock is the Cougars' best players this season and a candidate for conference player of the year, while Davies hasn't been as consistent as one would like but has nevertheless shown that he can be a monster, like he was against No. 6 Baylor.

Austin said he learns everyday from Hartsock and Davies, including how they utilize different moves, get ready for games, play in games, and conduct themselves in games.

"Both Brandon and Noah are outstanding players," said Austin. "Both have great careers ahead of them, and so each day they come to practice, I watch them and learn from them. It's been great for me as a freshman to come in and have such great post players ahead of me to learn from."

He's also benefitted from the addition of Mark Pope to the coaching staff. Pope himself played in the post both in college – winning a national title at Kentucky – and the NBA.

"I think he's made all the difference for me," said Austin about Pope. "Like you said, he's a big guy, he knows how to play the position, and so it's helped me with my game, with my post moves, and really how to be a big guy in college."

At 6 feet 11 inches and 230 pounds, Austin is indeed a big guy, and the team's tallest playing member. Only redshirting freshman Ian Harward can match his height.

Given his size, Austin has demonstrated a remarkable shooting touch, as his 64.7 shooting percentage leads the team.

And that's not because he's only been taking close-range shots as a post player. Starting with BYU's game against Northern Arizona, Austin had a stretch of four consecutive games in which he made a three-pointer. If one were to take away Nick Martineau, who made his lone three-point attempt of the season, Austin is third on team with 44.4 percent outside shooting. Granted, he's only shot from outside nine times thus far.

While BYU has had post players such as Hartsock that can step out and shoot the three, they typically aren't Austin's size.

When asked when was the last time he had a player of Austin's size that could shoot that well from outside, Coach Rose said he didn't know if they've had anyone like that.

Austin's outside shooting has been a departure from his high school days at Lone Peak.

"I was definitely capable of doing it," he said about his three-point shooting in high school. "It wasn't a big part [of my game]. In high school I had a lot of good shooters [around me] like Tyler Haws … [and] other shooters, so I was mainly a post guy inside."

As long as he's making outside shots, Austin will continue to get the green light.

"If it's going in, it's going in, right?" he said.

Speaking of the aforementioned Haws, the two will play together at BYU once Haws returns from his mission after this season. Austin also played at Lone Peak with current Cougar Josh Sharp.

Austin said it helps getting comfortable playing with guys in high school and then continuing that as teammates at the college level, as they have already developed chemistry.

Austin is part of a talented freshman group playing for BYU right now, a group that also includes Matt Carlino, Damarcus Harrison and Anson Winder. Add Haws to the mix, as he will be a sophomore with the rest of them next season, and it's a group that should be quite the force to be reckoned with by the time they're done at BYU.

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