Millions of dollars staring him in the face could not pull Mario Austin away from Mississippi State. The chance to win a national championship could not pull Austin away from the NBA. In the end, the biggest decision of Austin's young life came down to a simple promise."> Millions of dollars staring him in the face could not pull Mario Austin away from Mississippi State. The chance to win a national championship could not pull Austin away from the NBA. In the end, the biggest decision of Austin's young life came down to a simple promise.">

Mario Austin: A True Team Leader

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/basketball/maustin.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="165"> Millions of dollars staring him in the face could not pull Mario Austin away from Mississippi State. The chance to win a national championship could not pull Austin away from the NBA. In the end, the biggest decision of Austin's young life came down to a simple promise.

"I have always told my mother that I would get my degree," said Austin about his decision. "When I left here for a little while and got a chance to just look at everything and make a decision, I knew what I had to do. The best thing for my education was for me to be in school this year."

Searching through his options allowed Austin to reevaluate his game against NBA standards and his own desire. This gave Austin fuel for his return to MSU.

"I know that I have some things that I have to work on to become the player that I want to be," said Austin. "I have to work on my ball handling and my perimeter game. I also want to improve on the defensive side too. My footwork has always been good, but I know that I can improve."

That desire to improve his perimeter game was the breeding ground for a new look for MSU basketball this season.

"We are already working on me playing the four this year. That is going to happen," said Austin. "Coach (Rick) Stansbury told me when I came here that my future is at the four. I had to play the five for two years, but now we have some guys that can play the five."

While he knows that his future is playing the four, Mario has not forgotten what has gotten him to where he is now.

"When I first got here all I worried about was scoring and how I did on offense. I just looked over defense," said Austin. "Last year I really matured a lot and grew up. I knew I had to focus on defense, and the offense would come. That is when I feel I started acting like a man."

Austin's attention to defense led to many of the charges taken this past year, which electrified the crowd and got the Bulldogs going.

"I would like to say that I bring more energy to this team than anyone else, but I can't," said Austin of his role on the Bulldog squad. "I call Z (Derrick Zimmerman) 'energy man' because he is always going. I guess I would say that I bring excitement to this team. I want to go out everyday and get everyone else going. Whether I take a charge, block a shot or knock down a big shot, I want to get my teammates going."

He may not have meant to get his teammates going last semester when he left school, but Austin has noticed a change in the attitudes of a couple of his teammates.

"Zimmerman and Timmy have always been leaders on this team, but I think they took it on themselves when I left to carry this team," said Austin. "Timmy has really started speaking out more lately. Those guys have really stepped it up. I think they will be the best guards in the NCAA this year."

Austin knows that he has two proven leaders on this team, but he also realizes that he has to help the younger guys step up and play this year.

"We lost Michael Gholar, and you just can't replace a guy like him. But, we have some guys that could really step up and be that kind of intense, clutch player like he was," said Austin. "Guys like 'Harp' (Ontario Harper) and Brandon Vincent could really step up and play. I just have to keep showing them what it takes, and keep them going."

With the new line up this year and the improved play of some young guys, Austin has high hopes for this year's team. But, his high expectations do not stop with just the team.

"We are going to win the national championship. That I what I came here to do, and we have the team to do it," said Austin very confidently. "I also think that I can go out there and prove my worth on this team. I want to be SEC Player of the Year. I think I got looked over last year, so I am going to prove myself this year."


Grant Alford is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. He is a student at Mississippi State University. You can contact him by email at sportswriterdawg@yahoo.com.

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