Austin picks Vols

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With a commitment from highly regarded Larry Austin Jr., Tennessee's long search for an all-around point guard finally may have ended.

Austin, a 6-foot-1, 165-pounder from Lanphier High in Springfield, Ill., went public for the Vols during a 4 o'clock (CST) Thursday news conference at his school gym. Rated a four-star prospect, the No. 12 point guard and the No. 54 overall player in FOX Sports NEXT's spring rankings, he slipped to a three-star prospect and the No. 27 point guard in its summer rankings.

Fox national recruiting analyst Brian Snow recently called Austin "one of the most athletic and explosive backcourt players in the class of 2014."

Blake Turner, head man at Lanphier High, says Austin is everything a coach could want.

"He's a great kid, a great student/athlete and a hard worker," Turner told InsideTennessee. "He's a winner who plays hard at both ends of the floor, competes on every possession. He's regarded as one of the best defenders in the Class of 2014. He's a great leader and floor general who can get to the basket at will and finish strong at the rim."

When he isn't creating his own shots, Austin excels at setting up teammates.

"His passing is phenomenal; he's a great distributor," Turner said. "All the kids love playing with him because he can get the ball to kids who can't get shots for themselves."

Although Lanphier plays an uptempo game, Austin can manage a halfcourt offense, too.

"We get out and go but he can play both styles," Turner said. "He can grind it out in a halfcourt set but I think get-out-and-go fits him best."

In addition to his skills, Austin exhibits a high level of team spirit.

"I played him all over the place, wherever the best matchup was last season," Turner said. "He's a selfless kid. He played point guard in AAU because he knew that would be his college position but he played 1 (point) through 4 (power forward) for me without complaint. He's a great kid to coach who will be an asset to the program."

Big-time players rise to the occasion in big-time games, and Austin exhibited this knack last season against archrival and defending state champ Peoria Central.

"We beat them in overtime on their home floor," Turner recalled. "Larry just missed a triple-double — 33 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists — and took over the game in overtime."

Like other recruiters, Tennessee's coaches are impressed by Austin's rugged nature.

"They all like his toughness and ability to lead, plus the fact he's a winner," Turner said. "He competes to win, and those are the kind of guys coaches love to have."

Since C.J. Watson finished up at Tennessee in 2005-06, the Vols have spent seven years trying to convert high school shooting guards and combo guards into point guards. These included Ramar Smith, Jordan Howell, J.P. Prince, Bobby Maze, Trae Golden, Josh Richardson, Armani Moore and Jordan McRae.

Conversely, Austin already is an experienced point guard.

"At about 6-foot-1 his athleticism and speed with the basketball is impressive," Snow says. "Austin at times is a major problem for defenses since he can attack and simply break people down, and then he is a slick passer. Sometimes with that passing he gets too fancy and commits a turnover, but he has that raw ability to make plays, and also is a plus defender. The jumper is looking better, though there is still work to be done on that part of his game."

Nearly 20 programs offered scholarships. The schools pursuing him most vigorously reportedly included Stanford, Illinois, Indiana, Memphis, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Missouri, DePaul and Vanderbilt.

Austin averaged 17.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game as a junior last season, with his scoring mark ranking second in the Central State Eight Conference. He averaged 11.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as a sophomore, helping Lanphier to a fourth-place finish in the state tournament. He shot 53.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range that season.

Two years ago he helped the USA claim the gold medal in the 2011 Under-16 FIBA Americas Championship. He started all five games, averaging 7.2 points and 4.4 assists per contest.

In addition to his basketball ability, Austin is an Honor Roll student who was recognized for Lanphier's Good Citizenship Award. His idol is former Indiana University and NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas.

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