Isaiah Austin, Baylor's 7-1 freshman, is the real deal, says OU's Hornbeak
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
1/30/13 at 7:18 AM
WACO, Texas - Isaiah Austin, Baylor's 7-foot-1 basketball terror, has a silly side typical of teenagers.
"He calls my granny his wife," said Je'lon Hornbeak, the Oklahoma guard who is Austin's good friend and former teammate at Grace Prep Academy in Arlington, Texas. "He'll be like, 'Come here, Wifey.' On his 18th birthday, my granny was like, 'You're too old for me. I'm leaving you.' He was like, 'Wifey, why you leaving me?' "
Typical of teenagers, Austin plays video games online. Typical of teens, he's still attached to his family. That's why he picked Baylor as the nation's No. 3-rated recruit last year, Hornbeak said, over the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona and Georgetown. Waco is 100 miles from Arlington.
"Close to his mom and his brothers and sister," Hornbeak said.
What makes Austin so different? Hornbeak knows that as well, from their time together at Grace Prep, and from all of the one-on-one battles the two have waged since sixth grade AAU ball.
"He has pro moves, which is crazy for a guy his size," Hornbeak said. "He can dribble. And he shoots above his head. He's already 7-foot. It's not the fastest shot, but it's above his head and he's already taller."
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the rest of the Sooners will discover what Hornbeak already knows - Austin might be a teenaged freshman, but he's on a fast track to the NBA.
Austin dropped 20 points and eight rebounds on Gonzaga Dec. 28, prompting ESPN basketball draftnik Chad Ford to compare his skill set to "a poor man's Kevin Durant." Austin hasn't done anything to discourage such comparisons since Big 12 Conference play began.
He has averaged 14.7 points in league games to help Baylor to a 5-1 league mark (14-5 overall), second to Kansas' 7-0. He has averaged nine rebounds, second to Iowa State's Melvin Ejim, while ranking third with 12 blocked shots and fourth with a 47.3 field-goal percentage.
OU just experienced the difference Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey can make in a game last Saturday. Now comes a whole different challenge from the 7-1 Austin.
"Exactly," Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. "Austin can move out and do a lot of different things out on the floor."
At least Romero Osby didn't have to worry about Withey wandering 20 feet from the basket and splashing 3-pointers at Kansas. That becomes an issue Tuesday night. So does Austin's dexterity with the ball in his hands. And there's always the rim-protecting on the defensive end.
Senior point guard Pierre Jackson remains Baylor's most indispensable player. But it's a freshman center who gives the Bears their star power.
Hornbeak couldn't be happier, for he remembers a time Austin didn't have the world at the tip of his condor-esque wingspan. He recalls meeting a 6-6 sixth-grader still trying to grow into his body. He recalls hearing more reasons Austin couldn't succeed than reasons he could.
"Everybody used to tell him, 'You've got gigantism.' They used to make fun of him," Hornbeak said. " 'You've had eye surgery and have to wear goggles.' Just about everything you can think of that could go wrong? They told him that.
"We were always behind him saying, 'Don't worry about it. Just keep praying and keep working.' "
Hornbeak said Austin did plenty of both. He overcame his detached retina - he wears goggles as a protective measure - and awkwardness and blossomed into a McDonald's All-American. The next step in the process is blossoming into an NBA draft lottery pick.
Will that occur next summer?
"He hasn't really talked about that," Hornbeak said.
There will be much rejoicing around the Big 12 when that day arrives, with Hornbeak celebrating most of all.
"That's like my brother," he said.
Oklahoma (13-5, 4-2 Big 12)
|Ht. ||Pt.|| Reb.|
|F|| M’Baye ||6-9|| 10.3 ||5.7|
|F ||Osby ||6-8 ||14.4|| 6.4|
|G ||Hield ||6-3|| 9.4 ||4.7|
|G|| Pledger ||6-4|| 10.9|| 3.2|
|G|| Hornbeak|| 6-3|| 5.4 ||2.6|
Baylor (14-5, 5-1 Big 12)
|Ht. ||Pt.|| Reb.|
|F|| Jefferson ||6-9 ||12.8 ||8.4|
|C|| Austin ||7-1 ||14.5 ||8.8|
|G ||Heslip ||6-2 ||8.4 ||1.3|
|G|| Walton ||6-1|| 6.9|| 4.1*|
|G|| Jackson ||5-10|| 18.7|| 5.9*|
*assists per game
OU up next
At Baylor 6 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Baylor's 7-1 freshman wows with pro moves
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Baylor's Isaiah Austin backs down TCU's Charles Hill Jr. earlier this month. The 7-foot-1 Austin has emerged as one of the Big 12's best players. TONY GUTIERREZ / Associated Press