By Greg DeVries
Baylor fell to the eventual National Champion, Kentucky, last year in the Elite Eight 82-70. A big reason for Kentucky’s success was its 6-foot-10-inch freshman Anthony Davis.
Davis torched the Bears that game for 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. Baylor had no answer for the Associated Press Player of the Year and eventual first overall pick in the NBA Draft.
So what did Baylor head coach Scott Drew do about it? He went to Arlington and got an Anthony Davis of his own, minus the unibrow. This one goes by the name of Isaiah Austin.
Freshman center Austin is three inches taller than Davis, and the players are very comparable. Physically, they are similar. Both are very tall, slender, and have wingspans that extend more than 7 feet.
Their skill sets are also similar. Both players have very versatile games that start on the defensive end. Davis broke the record for most blocks in a single season with 183, and Austin led his high school team with five blocks per game.
In Baylor’s exhibition game against Abilene Christian, Austin only recorded one block in 20 minutes, but the Wildcats struggled to get shots off in and around the paint while Austin was in the game. Baylor won the exhibition game 103-75.
“I thought he communicated well on the defensive end,” Drew said after the game. “He did a lot of good things, and he’s done a lot of good things in practice.”
Both Davis and Austin possess skills that are uncharacteristic of players their size. Austin can handle the ball well, and he can step out and hit long-range shots. Against ACU, Austin shot 1-2 from beyond the three-point arc.
Austin may, in fact, be one of the best three-point shooters on the team.
“I think I’m better than Brady [Heslip],” Austin joked. “I’m just playing, but I have a pretty nice shooting touch…Pierre has a nice shot [too].”
Austin’s combination of size and athleticism is also comparable to former Baylor Bear Perry Jones III. Despite being tall post players, both can take defenders off of the dribble and get to the basket.
“I’m very athletic. I’m very agile for my size,” Austin said. “I’m 7-1, I can run the court like a guard, I can block shots, I can rebound. When my team needs me to, I can score.”
Austin was a consensus top-5 national recruit this past year. He was listed as the third-ranked incoming freshman in the nation by ESPN, behind Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad. His teammates agree that he is a great player to have on their side.
“I’ve had Isaiah’s [phone] number since my freshman year of high school,” freshman forward Rico Gathers said. “He always wanted me to play AAU ball with him, but I never got a chance to. It’s going to be pretty interesting to be able to play with a guy like him.”
Gathers is also optimistic about Austin’s skill set playing a big part in the Bears’ success this season.
“He brings a silver platter,” Gathers said. “He’s that player that you want to have on your team rather than going against him.”