By Shehan Jeyarajah
Sophomore center Isaiah Austin officially announced he will forgo his final two years of college eligibility and declare for the 2014 NBA Draft. The decision came just under a month after his final college game, a loss to Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. How will Austin’s departure impact the Bears in 2014?
“Our coaching staff really enjoyed working with Isaiah for his two years at Baylor, and we want to thank him for his tremendous contributions to Baylor basketball,” head coach Scott Drew said. “His versatility and defensive prowess helped us win an NIT Championship and make a Sweet 16 appearance. He’s a tremendous player and a great role model in the community, and we look forward to watching him as he takes the next step to the NBA.”
Coming in as a highly touted big man out of high school, Austin made waves by scoring 22 points in his first collegiate game. Austin continued his impressive performance by scoring 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a tight loss to No. 13 Gonzaga and posted one of the most impressive lines of the season when he scored 19 points and totaled 20 rebounds in a loss to Oklahoma.
Austin came into his own late and was a big part of helping Baylor win the 2013 National Invitational Championship. After averaging 12.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game, Austin was named to the NIT All-Tournament team. The season was capped off with a 15-point, nine-rebound, five-block, four-assist performance on 6-for-7 shooting in the NIT Championship game under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Despite being projected as an NBA draft pick in 2013, Austin opted to return for his sophomore season after being diagnosed with a torn labrum in his shoulder. While he still likely would have been drafted, the labrum could have prevented him from completing full workouts with potential teams.
Austin struggled at times with consistency on offense during his sophomore campaign, but emerged as one of the best shot-blockers in the Big 12. In 38 games this season, Austin led the Big 12 with 119 total blocks, over 40 blocks more than second place Texas center Cam Ridley.
When it mattered most, Austin stepped up. In seven postseason games, Austin averaged 14.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game while helping the Bears achieve their third Sweet Sixteen in the past five seasons.
Austin finishes his career with averages of 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game on 45.4 percent from the field and 31.0 percent from three-point range.
There is some question about what Austin’s role will be at the next level. While he has outstanding size and length, he is incredibly skinny and will likely be pushed around by centers at the next level. While he may struggle against stronger players, Austin is an outstanding shot blocker and is an excellent shooter for a player of his size.
NBADraft.net projects Austin as a late second round pick, currently going to the Milwaukee Bucks at 48. Another draft service, DraftExpress, has him going to the Bucks with the 36 pick in the second round. Despite having shortcomings, a team will assuredly take a chance on the potential he brings.
Baylor will have a tall task trying to replace Austin in their lineup. After losing Austin and senior power forward Cory Jefferson, the tallest player who has played a game for the Bears is undersized 6-foot-8 forward Rico Gathers.
Redshirt freshman center Chad Rykhoek is 6-foot-11, but thanks to redshirting and hip problems, has yet to play a game in a Baylor jersey. Baylor will also likely rely on 6-foot-9 forward Johnathan Motley, who redshirted his first year in Waco.
With Austin’s departure, the Bears will be without a dominating frontcourt for the first time in years. The 2014-15 season will be an opportunity for Drew to prove that he can be successful without top of the line talent.
The 2014 NBA Draft will take place at 6 p.m. June 26 in New York City.