Larry Austin was well known in basketball circles long before he enrolled at Springfield Lanphier this fall. He was drawing rave reviews for his play with his junior high school team, and he is a starter already on the Lanphier varsity.
Lanphier lost a close game to Peoria Manual, but Austin was still glad to play on the home court of the Illinois basketball team.
"It was a good experience to play in the Assembly Hall. If we had won it would have been a better experience. But our team still fought well."
Head coach Chuck Shanklin saw a bigger picture for his young team.
"This is something that is very special. The state tournament used to be here. A lot of kids don't get a chance to play on this floor. We talked about how special an opportunity it was, and that's exactly what it was."
Austin is frustrated in his effort to gain the respect of upperclassmen on the team, but this is common when a freshman tries to mesh with much older players. He is not a primary option on the offensive end yet, but that will come with time according to his coach.
"Yeah, but he knows he's got an upperclassman right next to him, and they're constantly growing. They're going to flourish together."
Shanklin is pleased with Austin's play, especially considering his youth.
"His game is coming along. You've got to understand he's a freshman playing varsity basketball, and he's gonna have his ups and downs. But regardless of the fact, he's growing the way we need him to and want him to."
Austin hit two nice mid-range jumpers in the game, but the rest of his 16 points were on layups. He is considered a likely point guard in the future and became a primary ball handler when Manuel pressed. But he plays where needed right now.
"They have me playing the one through the three. It really doesn't matter which one I play, as long as it helps contribute to helping my team win."
It seems strange to ask a high school freshman about his college possibilities, but such is the life of a young prodigy.
"I'm not even thinking about college. I'm just focusing on my team right now. I'm still keeping my options open."
Illinois is recruiting him, and a number of other schools have made inquiries.
"I've got questionnaires from Michigan State, Florida State, Indiana, Marquette, Xavier, Minnesota, Iowa, Drake, DePaul, Purdue and a couple more."
So far, the nearly 6'-0" youngster doesn't mind the notoriety.
"Yeah, it's been a humbling experience. I've been enjoying it. It's been enjoyable for my parents also."
A frequent visitor to Illini games, some assume he will commit soon. That is not the case.
"I haven't got an offer from them yet. If they were to offer, I wouldn't answer to it right now because I'm still a freshman. I have four years to go."
Despite the depression of the close loss and the experience of having multiple media representatives surrounding him in the post game interview, Austin handled himself well. He is well-spoken and intelligent and handled the assignment better than some college kids.
"Yeah, a little bit (weird), but it's all right."