Expressing his voice: Larry Austin Jr. brings unique emotion to men's basketball
Walking through the dark and silent basement halls of McGuirk Arena, it was another normal Wednesday morning of practice for the Central Michigan men's basketball team.
The closer you creep to the doors which enter the court, you begin to hear the squeaking of shoes across the slick floor and faint yells from the players. However, there's one voice you could pick apart from the rest and make out the words being said before opening those doors.
"Aye man, let me get it, one more shot!"
It's the same voice you hear from start to finish, loud and clear on game days.
That voice belongs to Larry Austin Jr., who is becoming well-known around the program.
"He helps in practice more than anything," said head coach Keno Davis. "Obviously, Larry is essential for what we do in games but we don't have many practices that aren't intense.
"It's because of what Larry brings each and everyday. There's not many wired like him, it's who he is."
Austin plays with a style that comes from always having a chip on his shoulder. He's felt since the day he started playing basketball he obtained the mentality of a grinder — a player who doesn't stop working.
Whether it's getting a steal or fighting through traffic to hit a contested layup, he lets his opponents know he made that play after it's over with a flex of his muscles or a roar of emotion. The guard doesn't think of it as cockiness, but confidence, which he instills in his teammates.
"Guys like Shawn (Roundtree) and Rob (Montgomery) get on me if I'm not being vocal enough. They say to me, 'Man, we feed off that energy, we need your energy,'" Austin said. "We have to be a team playing with a high intensity to win games, it's just how I play and we play."
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound slasher for the Chippewas comes from Lanphier High School. It was there Austin began to learn to play with a "dog mentality."
As a senior, Austin had his best campaign for the Lions, averaging 22.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists and 4.2 steals. He guided his team to a 25-0 start which set a new record for the high school and the city of Springfield, Illinois as a whole. The team finished 27-2 and he said it was in that season where he began to learn leadership.
He credits those skills to his former coach Blake Turner, who has been the coach of the Lions since 2012. Turner said he always held Austin to a high standard because he knew his ability to be an asset at the college level.
"I always preached him to be better than good and not just to be good but great," Turner said. "He never took a day off. At practice he worked harder than anyone and I know people always say that about players but it was true with him.
"He set the foundation for our team that went on the 25-0 run, it doesn't surprise me he's chasing a title with Central Michigan and Keno (Davis)."
Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors, former CMU assistant and ex-NBA player Kevin Gamble and many more professionals have come from Lanphier. What those players have in common is they all have a defensive mindset on the floor.
Austin said he looked up to players like that during his time with the Lions. He added that Turner did a great job of teaching them how important defense is to play intensely on every possession.
"You can go out there and score as many points as you want but if you aren't getting stops on the defensive end you won't be winning championships," Austin said. "I use my emotions to show I'm confident to get those stops by being vocal towards my opponents, I want to let them know I'm here."
There were times when Austin didn't always have the chance to be a leader — or on the court at all, for that matter.
Austin originally signed his letter of intent with Tennessee to play basketball. He later decommitted on April 23, 2014, because coach Cuonzo Martin left for California. He wanted to play for Martin because of the defensive mindset he brought to the game.
This led Austin to reopening his recruitment before electing to start his collegiate career with Xavier. He spent time with Musketeers from 2014-16. It wasn't the right fit, so he transferred to Vanderbilt for the 2016-17 season. He never averaged more than 11 minutes per game in a season for either school.
Turner felt it was hard for Austin to find the same groove he had coming out of high school when a majority of his contests were being spent looking on from the bench.
"Due to the his choice to leave Tennessee he only had six weeks to sign with another school and sort of rushed into the choice with Xavier," Turner said. "It was never really the right fit. He reached out to me after his season with Vandy and when we got to talking about Central Michigan, I told him I thought it was a chance for him to be him and make a statement.
"Now he's getting to be himself again, playing with that scowl on his face and that light in his eyes."
The Springfield native has made it clear he was the right fit for the Chippewas on both ends of the court. Through 22 games, Austin currently leads CMU and is fifth in the Mid-American Conference in scoring at 17.6 points in 32.9 minutes per game. He also leads the MAC with 5.6 assists and is second for the Chippewas with six boards per game. On defense, he is second in the league with 2.2 steals per outing.
Austin agrees that CMU was the best thing that could've happened to him. He's a firm believer that everything falls into place if you give it time. With CMU, he is the person he was at Lanphier High School — the player with that inner-dog mentality.
"I'm just out here having fun and sometimes just having fun is the best thing you can do," Austin said. "I'm playing for my teammates and something bigger than me, it's for everyone that follows our team."
When that Wednesday practice came to a close, Austin was the last player to walk off the court. The sounds of his footsteps echoed in the gym.
It was only fitting he left McGuirk Arena with its final sounds from another practice.