The paradox of Cuonzo Martin being a Midwest man at a Southern school paid dividends Thursday.
Reaching his hands into the cookie jar of Illinois basketball talent, the Tennessee men’s basketball coach plucked out Springfield, Ill., point guard Larry Austin as a Vol for the 2014 class.
Austin announced his verbal commitment during an afternoon press conference at Lanphier High School, where he averaged approximately 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game, according to his coach, Blake Turner.
The Vols won out over scholarship offers from Memphis, Kansas State, Stanford, SMU, Creighton, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma State and DePaul.
“It’s a great fit and somewhere that I want to go,” Austin told the News Sentinel.
Austin, measuring 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, is ranked as the No. 100 overall recruit in the 247Composite, which equally weighs prospect ratings from major recruiting media outlets. He is ranked as the No. 24 point guard in the country and No. 8 recruit in the state of Illinois.
“The No. 1 thing is that Larry is a leader,” Turner told the News Sentinel on Thursday. “He’s our leader on and off the court and is great in the classroom. He’s just a winner. He competes on every possession on both ends of the floor and is widely regarded as one of the top defenders at (point guard) in the 2014 class.”
Austin’s commitment is Tennessee’s third from a player ranked in the 247Composite top 150. He joins Fayetteville, Ga., power forward Philip Cofer (No. 134) and New Orleans shooting guard Jordan Cornish (No. 142) as future Vols.
According to Turner, Tennessee has been recruiting Austin “for quite some time.” Assistant coach Jon Harris began the recruitment, while Martin, who hails from East St. Louis, Ill., became heavily involved recently, helping close the door.
“(Martin) texts me every
morning to see how I’m doing and we just have a great relationship,” Austin said. “Not only that, but he has a great relationship with my parents as well.”
Austin received a scholarship from Martin “two or three weeks ago” and was originally scheduled to take an official visit this upcoming weekend. That plan changed because Austin will instead travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train for the 2013 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship.
The official visit has been rescheduled for later this month. After that, Austin will travel to Indonesia in September with USA Basketball.
Offensively, Turner described Austin as “an uptempo guy” who distributes the ball well and creates for himself by attacking the basket.
“He’s got a real smooth pull-up jumper and is working on his 3-point a lot more and is starting to knock that down consistently,” Turner added.
On the recruiting trail, Turner has been receiving Division I interest since grade school. Bruce Weber, then the coach at Illinois and now at recruitment runner-up Kansas State, was known to show up at some of his eighth grade games. Austin’s first Division I offer came from Bradley when he was a freshman in high school.
“And then it all took off from there,” Turner said.
Austin previously played for Team Derek Rose on the AAU circuit alongside Chicago power forward Cliff Alexander, a consensus top-10 2014 player.
This summer saw Austin switch to the St. Louis Eagles of the Nike-sponsored EBYL and team with Missouri product Jordan Barnett, who committed Thursday to Texas, to lead the team to the Nike Peach Jam tournament. Austin is the sixth member of the team to commit to a D-I school.
“Larry really has a knack for getting guys shots who can’t get shots for themselves and that’s what you want out of a point guard,” Turner said.
In tune with Tennessee’s ideals, though, Austin’s strongest suit is on the defensive end.
“His man will not have a dominant game against him,” Turner said. “I can assure you of that.”
Austin fills a significant hole at Tennessee’s point guard position after the 2013-14 season. Other than freshman Darius Thompson, the list is lean when it comes to potential primary ballhandlers. This year’s point guard, Memphis transfer Antonio Barton, is essentially a one-year rental at the position.
“The (UT) staff said I’ll come in and play,” Austin said. “They’ve surrounded me with great guys to play with and I think I’ll be a perfect fit in the SEC.”
Martin holds one remaining open scholarship for UT’s 2014 class, possibly two, if UT junior Jarnell Stokes declares for the NBA draft following the 2013-14 season.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.