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Vol.26, No. 17 Mar. 10, 2001

Ivy Coaches Name Craig Austin Player of the Year

By Jason Hollander

Craig Austin is having a very good month. On March 9, the junior forward became the second player in Columbia history to be named Ivy League player of the year. A week later he earned All-America honorable mention from the Associated Press.

Austin achieved the honors on the strength of scoring 18.4 points per game (20.1 per game in Ivy League contests) and hitting 41.1 percent of shots from 3-point range for the season.

A few of Austin’s peers on the All-America honorable mention list include probable NBA players Brendan Haywood ( North Carolina), Jarron and Jason Collins (Stanford) and Sean Lampley ( California).

Columbia’s Buck Jenkins shared the Ivy League honor with Penn’s Jerome Allen in 1992-93.

“It feels very good,” said Austin, who was home for spring break when he heard the news by phone from Head Coach Armond Hill.

Hill believes Austin is especially deserving of the awards because of the leadership he demonstrated at crucial times. “He made every big shot down the stretch when we needed it,” said Hill. “That’s the sign of a guy who has reached another level.”

In the second half of the season, as Columbia went on a tear winning eight of its last 12, Austin averaged an impressive 23.4 points per game (on 49.1 percent shooting from the field), 4.7 rebounds, 3 assists, 49.2 percent shooting from 3-point land and 81.7 percent from the line.

But Hill also notes that Austin has earned the respect and recognition of coaches and journalists for possessing an all-around game. “He plays both ends of the floor,” said Hill. “A lot of people just look at his scoring, but he works just as hard on the defensive end.”

With the help of back-to-back wins over Princeton and Penn, a feat not accomplished by the Lions since 1986, Columbia finished the season strong and managed to tie Harvard and Yale for fourth place in the league with a record of 7-7. Austin is determined to help the team place higher, noting he would quickly trade the honors for an Ivy title next season.

A political science major, Austin has already moved into elite company during his three years as a Lion. He recently became only the third Columbia player to reach 1,000 points as a junior and the 22nd overall to pass the plateau. Receiving all-Ivy honors for the second straight year, Austin scored 30 or more points in four games this season and was among the League’s top 16 in every major statistical category, including: scoring (3rd), rebounding (16th, 4.6 rpg), assists (10th, 2.3 apg), blocks (13th, .5 bpg), steals (10th, 1.4 spg), field-goal percentage (5th, .451), three-point field goals (3rd) and free-throw percentage (3rd, .811).

Austin credits extra time spent in the gym this year for his success from beyond the three-point line. “Shooting is something I’ve worked on a lot,” said Austin, who believes finding “the zone” begins with sinking the first few shots. “Once you hit it a couple of times, you start to feel it. Then it just seems to flow.”

Hill said that despite the reserved demeanor of the 6’6” junior, Austin plays a key role as a team leader. “At crucial times, he’ll say something in the middle of the huddle to show his passion,” said Hill. “He’s like E.F. Hutton-when he says something to his teammates, they listen.”

Another Lion received recognition from Ivy coaches when sophomore center Chris Wiedemann earned all-Ivy League honorable mention for his strong performance in the post this season. The Pleasanton, Calif, native led the league in blocks with 1.74 per game, and averaged 9.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in Ivy contests.