Austin waits on call
By By Richard Dark / EMG staff writer
June 26, 2003
NEW ORLEANS Former Sumter County High and Mississippi State standout Mario Austin has to feel like he has been all around the world during his compressed time frame that has included 19 stops in 19 cities in a whirlwind pre-draft workout circuit that has seen the 6-9 former Prep All-American and Meridian Star Player of the Year show his wares for nearly every NBA team.
With any luck, all the hard work and travel the ex-Bulldog has put in will pay off when commissioner David Stern calls his name in the first round of the NBA draft which will air tonight at 6 pm on TNT. One team that may be eyeing Austin is the New Orleans Hornets, whom Austin worked out for on June 17. "It's been a long process," Austin told the assembled New Orleans media. "It's tough to go from city to city. I'll just be glad when it's over and I can settle down."
Where he will finally settle down is uncertain, but sources close to the Hornets said his workout went quite well over at the Alario Center. Hornets Vice President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Bob Bass, the team's point man in evaluating talent, does not comment on any draft prospects specifically.
New Orleans holds the No. 18 selection in the first round and the early entry junior was forthright when asked where he hoped to end up. "It would be extra special," Austin said of playing for the team closest to his hometown of York. "My family could come and watch me play. I've been here quite a few times. It's home away from home."
The Hornets have good reason to look for size and frontcourt depth. With starting forward P.J. Brown testing the free agency market and the team readying itself for the move to the Western Conference after this season, bulk will be a needed commodity.
Reportedly, the Los Angeles Lakers are interested in both Austin and Brown, hoping to grab one at No. 24 and the other via the free agency route.
One thing is certain; all of the uncertainty will end tonight. Austin said he expects to go in the first round, but because he has only played with his back to the basket his entire career in Starkville, it could cause him to slip into the second round.
If he does not slip, however, he will become the seventh MSU alumnus to go in the first round, joining names like Erick Dampier, Jeff Malone and Donte Jones.
The Hornets also have the 18th and 48th picks in the draft and they will definitely need to stay away from long-term projects in favor of someone who can come in and help the team contend for the Eastern title in this, their conference swan song.
Some mock drafts tab Austin as heading to the Crescent City. Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune predicts the Hornets will "go local" and select Austin.
But New Orleans fans may well want to take that view with a grain of salt, as the longtime NBA writer has blasted the organization for hiring Hattiesburg native Tim Floyd as its head coach three weeks ago. Some other national media outlets have former Kansas forward Nick Collison slipping down to them.
However it turns out, Floyd is sold on Austin's competitiveness.
The 21-year-old declared for the draft after his second season under MSU coach Rick Stansbury, but after thinking it through, came back for a productive year that saw him put up just under 16 points and eight rebounds a game in leading the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament. Scouts have compared the 260-pounder to an Elton Brand or a Corliss Williamson-type of player.
One other Mississippian has slim hopes to go in the first round. Don't be too surprised if Starkville High phenom Travis Outlaw gets snapped up. Other players from the state hoping to hear their name called tonight are Austin's teammate Derrick Zimmerman, Jackson native Maurice Williams (Alabama) and Biloxi native Ronald Dupree (LSU).
In other Hornets news, the team continued to fill out its assistant coach slots on Wednesday, by adding former Hornet Kenny Gattison, to go along with Jan Van Breda Kolff, who was brought in Monday. Gattison played with the team in Charlotte from 1989 to 1995 and most notably, has served as an assistant on the bench previously in New Jersey.
Sources close to the team, say Floyd will round out his staff by hiring former Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons coach Alvin Gentry as early as Friday.