words Ryan Jones | portraits Trevor Paulhus

Isaiah Austin started going to Rose Park about three years ago, back when he was 14 or 15 and even skinnier than he is now. He knew he’d be tested by pickup runs loaded with older, more physical players. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. And that’s exactly why he went.

“It’s all about toughness,” Austin says. “It was a rude awakening when I first started going, and I used to get real frustrated. Now it’s good, though. I’m out there every Sunday.”

Austin just turned 18, and as he readies for  his senior season at Grace Prep Academy in  Arlington, TX, those Sunday runs with bigger, savvier players have been just one of many steps on his path dominating the high school ranks. Adding additional mass to his 7-1, 210-pound frame is another step, as is an increased willingness to use his size on the block. He’s taken a lot of steps already. There are more to come.

In a way, he’s always been on this path. “Man, I been around basketball my whole life,” he says. “I love the game. My mom says I used to be 2, 3 years old, dribbling in the bathroom with the door locked. She didn’t want me dribbling in the house, so that was the only place I could go.”

Austin’s commitment (and those covert ballhandling sessions) have paid off. Despite his rare height, he always had skills reminiscent of a guard, a package that has helped him develop into a freak in the Kevin (Durant and Garnett) mold: a center in height with the range and game of a guard.

Not to say he’s a finished product. “I’m trying get stronger,” Austin says, acknowledging scouts’ observations of his lack of bulk. “I take it to heart that people know what they’re talking about. At the same time, I’m still young. It’s going to take a while to put on some serious weight.”

Then there’s his post-up game—or lack thereof. Again, Austin recognizes the deficiency and understands what’s needed to correct it. “I never used to like playing with my back to the basket,” he says. “I’ve always been real agile and tried to stay in shape so I’m able to run the floor. That’s the easiest way to get your points. But now I’m developing my right and left hook.”

If he does get stronger, and if he can add a couple reliable post moves to his unstoppable outside-in game, Austin will more than justify his place at or near the top of the senior class rankings. He’ll also give Baylor another terrifying recruit to add to the recent collection of stars they’ve been stockpiling down in Waco. He committed to the Bears way back in August of 2010, and depending on who sticks around through next season, could give Baylor the scariest NCAA frontcourt in memory.

Of course, there’s no telling whether likely Lottery picks like Perry Jones and Quincy Miller will still be there next fall, but Austin can hope. “Q, Perry, Deuce Bello, I talk to those guys all the time,” he says. “We’re like one big family. We’re thinking about National Championships. I can’t wait to get on the court with those guys.”

But first thing’s first. While Austin’s got nothing left to prove in high school—he averaged 14 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocks as part of a state title team at Prep last season—the Texan’s not hurting for motivation. “My high school coach, Ray Forsett, pushes me in practice,” Austin says. “He tells me every day I can be great.” He’s surely headed in that direction.