Illinois basketball adds walk-on Alex Austin

The Illinois men’s basketball roster got a little deeper last week.

Alex Austin, a 6-foot-4 guard from Eastern Illinois, announced his intent to transfer to Illinois and join John Groce’s team as a walk-on. Austin played two seasons at Eastern, averaging 8.2 points and 2.4 rebounds per game for the Panthers. Per NCAA rules, he’ll have to sit out the 2014-15 season at Illinois and will have two years of eligibility remaining following next season.

Basketball talent runs in Austin’s family. He is the son of Woody Austin, a standout player for Purdue in the early 1990s.

Austin joins the Illini as the team’s second walk-on alongside junior guard Mike LaTulip. He is also the sixth player from Chicago on the squad, and he played with point guard Tracy Abrams in high school at Chicago Mount Carmel. Austin was a dominant high school player, as he averaged 18.9 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior.

Austin told the Champaign News-Gazette that Groce emphasized the likelihood of limited playing time to him during a meeting with his future walk-on last week. It’s a struggle that’s common for most college walk-ons, as many don’t see their contributions to the team extend past the practice floor. Still, Austin may have the size and experience to occasionally see some game action.

While LaTulip has seen extremely limited minutes in his career, it’s not unprecedented for walk-ons to make an impact on the floor for the Illini basketball program.

Nate Mast was a guard from Champaign that played from 1997-2001 for the Illini, and he saw a considerable amount of action on the court. He was even inserted into the starting lineup a few times. Jerrance Howard was a walk-on from 1999-2004 and went on to become an assistant coach at Illinois under Bruce Weber.

The most successful walk-on in recent history was Jack Ingram, a forward that suited up for the Illini from 2002-05. After starting his Illini career as a walk-on, he eventually earned a well-deserved scholarship from Bill Self. Ingram backed up starting center James Augustine and was a fan favorite and unsung hero of the 2005 squad that finished 37-2 and made it to the Final Four.

Alex is a junior in AHS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @aroux94.