Nate Austin has played in more basketball games than any other player to ever wear the words "Brigham Young" emblazoned across their chest. He will play his final one (at least in the regular season) in the Marriott Center on Saturday against Gonzaga.
And after all those games, here's what I can say with full confidence about Austin: In every single one of those 147 games, he left everything he had on the floor. In every second of every one of his 2,684 minutes, Nate played as hard as he possibly could. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.
You can't say that about many players — or perhaps any, really. And that is what makes Nate Austin special.
You'd be forgiven if, watching him play for the first time, you didn't immediately think the big man from Alpine, Utah was much of a player. He's certainly tall and long, but he can move awkwardly, lurching from place to place like a lumbering bear that just finished a pretty intense juice cleanse. He's an adequate defensive player, but he's not necessarily known as a lock-down stopper and isn't much of a rim-protector for a man of his size. And on the other side of the ball, he doesn't really provide much of an offensive threat — he really only ever scores on uncontested layups and perhaps the occasional mid-range jump shot.
Why, you might ask, has a guy that's not really all that good at offense and only slightly better at defense played more than 2,500 minutes for a respectable Division I program?
The reason, my friends, is that while you're encountering him for the first time and asking why he's not doing all of the obvious things you'd expect, Nate Austin is quietly doing everything else — and doing it really, really hard.
Nate gives his body up on every play. He jockeys for position. He dives on the floor. He takes charges. He sets solid picks. He ties up jump-balls. He fouls opponents hard rather than give up open layups. He tips out rebounds to teammates — and often grabs them for himself.
And perhaps most importantly, he creates at least two or three extra possessions a game for his team all on his own out of pure hustle. And in a close game — like, say, the Gonzaga game earlier this year that Austin virtually won single-handedly with his herculean, unceasing effort— those extra few opportunities or a hustle play here and there can literally be the difference between victory and defeat.
Nate Austin does all of this, but he barely ever gets any recognition for the crucial role he's playing for his team. Not that he's asking for it. That's not the kind of guy Nate is. He doesn't need your accolades. He just wants to work and to win (and he's done plenty of both during his time in Provo).
But even if he doesn't want your praise, Austin deserves your respect. He is what every coach and every successful team want to have: he is the ultimate "glue" guy. The guy who will do anything he is asked to help his team win. The guy who never quits, not even for a second, no matter what.
It takes some serious dedication to be that guy. It takes some incredible internal fortitude to be that guy. It takes some astounding selflessness to be that guy. That's why there aren't very many of them.
But Nate Austin is that guy — and he has been that guy, every single game, every single minute, for the last five years.
And that is why Nate Austin is special — and why he will be missed.