Nate Austin injured his hamstring prior to the Utah game on December 10 of last year — and he remained sidelined the rest of the season.
If there was a silver lining in that unfortunate situation for Austin, it was that his injury came right before he surpassed playing in 30 percent of BYU's 35 games. This qualified him to receive a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA that has allowed him to return to the Cougars as a fifth-year senior for the upcoming season.
Since he's been around the program for so long, Austin's strengths and weaknesses on the basketball court are very well known. He will provide his team with the type of high-volume rebounder that BYU did not have among its big men last year — he averaged almost 8 rebounds per game as junior in 2013-14. What differentiates him from other big men is his sheer desire to grab the ball, even diving on the floor at will when necessary. While his energy and effort can sometimes lead to unnecessary foul trouble, that should be less of an issue this season as he will likely see fewer minutes overall while splitting time at the center position with Corbin Kaufusi.
Offensively, Austin is a reluctant shooter. In the past two seasons combined, he's averaged one shot attempt every 10.7 minutes played — way down from the one shot attempt every 4.2 minutes he posted as a freshman. He has flashed the ability to connect from the perimeter, but he hasn't really shown off that skill since his sophomore season in 2012-13. With the abundance of scorers available on the guard line, plus the addition of an interior scorer in Kyle Davis, Austin will likely continue to shoot sparingly and provide limited contributions on offense.
While Austin might not put up too many points, he does have the opportunity to mentor some of the younger big men on the roster — primarily returned missionaries Jakob Hartsock and Braiden Shaw. While those two pack more offensive firepower than Austin, he can set a great example for the two freshmen with his defense, hustle and effort. At 205 and 210 pounds respectively, Hartsock and Shaw will learn from going against Austin in practice that they'll need to bulk up a bit and embrace physical play as they transition to Division I basketball.
BYU is projected to be much better defensively than they were last season when they gave up over 73 points per game, and Austin is a big reason why. Since he likely won't have to worry as much about foul trouble in fewer minutes than the past couple of seasons, he'll be able to help cover up any defensive mistakes by the guards with his ability to be mobile and move quickly from point A to point B on defense.
Dave Rose will be very thankful that he has Austin on this team for one final season.