EDWARDSVILLE — Every coach appreciates the players who are willing to take the extra steps needed to make themselves better players.
That's exactly what Southern Illinois University Edwardsville women's basketball has in sophomore guard Tierny Austin.
"I try to be the hardest working person in practice, so there is no difference in the games," said Austin. "They feed off my energy, and sometimes I feed off of theirs too."
Austin's process has been to take extra shooting after practice, gather more knowledge about opponents by watching video, and learn her opponent's tendencies.
"After preseason workouts, she would always come in and want to shoot extra. She has worked on her game tirelessly, and it has showed," said SIUE coach Paula Buscher.
Austin leads the team in minutes played per game at 32 and is second on the squad in scoring behind senior Raven Berry, a Collinsville graduate, with 11.8 points per game. Among starters, Austin is second in field goal percentage (.446) and free throws made (76), steals (33), and is first in blocks (11).
"She is a young lady who has great potential ahead of her even though she is having a very good season this year because she is becoming a student of the game," said Buscher of the Rockford native.
The Cougars travel to Tennessee-Martin for a 2:30 p.m. game Saturday with the Skyhawks.
Austin said she sets goals for herself on the court and in the classroom. The social work major said she simply aims to study hard, try to do better each semester, and get a good grade point average.
"There's always something new with social work that will keep me interested," Austin said. "I'm very curious, and I like to help people with their problems and give them my opinion."
That work ethic spills out onto court. Austin is often handed the most difficult assignment on defense by Buscher and her coaching staff. It's a role she relishes this season, but she knows there has been and will be an evolution to her game.
"She is going to be the face of SIUE women's basketball," SIUE Associate Head Coach Kari Kerkhoff said. "The younger kids are already starting to look up to her. The mentality of taking on the biggest challenge and going through the wall is what we want to see out of the players who follow Tierny."
That may not be how some coaches viewed Austin in the past. She started playing high school basketball a little late at Auburn High School.
"I quit basketball my freshman year of high school. I think it was the change that overwhelmed me," she said.
After missing preseason practice, she attended a few varsity games and found herself doing a play-by-play of the game. She would note what needed to be done or what could be done better. At that point, she knew she had to get back.
"My coach (Xavier Hoover) put me on the freshman team to punish me," Austin said. Her handful of games resulted in more than 20 points per contest. She was quickly promoted to the varsity. She passed 1,000 career points during her junior season and averaged 21.7 points per game as a senior en route to Athlete of the Year honors.
Austin may not be the typical college basketball player. The offensive numbers have gone up and improved, but she said defense is the place to be.
"Offensively I try to drive with the ball; I don't like to shoot much," she said. "Defensively, I like to go for the steals. I love taking charges because it gets the intensity up."
In just two seasons, Austin has seen many changes at SIUE. As a freshman, her role was to come off the bench and provide a boost of energy.
This season her role has been one of the steady starter. She is one of two players to start in all 19 games. Austin doesn't take the most shots and doesn't control the flow of play, but she is someone her teammates look to for inspiration.
Buscher said Austin made one of the biggest jumps from the preseason to now. As a loyal backup last season, she demonstrated how staying in shape pays benefits as an individual as well as for the team.
"Physically, she is very good shape, and that has enabled her to work on her individual skills," Buscher added.
Austin has taken an active role in her progression as a basketball player.
She works out with Gene Houston back home in Rockford during summer breaks and makes sure she is ready for the rigors of college basketball.
Austin believed she was ready for anything the coaches could throw at her last season as well as this season, and that has been the case.
One flaw, she noted, is that teammates and coaches often have to tell her to let the game come to her. Work the offense. Calm down.
"I try to listen to what people tell me and consider it constructive criticism," she said. "I feel like I have grown into it. I got comfortable with the offense and let it come instead of just forcing it."
Expect Austin to venture into another role next season. With five seniors on the roster this season, the Cougars will have several new faces next season.
"Next year I will have to be more of a leader, like Raven. I feel like I have to step in and fill her shoes," Austin said.