10/31/2013 3:00:00 PM Austin Clark signs National Letter of Intent for basketball scholarship at Huntington
Switzerland County senior basketball player Austin Clark signed a National Letter of Intent on Friday morning to play basketball collegiately at Huntington University. It is a full tuition, four year scholarship. Shown here at the official signing are, from left: Switzerland County varsity coach B.J. McAlister; Huntington University head coach Ty Platt; Austin Clark; Paula Clark; and Steve Clark.
Switzerland County Pacer senior basketball player Austin Clark knew early that he had found his college home. After starting on the high school floor and also during the AAU season, he had plenty of choices when it came to where he would play basketball at the collegiate level.
But when he made an official visit to Huntington University in August, he knew where he wanted to be.
"Coach Platt or one of his assistants was at every AAU game I played in except for the Nationals in Orlando," Austin Clark said. "When I made a visit there and played with some of the players; and then took my official visit there, I just knew it was the right place for me."
After giving Huntington head coach Ty Platt a verbal commitment, the senior Pacer made it official on Friday morning when he was joined by family and friends as he officially signed his national letter of intent.
Huntington, an NAIA Division II school, can give athletic scholarships, with Austin earning a four year, full tuition scholarship.
"Anytime you can recruit somebody and get them to sign this early is a good thing for us," Coach Platt said at Friday's signing. "We're excited about him. He's a big, strong kid who I think still has a lot of good things in front of him."
Austin Clark said that the whole process began this past spring before the start of his AAU season.
"Coach Todd had talked to Coach Platt about recruiting me, and he'd heard that the coach had seen my name in the papers and on recruiting websites and that sort of thing and immediately got in contact. I talked Coach Henney, who's the head assistant there, and we've stayed in touch."
Things really got rolling at the end of the summer.
"I made a visit up there in August and played in an open gym," Austin Clark smiled. "I wouldn't tell my parents, but I almost knew that was the place to go. It was just waiting to see what was out there."
After the official visit to campus last week, the decision was sealed.
"I talked it over with my parents and then called Coach Platt on Saturday and told him that's where I wanted to sign, and that's why we're here today."
The college game is somewhat different than high school, with older players being more mature and the caliber of athlete higher. The court is also longer, so conditioning is important.
"I actually got to play in the open gym with one of their point guards, and we played really well right off the bat together," Austin Clark said. "I went and watched practice, too, and they do almost the same things that Coach McAlister has us do, so I feel like it would be a perfect fit for me."
Coach Platt said that sometimes high school players aren't physically ready to make the jump to the college game, but he doesn't think that will be a problem for Austin Clark.
"I think he is physically ready to play at the college level. He plays with passion, and we're excited about him," the coach said.
What does Austin Clark think he has to work on?
"Probably my body and my lateral speed, which I'm lacking a bit to play at the collegiate level," Austin said. "I'm just going to keep working on my body and getting better. Staying in the gym. Don't lose sight of what got me to this point right now."
Huntington University is located in the Northern part of Indiana near Fort Wayne, and is part of a conference that is considered a powerhouse in small college basketball. The school's nickname is the Foresters, and their school colors are green and black.
"We're pretty much equivalent to an NCAA Division II in a lot of ways," Coach Platt said. "We play even D-II schools. Our conference has been so strong. We've been for the sixth or seventh year in a row now the top rated conference in the nation for our level."
"It's obviously a tremendous day for Austin," Pacer head coach B.J. McAlister said. "It's a great moment for his family, a great moment for his teammates, and a great moment for our program as a whole. I think anytime you have the opportunity to go play anywhere after high school, it says a lot about what you've done the past four years and the commitment you make."
Coach McAlister said that not only his work for the Pacers, but also with his commitment to AAU and to off-season skill development has really paid off for Austin.
"It really shows what type of future you can develop when you spend time in the gym," the Pacer coach said.
Coach McAlister says that, in college, a player plays on a team where everybody in high school was the focus of their school, and the same is true for opposing teams.
"Austin's done a really good job of developing a work ethic to put himself in a position to have this opportunity," Coach McAlister said. "He knows this, but he's going to have to continue that same work ethic at the next level."
While acknowledging that Friday's signing was a great moment for his Pacer program, Coach McAlister didn't want to deflect the spotlight from his senior forward.
"Yes, this is a great day for our program, but it's an even better day for Austin and his family," the coach said.
If the name Ty Platt sounds familiar to longtime Pacer fans, it's because Ty Platt formerly was the head boys basketball coach at Southwestern High School in Hanover. His assistant coach there? Current Switzerland County athletic director and former head coach David Todd.
"I think Austin's a kid who's going to come in and fit in well with our team, our campus, and our community," Ty Platt said. "It's a throwback community, sort of like Vevay is. They love basketball, it's a big deal, and it's something that we're both excited about."
The Huntington coach also feels like Austin Clark's best basketball lies ahead of him.
"Truthfully we don't ever want to recruit somebody who's maxed out as far as their talents and abilities," the Forester coach said. "I'm not sure that players don't truly reach their full potential until they're 26 or 27 years old. I think you're still developing. Natural maturity, right now Austin's only 17 years old, gonna be 18. With that and with what he'll do in the weight room and where he's starting, I think the sky's the limit and he can have a heck or a career."
So has all of this sunk in that his hard work as earned an athletic scholarship for basketball?
"It's kind of still surreal to me, I don't know," Austin Clark said. "I guess it will hit me in a couple of months, after we win Sectionals, hopefully. I'm going to enjoy my senior season, because now I don't have anything to worry about. It takes the pressure off of my senior season. Coach McAlister and I talked about that I don't have to worry about what people say about where I should go. I know where I'm going now, and be comfortable. I love it there. I know I'm not going to have any regrets."