Going back to Cali: Paris Austin brings toughness, swagger to Cal

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

For most college students, coming home invokes the thought of a brief return to their city of origin. Reunite with family, friends and pets, chow down on some home-cooked meals, then come back for the daily grind of school and other college activities.

But for Paris Austin, coming home takes on a different meaning.

After spending two seasons at Boise State, Austin is back home in the Bay Area and has made the transition from a Bronco to a Bear.

With Austin projected to take the reins as Cal basketball’s starting point guard, he’ll have the opportunity to breathe some new life into the program.

Austin may be two years removed from his home, but his toughness and devotion to the region have remained ingrained in his personality.

The redshirt junior will make his blue and gold debut on the hardwood after sitting out last season because of transfer rules, a homecoming that goes beyond basketball.

Austin hails from Oakland, California — East Oakland to be exact.

Despite Oakland’s role in the transformation of American society — ever heard of the word “hella”? — the city’s place in the crafting of culture and history is often overlooked, cast aside for the likes of the glitz and glamor right across the Bay Bridge.austin_karen-chow_ss2

Much like other blue-collar cities, the city’s definitive chip-on-your-shoulder mentality and unparalleled grit and swagger come innately to the city’s natives.

Coming out of East Oakland, Austin recognizes the necessity of developing a layer of mental fortitude.

“The main thing coming out of Oakland is that you have to be tough,” Austin says. “Oakland is not an easy place to live in, with all the violence and crime going on. Oakland is something that really builds character and builds people and builds a toughness.”

Basketball served as the medium through which Austin could display that toughness. As someone who fell in love with basketball at an early age, Austin found the court to be a place where he could “block out the noise.”

“When other people were out, doing stuff or getting into trouble, I didn’t have time for to do that,” Austin says. “I was always focused on basketball or I was going to play at a park. Before it was something serious, it was something I loved to do.”

Alongside childhood friend Ivan Rabb at Bishop O’Dowd High School, Austin clawed and scratched his way into becoming one of the most promising young guards in the country.

Playing at a high school basketball powerhouse alongside Rabb, a national top-10 prospect, Austin began attracting legitimate interest from top colleges after his junior year. That intrigue was accentuated by Bishop O’Dowd winning three consecutive CIF North Coast Section Division III championships in Austin’s first three seasons.

Numerous schools expressed their interest in Austin, but the program that made the biggest impression was Boise State. The dichotomy between Oakland and Boise was at the forefront of his mind heading into the visit, but those thoughts were quickly put to rest upon touring the campus.

“When I went to visit, I really enjoyed the campus, really enjoyed the coaching staff,” Austin says. “I felt like it was the perfect fit for me.”

Convinced that his future lay in blue and orange, Austin elected to handle business early, signing his letter of intent in November 2014 — just ahead of his senior season — instead of waiting things out.

With his college locked down, Austin focused his attention on getting one monkey off Bishop O’Dowd’s back.

While the Dragons had already captured a trio of Division III championships during Austin’s career, the school had yet to win an illustrious state championship during his time there.

The program did come awfully close. In Austin’s junior season, he dropped in a team-high 23 points during the state title game, but fell to a Mater Dei team led by future NBA player Stanley Johnson.

After handling business at the local level and winning a fourth-straight Division III championship, Austin, Rabb and the Dragons set themselves up for a rematch against the Monarchs in the state championship game.

Bishop O’Dowd countered Mater Dei’s best punches and refused to let up, forcing overtime by overcoming a four-point deficit with a minute left in regulation.

During overtime, Austin set up Rabb with a pass, and the big man drew a foul with 0.8 seconds remaining. After airballing the first free throw, Rabb nailed the second, securing the state title.

Austin poured in 21 points and eight assists, while Rabb had a monster 19-point, 20-rebound performance, just enough to capture the school’s first state title since 1981.

Not only did Austin have the bliss of winning a state title, but he won it under the bright lights of Haas Pavilion, right in the Bay Area’s backyard.

The transition from “The Town” to the capital of Idaho may seem like a tough one, especially for a lifelong Oaklander, but Boise provided Austin the opportunity to expand his horizons.

“It was my first time going somewhere else and being on my own, learning,” Austin says. “Most importantly, I was just excited about basketball.”

After his commitment to Boise State, Austin believed he could potentially start outright as a true freshman for the Broncos.

“(Head coach Leon Rice) told me they needed a point guard and I could start as a freshman,” Austin said in a 247Sports article back in 2014.

Austin had a couple starts here and there for the Broncos, but as a freshman, he was primarily relegated to the bench.

Playing time came sporadically for Austin. Some nights, he was a focal point in the offense. Other nights, he got no more than a couple minutes.

While Austin ended his first year having only played 12.3 minutes per game, he tallied the most minutes of any freshman, setting him up for a prominent role in his second year.

As a sophomore, Austin didn’t just receive more than twice the amount of playing time, but he became a featured part in the offense. The point guard had the prototypical career year, putting up bests all across the board en route to being named an All-Mountain West Honorable Mention.

All signs pointed toward a prosperous future for both Austin and Boise State, but after his second season, Austin requested and was granted his release from the university, citing a conversation with his family after the season.

Looking back, Austin views his time at Boise State as an important period of his development.

“For me, I look at it as a learning experience,” Austin says. “I think that everything that I’ve been through basketballwise, the people I’ve met, school, just my whole journey has helped me become the person I am today. I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I’ve learned for the better.”

With an impressive track record and winning pedigree at the collegiate level, Austin attracted the interest of several schools, but one stood out from the pack.

“(Cal head coach) Wyking (Jones) had reached out to me once I had got my release,” Austin says.

This wouldn’t be the same Cal program that Rabb anchored for two years; Jones would be taking the place of former head coach Cuonzo Martin, Rabb had declared for the draft, and the team was set to lose a sizable chunk of its core. But for Austin, the opportunity was far too good to pass up.

“I was very open to it because it was home,” Austin says. “Cal was home. … It seemed perfect for me.”

Austin did not have the opportunity to play last season because of NCAA regulations, but he has enjoyed every second of his return to the Bay Area.

“My experience here so far has been all that I’ve imagined. I can’t wait to get on the court,” Austin says. “I get to see my family all the time. My family’s going to be able to see me play every game. I love my coaching staff, I love my teammates, I love the university, and I love being back in the Bay.”

For Austin, being back at Cal isn’t solely about basketball; he’s the first person in his family to attend college, an opportunity that only fuels him.

“With this platform that I have here at Cal, I feel like I can do some great things in the classroom and on the basketball court,” Austin says. “And honestly, I think it won’t do anything but make my family proud.”

As someone rooted in East Oakland, Austin recognizes that he and Rabb have seemingly overcome the insurmountable, a pair of roses who grew from the concrete.

“Who would’ve ever thought that we’d would both be doing stuff like right now. Me being at Cal, playing basketball, and Ivan being in the NBA,” Austin says. “Who would’ve ever thought from two kids from out of East Oakland.

“We beat the odds.”

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos.