Austin powers Menehunes
The Moanalua guard has a penchant for stealing basketballs
He isn't a professional wrestler or the Six Million Dollar Man. Stevie Austin is just a stone-cold thief on the basketball court.
The lithe Moanalua point guard can and will pick your pocket, but like any master of the art, he evaluates and cases his opponents, targeting those he deems unfit to lead a fast break or uncomfortable making a pass out of the post.
Then, like an animal waiting in the tall grass, he goes for the kill, darting to the ball with exceptional quickness after pretending his attention was elsewhere a moment before.
It's what he takes pride on.
"On the court, it's business," said Austin, a 5-foot-8, 137-pound senior. "It's usually on the open court for me. I read the defender's eyes, and then, since I'm a point guard, I know the tendencies of where to go, and I cheat on that and usually get my steals off that. If it's on the halfcourt set, I would look if they're out of control, or if they're not that great of a ball handler, their awareness on the court."
In the quarterfinals of the state tournament last year, Austin scored 16 points and pilfered eight steals in a 73-63 loss to Punahou. He averaged 16 points, 3.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and four steals per game.
He's set to eclipse that last stat this season. While his scoring is down in 6-4 Na Menehune's retooled offense, he's averaging five steals in the 10 games. In two of them, he had nine apiece.
Coach Greg Tacon attributes Austin's success -- which often comes while taking a pounding against beefier defenders -- to an extreme quickness of feet, hands, and mind.
"It's all basketball savvy and angles, and creating angles for yourself to be quicker. He's able to read certain situations and jump on the ball," Tacon said. "He also takes the ball from a lot of people, too, if they're lazy."
Austin's sharpness is reflected in his grade-point average (3.6) and high aspirations: he's been accepted by the University of San Francisco on his academic merits and thinks he'll try to walk on with the Dons basketball team.
Embracing the role of a pure point guard will be an adjustment for the slashing Austin, Tacon explained, after enjoying the role of a combo guard last year with senior point Jay Yoshizawa. This year, Moanalua has a taller front line: Ryan Hua and Josh Kure, two post players last year, have moved out on the perimeter to help make way for 6-foot-4 sophomore Marcus Monroe. That leaves the ball-handling duties exclusively to Austin, who is averaging five assists per game.
"He's handled it great; it just changes his game," Tacon said. "On the break, instead of keeping it, he's giving it to guys for easy looks. It's an adjustment period for him just that he knows he has to get every rep bringing the ball up. Maybe it's affected his shooting early on, but his shooting's going to be fine."
There aren't a whole lot of players in the state who can keep up with the wispy Austin with or without the ball, but those who can -- like Iolani's Kela Marciel -- create matchups that the guard relishes. And so far, he's been tested by Marciel; the second-ranked Raiders took two games against Moanalua this preseason by margins of six and 14.
Nonetheless, coaches and media throughout the state respected Na Menehune's potential behind Austin enough to vote them fourth in the Star-Bulletin's preseason rankings.
Teammate Ryan Hua, a fellow senior, knows Austin can hang with the best of them on both ends of the court, despite the size and weight he often gives up; he makes up for it with scrappy competitiveness and toughness.
"He's a really good defender. I don't think he gets enough credit, even with all the stats and stuff," Hua said. "He's a really up-tight defender, even without the steals."
When Tacon came in from Punahou two years ago, he knew Austin was good. But the guard's game grew on him immediately after seeing him perform on a daily basis.
"Even though outwardly when you see him walking into the gym -- he's very casual, big smile on his face, lot of handshakes -- he really likes to compete," Tacon said. "And as a senior this year, developing leadership skills, he's demanding a lot of his teammates as well to do the right things and get after it."
Austin's evolution into the team's leader was almost not to be from the get-go. As an unknown entity coming out of intermediate school at Saint Louis -- and he played most of his youth leagues in the Kaimuki area -- his skills weren't readily apparent to the junior varsity coaches when he tried out at Moanalua his freshman year. He didn't shine immediately, and was cut from the team during tryouts.
Austin is well aware of the tale of Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school team before coming back and starting a legendary rise to fame.
"Yeah, that's different," Austin said, laughing. "He's amazing."
Gary Akina, who coached Austin in outside leagues, encouraged Na Menehune to give Austin another shot. It was satisfying to get a call back three weeks into the season with a second tryout offer by the team.
"Yeah, by far," Austin said. "In the beginning, everybody was looking at me like, 'Oh, why does he get another chance back.' But in the end, I proved that I belong there."
He went on to start for the JV team that year, and made the varsity team as a starter the next. Austin didn't steal it -- he earned it.