After posting averages of 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game as a freshman, Baylor center Isaiah Austin was a player some expected to move on to the professional ranks. But Austin decided to return to Waco for his sophomore season, with an injured shoulder impacting the decision-making process. In early May Austin underwent surgery to repair a torn posterior labrum, with Baylor announcing that it expected the recovery to take anywhere from four to six months.
The minimum expectation was that Austin would be ready in time for the Bears’ season opener against Colorado on November 8, and on Thursday the school announced that the 7-1 big man has been medically cleared. Baylor, like many teams across the country, will begin practicing on Friday (some way wait until the end of the weekend or even next week to get going).
The return of both Austin and Cory Jefferson resulted in head coach Scott Drew having one of the nation’s deepest front courts. After being a reserve in each of his first two seasons at Baylor Jefferson took full advantage of the increase in playing time, averaging 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per contest in 2012-13. Baylor also welcomes back sophomores Rico Gathers (5.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Taurean Prince (3.7, 2.2), and they also add Chad Rykhoek (he redshirted last season) and true freshman Johnathan Motley.
Given the amount of options (and talent) at Baylor’s disposal this season they’ll be fine inside, especially with Austin cleared to take the court. The biggest question for Baylor is whether or not junior college transfer Kenny Chery can pick up where the departed Pierre Jackson left off at the point. If so, Big 12 favorites Kansas and Oklahoma State will have some company in the race for the conference title.