Fully outfitted in Lindenwood University spirit gear and painted faces, a large crowd of students shouted “Earl! Earl! Earl!” and stomped their feet on the bleachers as Earl Austin Jr. and his family made their way onto the basketball court.
Before the men’s basketball team rivaled Maryville University on Tuesday night, Lindenwood University honored Austin – St. Louis American’s longtime sports editor – for his accomplishments as a Lindenwood Basketball Hall of Famer and successful sports commentator.
On Tuesday, the university retired Austin’s basketball jersey #41 – making it the first uniform retired in the basketball program’s history. Austin played ball at Lindenwood from 1982-86 and left the program as its all-time leading scorer with 1,972 points. His 56 percent field goal percentage is also best in program history. The St. Louis native is also second with 840 rebounds and 546 field goals.
“It’s overwhelming,” Austin said. “I never thought when I stepped on this campus 30 years ago that something like this would be possible.”
Lindenwood University President James D. Evans, who was also one of Austin’s psychology teachers, said Austin was a great athlete and student at a time when Lindenwood was just getting on its “athletic feet.”
“Earl’s great performance as a student and athlete helped put Lindenwood’s athletic program on the regional map,” Evans said. “His success as a sports commentator also helps validate Lindenwood’s excellent communications program. He represents the very best that Lindenwood produces.”
Austin said he feels lucky to have been able to stay in St. Louis all 27 years of his career as a sports journalist.
“It’s a blessing because that’s not the way it’s commonly done in communications,” he said. “After college you normally have to move to a small town and start your career there.”
For 23 of those years, sports broadcaster and radio personality Bob Ramsey said he has had the pleasure of working with Austin as a radio-broadcast partner during the Saint Louis University Billikens basketball games.
“Earl Austin Jr. is the finest player in Lindenwood history, but what’s really important is that Earl represents this university off the court and in life as well or better than anyone I’ve ever met,” Ramsey said.
His wife, Judy, said Earl knows about every student athlete in town, from the freshmen to the seniors. She is constantly amazed at his journalism work and the role he plays in the local sports community, she said.
“People ask him all the time, ‘Who is a good candidate for my team?’” she said. “He is very humble about his accomplishments. He is always putting everyone else in the spotlight, but it’s about time he was in the spotlight.”
Austin’s sister, Courtney A. Thompson, was also inducted into the Lindenwood University Athletic Hall of Fame. She was part of the second year of inductees, and Austin was among the first year in 1987.
“Earl has always been a person of excellence,” Thompson said. “He has been able to make his mark on whatever he does, whether it be a scholarly athlete or an award-winning journalist. He has set the tone for my brother and me. They’re big shoes to follow.”
Thompson and many of Austin’s other family members were brought to tears as Earl’s recognition was announced on the basketball court. His aunt and the matriarch of the family, Jean Clemons, held Austin’s hand through the National Anthem, maintaining a beaming smile the whole time.
“We are so very proud of him,” Clemons said. “Beginning when he was a little tike, he was an excellent student. He amazes me with his memory about sports. He is a role model, and I commend the school for recognizing his accomplishments.”
Lindenwood Head Coach Brad Soderberg said Austin still contributes to enhancing the men’s basketball program at the university. Soderberg said he relies upon Austin as a talent scout.
“If he says someone is a serious candidate as a Division I player, he is, and if he says someone is not, he is not,” Soderberg said. “I’ve known a lot of people say they know what kids can play. Earl actually does know.”
Austin’s statistics, expertise and encyclopedic knowledge make Austin worthy of having his jersey retired and his name celebrated at a home game, he said.
“Earl Austin Jr. is truly a St. Louis treasure and an ambassador of sport for the entire metro area,” he said.
Austin is also a local sports historian who has penned three books and produced one DVD on basketball history in the St. Louis area. His latest book, You Might Need a Jacket II: More Hilarious Stories of Wacky Sports Parents, is the second book his a series and is a culmination of more than 20 years of witnessing “straitjacket parent” behavior at youth sports events.
Being around the game constantly, Austin said he naturally reflects on his days as a basketball player himself.
“When I think about my most memorable moments, I had so many great road trips, being around the guys, forming those friendships,” he said. “That’s something you treasure for a lifetime.”