High School Sports

Clover’s Austin Stone shooting for his dreams

Such is Austin Stone’s basketball -- and confidence -- improvement, the 6-foot-9 former Clover Blue Eagle would like to continue his playing career in Europe once he graduates from the University of Portland.
Such is Austin Stone’s basketball -- and confidence -- improvement, the 6-foot-9 former Clover Blue Eagle would like to continue his playing career in Europe once he graduates from the University of Portland.

Austin Stone didn’t have a big signing day announcement to let everyone know what college he was going to. There were no countdown clocks on social media, or clever hashtags incorporating his name.

What the Clover High grad does have is a spot on a Division I basketball team and an opportunity to earn a degree from a major university. There is more than one path to being a Division I athlete.

Stone’s life began in Idaho. His family moved to Lake Wylie when he was in first grade, only for it all to come full circle as he ended up back out west playing hoops at the University of Portland.

Nothing in between was easy for a guy that’s always been tall, and thus expected to be a basketball star.

Stone was a 6-foot-9 member of Clover’s 2014-15 region championship team. His height stood out. His skill level did not.

“I told him when he was a freshman that he could play college ball, and he didn’t believe me,” Clover coach Bailey Jackson said. “He didn’t have the confidence, but he knew how to defend and he was the only guy that could set a back screen.”

Stone averaged no more than five or six points and rebounds per game for the Blue Eagles, but he learned valuable skills -- like setting back screens -- that are crucial for college post players.

“Clover gave me the foundation to move on to the next level,” Stone said recently. “So it made the transition easier. I had a very enjoyable bond with the guys and it was definitely memorable.”

Jackson said an assistant from USC-Salkehatchie, a junior college, came up to watch Clover play Northwestern and saw Stone. He made an impression. At least in one sense.

“I played a few minutes and they saw I could ‘walk and chew gum at the same time,’” Stone joked. “But they saw I had effort and heart.”

Salkehatchie head coach Corey Hendren told him they could take care of the rest. Hendren, who moved on to become an assistant coach at USC-Aiken, led Salkehatchie to three of the best years in the junior college’s history. Stone was a big part of two of those.

“He didn’t get tons of time or points in high school. But he was really good with us and worked hard,” Hendren said. “He started solid but got better. He was different by the time he left.”

Stone grew mentally and as a player at Salkehatchie, located in Walterboro, right off I-95.

“Coach took me under his wing,” Stone said. “He was young and could relate to me on a personal level.”

Hendren didn’t take all the credit for Stone’s development as a player. The big man’s personality made much of it possible.

“He was a goofball,” Hendren said. “The kids were drawn to him, the administration liked him, and so did the community of Walterboro.”

Stone was one of the top three key contributors on the squad his sophomore year, averaging about 10 points and six rebounds a game. He helped lead the Indians to a school-record 21-10 season, second-best in their league. The staff at Portland reached out to Hendren and one of the assistants flew in to see Stone play. They offered a scholarship and Stone accepted.

A dislocated ankle ended Stone’s Salkehatchie career prematurely, but it was then on to Portland where he now plays for former Portland Trailblazer Terry Porter in the Big West Conference against the likes of Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

Stone, who is majoring in communications, hasn’t received a ton of playing time yet. But he got on the court against Oklahoma and the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Stone hit a three-pointer against the Sooners, showing some range for a big man.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I never thought I’d be lined up against teams like that. It’s surreal.”

Stone’s confidence has grown like his shooting range, and he believes there can be more basketball in his future after Portland.

His story proves there is more than one avenue to success. The Portland Pilots version of Austin Stone is very different from the freshman at Clover that didn’t believe in himself. Stone’s basketball journey has brought him this far; who says it has to end now?

“I’d like to play a few years overseas,” Stone said. “I don’t really have a plan besides basketball yet. I believe in shooting for your dreams.”

Local region standings (as of Jan. 31, 2018)

Region 4-5A

Girls

Rock Hill

5-1

17-3

Nation Ford

4-2

13-6

Clover

4-2

13-8

Fort Mill

1-4

10-8

Northwestern

0-5

4-15

Boys

Nation Ford

6-0

14-6

Fort Mill

4-1

11-7

Northwestern

2-3

9-11

Clover

2-4

12-9

Rock Hill

0-6

3-15

Region 3-4A

Girls

Westwood

6-1

18-2

Richland Northeast

6-1

16-2

South Pointe

3-4

14-8

Ridge View

3-4

10-9

Lancaster

2-5

8-7

York

1-6

4-16

Boys

Ridge View

6-1

13-7

Westwood

6-1

10-9

York

3-3

10-10

Lancaster

2-4

6-7

South Pointe

1-5

8-11

Richland Northeast

1-5

2-13

Region 4-3A

Girls

Fairfield Central

6-0

10-8

Columbia

4-2

7-12

Camden

2-3

7-7

Chester

2-4

2-17

Indian Land

0-5

0-17

Boys

Chester

5-1

14-4

Columbia

4-2

6-15

Camden

3-2

8-7

Indian Land

2-3

8-12

Fairfield Central

0-6

1-15

Region 2-A

Girls

Lamar

6-1

10-10

Timmonsville

6-1

8-8

McBee

4-2

8-10

Lewisville

2-5

5-13

Great Falls

2-5

2-12

Governor’s School

0-6

0-6

Boys

Great Falls

6-1

15-3

McBee

6-1

14-6

Lewisville

5-2

11-8

Timmonsville

2-5

6-11

Lamar

2-6

4-13

Governor’s School

0-6

3-9

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