Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Student-Athlete of the Week: Austin Rathburn

Series: Niwot boys basketball | Story 8

February 12, 2020 | View PDF

Jocelyn Rowley

Senior Austin Rathburn has average 13.3 points and more than nine rebounds for Niwot over the last three games.

In seventh grade, Austin Rathburn realized that his ultimate height was destined to be several derivations from the norm, so he set his sights on the sport that tends to favor those so gifted. Now several years and several growth spurts later, the even-keeled senior is the Niwot basketball team's starting center and, at a towering 6-feet 5-inches, one of the hardest players to defend in the Northern League.

"In our conference, he's tied for double-doubles, and in the last game, he was [close to] his sixth," Niwot head coach Clay Wittrock said of the senior, who is in his third season with the varsity. "That's just indicative of what Austin has meant for us. He's just a big part of us on both ends of the floor. He anchors us on the defensive boards, and he's always a guy to handle on the offensive side."

Three of those double-digit scoring and rebounding nights have come over the last six games, which saw Niwot go 4-2. Rathburn averaged nearly 12 points and nine boards during that stretch, including a 16-point, 12-rebound effort in the Cougars' 49-41 win over Mountain View on Jan. 28. The senior is now second on the team in scoring, with 164 points, as well as first on team and second in the Northern league in rebounds, with 134, and field-goal percentage (61%).

"I think it's just more of me looking to go to the hoop and score, rather than playing timid and non- aggressive," Rathburn said of his recent success. "It makes a big difference. Me scoring leads to points from every other teammate on the floor."

That in turn has led Niwot to 11 wins in 18 games, and a 6-3 mark in the Northern League, its best record since 2015. With five games remaining, the Cougars are currently 34th in CHSAA's RPI standings, and stand a good chance of earning their first playoff berth since the 2016-17 season. Rathburn is optimistic about the Cougars' prospects down the stretch, and hopes to cross "hosting a home playoff game" off his high school to-do-list.

"I really like the mindset we've gone with this season, and that we've put our heads towards defense," Rathburn said, crediting first-year head coach Wittrock's new system. "We do better when we play defense our best, and our record shows that when we keep teams below a certain number of points, we win."

Rathburn's height hasn't always meant basketball success, a lesson he learned when he was cut from his first club team in middle school. He spent the next season working on his skills with a recreational team, before trying out again for the club squad, and finally earning a spot in the lineup. In the years since, Rathburn has been focused on perfecting his fundamentals, and now is seeing that translate into a significant advantage for his team.

"My biggest challenge, at least skills wise, has been dribbling the ball because I didn't practice ball handling drills as much as I should have when I was younger," he said of the evolution of his game. "I feel like I've gotten a lot better at shooting the basketball than I have been, but I believe I should shoot more."

Though Wittrock has only been Rathburn's coach for one season, he has been impressed with the senior's "lead by example" demeanor both on the court and especially in the locker room for Niwot.

"He's such a positive guy in our team room," Wittrock said. "He rolls with it, but it's with a strong desire to win, and I think that's what guys respond to. It's really been a great senior year for him, and to see him blossom has been really cool."


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