Craig Austrie eight years ago found himself at a familiar crossroad for college athletes. He had graduated from UConn, where he started his first game as a freshman for the basketball team and went on to a solid career. Doors for professional opportunities closed.
Austrie, a product of Stamford’s youth program, wanted to stay close to the sport, but needed the right vehicle. Then Austrie had a novel idea. Training facilities had popped up and were thriving all over the area, but there was no one offering private basketball lessons.
Thus, Craig Austrie Basketball IQ Skills was launched. Austrie would offer private and group classes. There would be summer camps.
Austrie started with one client. Now well over 100 young players are getting better while having fun under Austrie’s tutelage.
“I never knew it would grow to get this big,” Austrie said. “It’s amazing. It’s fun. I love my job. To see them improve is something I really like to see.”
Austrie’s youngest student is in third grade. The oldest is Schadrac Casimir, like Austrie a former star guard at Trinity Catholic, who recently transferred from Iona to Florida Gold Coast. Casimir, despite his success — he was the MAAC Rookie of the Year — still works out with Austrie to stay sharp.
“He’s probably one of the most gifted and skillful players that I’ve ever worked with,” Austrie said. “An unbelievable shooter. As a trainer and basketball mentor it really brings a smile to your face.”
Two of the players who have been with Austrie the longest are McKenna Frank and Maya Klein, who just graduated from St. Luke’s. Frank is going to play at Wake Forest while Klein is headed to Providence.
Austrie gets results.
“That’s the real joy. It took a few years to get to this stage but now you get to the finished product and you get to see them pursue their careers and get to Division I, Division II, Division III schools,” Austrie said.
Austrie was once in the same position. He is a former state Gatorade Player of the Year. As a senior he averaged 22.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 steals. Of all his memorable performances, Trinity fans still talk reverently about a state semifinal win over Hillhouse. Austrie hit a 25-foot shot at the buzzer of the second overtime to tie the score, then blocked a potential game-winning layup from behind in the final seconds to preserve the win.
Austrie had given a verbal commitment to UMass, but when coach Steve Lappas left he reconsidered his opportunities. UConn coach Jim Calhoun needed a point guard and swooped in.
Some who train with Austrie are aware of his resume, others just for his reputation of helping aspiring boys and girls reach their potential.
“This is bigger than basketball,” Austrie said. “Obviously you want to get their skills where they need to be but you are teaching the kids this is how life is going to be. Everything is not given to you. You have to work for it. I always thought sports were a great segue into life because it teaches you such great life lessons.”
Hoping to further grow his business, Austrie, who has used different facilities in Stamford, will now be working out of BlueStreak, where he is hoping to tap into what he sees as a great opportunity for synergy.
“It was almost like a no-brainer,” Austrie said. “With what they bring there with their speed, agility and power performance is something I can do, but they can do at a whole other level. We want to create a complete package to create the complete player. With my basketball knowledge and their physical knowledge it can absolutely be done.”
When she is available, Austrie’s wife Heather helps out with camps. She is remembered along with sisters Lauren and Ashley as part of the Coombs triplets that helped Trumbull win an FCIAC championship.
Austrie still plays in a number of men’s basketball leagues. He is a coveted player, though Austrie said opponents are always trying to prove themselves against him.
Austrie unsurprisingly has been approached to coach AAU and high school teams, but has no interest.
“It’s kind of unique. I’m still in the game of basketball,” Austrie said. “I may not be dribbling up the court and putting it in the basket competitively but I’m in the game of basketball. Every now and then my kids challenge me and see if they can beat me but of course they never do. It’s fun. The shooting competition, the smiles on their faces, the one on ones I do with elite players. That’s the stuff that really keeps me in shape number one and keeps my mojo going.”
Austrie decided to take the path less traveled and it has proved a long and straight road. He is one of the fortunate few who found that round peg for the round hole right away.
I have a niche with what I do,” Austrie said. “Part of the joy is having a kid come to me and say I can’t get playing time, I can’t make the team and my joy is figuring how to get them on the team and have them succeed.”