As Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien looked around during a practice in early September, he couldn’t help but be a little perplexed.
The sophomore has seen a lot in his young career, so there isn’t much that throws him off.
But seeing Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice and sophomore point guard Paris Austin studying him at practice? That hit him from the blindside.
“I was kind of like, ‘What are they doing out here?’ ” Rypien said. “I figured they were just in the (Varsity Center) and came out and wanted to watch practice. I didn’t really know (why).”
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Austin started three games as a true freshman last season and averaged 4.1 points per game. He showed glimpses of what made him a high school superstar and California state champion, including a 16-point, six-rebound, four-assist and two-steal performance against Willamette.
But beyond the numbers is a young player trying to figure out how to be a playmaker and a personality. Austin is the cliché “work in progress.” And part of what needs work is leadership.
“When you’re going from a freshman to a sophomore, just the changing of the role (is huge),” Rice said. “I knew that was going to take a dramatic change for him this year.”
It turns out that when Rice brought Austin out to football practice, it wasn’t just for show. He is trying to turn his point guard into the quarterback of an incredibly young basketball team. And the best way to teach Austin how to be a distributor and leader is to watch one of the best on campus.
“The day I took him out there was absolutely perfect because they were doing a two-minute drill. And there was no question who was in charge and who was running that team. And sometimes it’s just good for a kid to see what that looks like, visually,” Rice said. “You always hear, ‘He’s your quarterback on the floor.’ What better way to learn it than watching one of the best quarterbacks in the country?”
Austin and Rypien share key similarities. They are both true sophomores. They were both heralded four-star recruits out of high school, according to ESPN; Austin from Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland, Calif., and Rypien from Shadle Park in Spokane. They were both forced to play before they were likely ready to. They forged a friendship early in their Boise State tenures.
The difference, though, is that Rypien is already “the man” at BSU. Austin is still finding his path.
“I’ve always kind of thought those two positions have gone together. I didn’t play point guard in basketball because I couldn’t really dribble,” Rypien said. “(But) I’ve definitely thought that those two intertwined.”
Rice hopes Austin can soak up the leadership qualities, the intangibles and moxie, that have allowed Rypien to be successful. With a team as young as his, Rice is going to need players to grow in a hurry.
The Boise State basketball team lost 65 percent of its scoring from a year ago, and Rice returns just one full-time starter in senior Nick Duncan.
Austin didn’t have to be a leader last year with five seniors and two point guards in front of him. The Broncos don’t have that luxury in 2016.
“Your season hinges on that kind of thing,” Rice said. “Being a leader is just doing your job at the highest level and making sure you take care of that first. And if you can do that, then your leadership is going to build off of that.”
Austin, who says he hasn’t played organized football since he was a kid, is looking at Rypien for direction.
“He’s a really good leader on and off the field. So just watching him at practice, watching how he operates, was really big for me. If you go watch Brett Rypien in a practice right now and you don’t know anything about him, you think he’s the senior quarterback,” Austin said. “For him just to lead on and off the (field) like he does, that’s the same thing I want to do.”
One of the things that stuck out to Austin was Rypien’s command of the huddle in the two-minute offense. Despite being 20 years old, Rypien is in control. He does not get flustered and runs an offense consisting of mostly upperclassmen. That’s something Austin finds inspiring: the ability to lead regardless of age or standing.
“I believe if you’re mature enough, you know, and you’re good enough, you can be the leader if you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior. It doesn’t have to be, ‘Wait until your senior year to be the leader,’ ” Austin said. “I feel like I’ve matured a lot. Just watching him and his leadership, it’s been on my head a lot, just trying to lead the team.”
And this is precisely where the point guard and quarterback positions intersect ever so gracefully.
“You commonly hear that the point guards are just like the quarterbacks on the football field. You have to do the same things,” Austin said. “(They) always have the ball in their hands at the end of the game, point guards always have the ball in their hands at the end of the game, and they both make the calls on the court and on the field.”
Rice hopes Austin is able to incorporate the mental side of Rypien’s game and mix it with the great skill set he possesses. He wants his lighting-quick point guard to be able to call the right plays on the fly like Rypien might audible to a fade route to Thomas Sperbeck. Rice knows full well that any single event or football practice isn’t going to change Austin. But it’s a step that, in conjunction with the natural growth process, can go a long way.
“Paris is just kind of a hard-nosed kid. He’s done it that way,” Rice said. “(Brett Rypien and Kellen Moore) did it with this great mind about the sport. Paris has done it just with a toughness and a grit and ‘I won’t be denied attitude.’ Now, if he can keep adding that other part to his game, then he becomes pretty special.”
Austin has also taken notes from Rypien off the court. Though both are high-profile athletes on campus, it isn’t an excuse to take advantage of stardom. It’s best to be seen on the field and go unnoticed off of it.
“Being that he’s low key, I like to be low key myself,” Austin said. “Just staying below, (behind) the scenes, is kind of the same thing I like to do.”
Rypien and Austin maintain a friendship away from their sports as well. To have a friend going through similar trials and tribulations and thriving in a similar lifestyle is crucial. From that perspective, Austin’s and Rypien’s friendship is an easy touchdown in Rice’s eyes.
“That’d be great. The two of them could probably really help each other, bounce things off each other. Because they would probably have complementary skills, because they are a lot different,” Rice said. “I think it would be a great relationship. They’re both sophomores, so hopefully it’s a deal where they can continue to grow that.”
Closer than they appear
- Age: 20
- High school: Shadle Park (Spokane)
- High school stats: 13,044 passing yards, 134 TDs (career); 4,552 yards, 50 TDs as senior in 2014
- High school accolades: Single-game record holder for passing yards (613), tied with Kellen Moore for TD passes in a game (8); consensus four-star recruit
- 2015 stats (freshman at BSU): 3,353 passing yards, 20 TDs, 8 interceptions; first team All-Mountain West and Mountain West Freshman of the Year
- Age: 19
- High school: Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.)
- High school stats: 19.5 points per game as a senior in 2014-15; scored school-record 43 points against Piedmont in 2015.
- High school accolades: CIF Open Division champion in 2015; led school to fourth straight North Coast Section Division III title in 2015; team finished 28-4 and was ranked No. 4 nationally; consensus four-star recruit and was a Scout Top 100 recruit in 2015.
- 2015 stats (freshman at BSU): Played in 30 games, starting three; averaged 4.1 points per game
Hoops tickets on sale Wednesday
Tickets to all 17 of the Boise State men’s home basketball games, including Friday’s exhibition vs. Lewis-Clark State (7 p.m., Taco Bell Arena), go on sale at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Tickets for all games begin at $10. Season tickets and seven-game mini plans are available, starting at $199 and $98, respectively. Tickets are available at BroncoSports.com/tickets or by calling (208) 426-4737.
No. 13 Boise State at Wyoming
- When: 5 p.m. MT Saturday
- Where: War Memorial Stadium (29,181, FieldTurf); Laramie, Wyo.
- TV: CBS Sports Network (Rich Waltz, Adam Archuleta, Cassie McKinney)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 7-0, 3-0 Mountain West; Wyoming 5-2, 3-0
- Kickoff weather: Low 60s, clear with 10-20 mph winds
- Vegas line: Boise State is favored by 13 1/2 points
- Series: Boise State leads 10-0 (won last season 34-14 in Boise)