Standing at the podium on media day, Maryland women’s basketball head coach Brenda Frese was looking over the 2019-20 roster. When she reached the sophomore class, there was one name that stood out: Shakira Austin.
“If I had to choose someone out there that’s probably been the most improved player up to this point, we’d definitely go to our sophomore Shakira Austin.” said Frese. “[I am] really excited to be able to see the early impact that she’s made in practices.”
Despite being less than a month into practice for the upcoming season, Austin has shown a noticeable shift in her game and looks to be the rock inside that Maryland needs.
Austin averaged 8.4 points and 9.5 rebounds across 23.4 minutes per game as a freshman last season, but her career started off much faster than those numbers may suggest.
The Terrapins opened the season against Coppin State, and Austin – the No. 4 overall recruit from the class of 2018, according to ESPN – showed fans exactly what she could do, scoring 12 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in a 93-36 victory.
After they took down Penn State on Dec. 28, 2018, the Terrapins moved to 12-0 on the season. Austin was still averaging 10.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game – a double-double average as a freshman.
The turn of the new year brought on growing pains for Austin, however, as she experienced a mirage of up-and-down performances. In 14 of Maryland’s 20 Big Ten matchups through the rest of the regular and postseason, Austin scored less than 10 points, and had less than 10 rebounds in 13 of those 20 games.
“I was just trying too hard to focus on a specific area,” Austin said of her slumps as a freshman. “I should have just let the game come naturally — let it start on defense and then slowly work it up to the offense. I think I was just getting in my head a lot.”
After the season ended against UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Austin opted to work hard to break inconsistencies she had struggled with as a freshman.
“She dedicated her summer...she wanted to be here all summer training in the weight room, getting in the gym, and it definitely shows,” Frese said. “She’s stronger, she can finish through contact, she’s making plays in the low post that we were hoping that was where she was going to get to. I mean, she’s been extremely impressive.”
On the defensive side of the ball Austin broke the Maryland single-season record for blocks, with 89 as a freshman, but refining her offense was important in order to create a consistent balance.
She specifically focused on improving her face-up and post game, aiming to limit herself to one to two dribbles when trying to score, while also getting in the weight room to use her strength and length to her advantage more.
“Overall, as long as everybody is patient on the offensive end and we execute [in the paint], it’s going to be a lot of fun this year,” senior Stephanie Jones said. “Me and Shakira [are] going to be pretty hard to stop inside, especially with her length, so I’m really looking forward to [this season].”
As Austin’s summer was winding down and her sophomore season got closer by the second, she continued to work hard and remain focused on improving. She said was in the gym doing workout with assistant coach Shay Robinson as much as the NCAA mandate allowed.
As junior Channise Lewis put it, “She was always in the gym trying to work on her craft.”
And when she couldn’t work with Maryland coaches due to such rules, she went to other trainers around the state to ensure she was as prepared as she could be to make a big jump in her sophomore season.
“I’m still growing, of course, but I’ve grown a lot into the player I need to be,” Austin said. “And my teammates push me a lot to still stay confident and just lead the team as much as I can.”