When Shakira Austin transferred to Ole Miss from the University of Maryland in 2020, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The 6-foot-5 center was leaving a successful Terrapins program that had just won its fourth Big Ten Championship in six seasons for Ole Miss, which was in the early stages of a rebuild under head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin and not much of a factor in the SEC.
As McPhee-McCuin told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, Austin wanted to play somewhere where she could expand her game, and Ole Miss seemed to be the perfect fit:
“There are a not a lot of things that I’m not going to let her do. She has a chance to be a franchise kid.”
Two years later, it’s safe to say Austin has achieved her goal. She quickly became the Rebels’ go-to player, with McPhee-McCuin fully entrusting her to play through mistakes en route to fulfilling her potential — which, as it turns out, is becoming one of Division I’s best centers.
Ole Miss has been better for it, too. The Rebels went 7-23 and were winless in SEC play the season before Austin arrived. In Austin’s first season as a Rebel, the team made major strides, improving to 15-12 with a 5-11 SEC record; thus far in 2021-22, Ole Miss is 18-5 with a 6-4 SEC record and was even ranked (albeit briefly) in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in 15 years.
Having proven herself as a program-defining player in one of the country’s most competitive conferences, Austin now seems destined to be one of the first players selected in the upcoming 2022 WNBA Draft. Until then, let’s go over what’s made her such a force at Ole Miss.
Honors and statistics
Austin was a highly-decorated high school player, earning McDonald’s All-American and WBCA All-American honors during her time at Riverdale Baptist (MD). She was the No. 4 overall prospect in the class of 2018, according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz, and the No. 2 forward behind 2021’s top WNBA draftee, Charli Collier.
During her time at Maryland, Austin quickly became known as one of the nation’s most productive per-minute bigs, blocking 4.5 shots per 40 minutes as a freshman and earning All-Big Ten Defense honors. She was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2018-19 and the All-Big Ten Second Team the following season.
At Ole Miss, Austin has enjoyed a massive increase in volume statistics, scoring a career-high 18.6 points per game as a junior to to along with 9.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. She was named a WBCA Honorable Mention All-American and also received All-SEC First Team honors.
As a senior, Austin is currently on the Wade Trophy, Wooden Award and Naismith Award watch lists for national player of the year, as well as the Lisa Leslie Award watch list for the nation’s top center. She was also named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team, both by conference coaches and media.
How she helps the Rebels
Austin’s most obvious strength as a player is her size. She’s not the bulkiest player, but she more than makes up for it with her height and wingspan, which allows her to rebound the basketball at a high level; according to Her Hoop Stats, Austin has recorded a defensive rebounding percentage of better than 17 percent in both of her seasons at Ole Miss, and 11.4 percent of her scoring possessions have come on offensive rebounds (Synergy Sports).
What makes Austin stand out is just how much she’s able to do for a player of her size. She’s very comfortable handling the basketball anywhere on the court, and while it’s a given that she can beat most of her matchups off the dribble and get to the rim, her guard-like handles also help Ole Miss break pressure defenses. Austin has no problem bringing the ball up the floor, and her height makes her an easy target for teammates who need to get rid of the ball in a hurry.
The rest of Austin’s skills are just as impressive. She ranks in the 79th percentile in jump shots off the dribble (Synergy Sports) and in the 92nd percentile in jump shots taken within 17 feet of the basket, which, combined with her dribbling ability, makes her nearly impossible for players her size to cover one-on-one. In the post, Austin can turn over either shoulder and finish at the rim with both hands, which caught ESPN analyst Debbie Antonelli’s eye when the network ranked its top 25 players in the country last November (Austin ranked No. 11).
Defensively, Austin’s shot-blocking abilities are well-documented; she recently passed 200 blocked shots for her career and has ranked no lower than the 95th percentile in block percentage in each of her collegiate seasons (Her Hoop Stats). Austin isn’t paint-bound on that end of the floor, though; she can move her feet and recover well enough on drives for McPhee-McCuin to let her switch on ball screens, which can take her out of shot-blocking position but ultimately benefits her team’s defense. Such versatility will surely appeal to WNBA scouts, who will have quite the choice to make when ranking their favorite bigs in the 2022 draft class.
Watch her play
Ole Miss has just one nationally-televised game remaining on its regular-season schedule: A Feb. 27 matchup against the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (ESPN2). It’s a big one for Austin, in particular, who will be going up against National Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston.
Those with access to the SEC Network can catch the Rebels a couple more times before then. Ole Miss will play at Mississippi State on Feb. 13 and against Texas A&M on Feb. 17 — two games that could prove vital in determining the seeding for the SEC Tournament, which will begin on March 2.
All statistics and team records for the 2021-22 NCAA season are current through Feb. 11, 2022.