There was Gerald Austin on Friday night, high above the court named after his long-time friend and colleague, Bert Jenkins.
Sporting his usual orange and blue, Austin was just carrying on like always about the Biloxi-Gulfport game playing out below. Austin has been a mainstay at Gulfport basketball games ever since returning to the Coast eight years ago and some might say the former Admiral assistant and head boys basketball coach never really left the South Mississippi despite spending 15 years at Jackson Prep and Kirk Academy.
He’s mighty proud of his former player, Owen Miller, who now leads the Admirals. He’s also a big fan of the ninth-grade boys, led by his son, David — who the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Famer said is a better coach.
(“I’m not saying this just to say it, but he’s a much better coach than I was,” Austin said. “He handles adversity better.”)
So there’s plenty of reasons for Austin to be at the Bert Jenkins Gymnasium. Even without the personal connections it’s hard to believe Austin wouldn’t be at The Bert, cheering on his Admirals. Basketball is in his blood, after all.
That’s why when Gulfport athletic director Bryan Caldwell was looking for a color analyst to accompany play-by-play man Darren Raybourn on the AdmiralNation.com online basketball steams, Austin was a no-brainer.
“Coach Austin is a basketball icon at Gulfport. He was extremely successful and whenever we needed someone to be the basketball analyst he immediately came to mind,” Caldwell said. “Coach Austin has a brilliant basketball mind and, an analyst standpoint, he understands Gulfport basketball and the tradition and history. He adds a lot of insight that most people don’t have.”
The lone tidbit of advice Caldwell gave Austin when he handed him the headset was to pretend like he’s just talking about hoops in the stands.
Austin was a natural and has been a perfect companion with Raybourn, another former Austin pupil and 1985 Gulfport graduate.
“His knowledge of the game just brings so much to our local crowd and the fans who listen. It’s something you don’t normally get from broadcasters,” Raybourn said. “You get the insight on what they’re thinking, what the coaches are trying to do and teach the players. You get that perspective, which I think is very unique for Gulfport. There are a lot of schools who stream nowadays and they bring in people to run those programs for them, but you just don’t get a Coach Austin. I mean, he’s a hall of fame coach in the state of Mississippi, won multiple state championships and a great person to have at Gulfport High.”
Talking about his new role, Austin lights up. He has a trademark chuckle that just comes out of him when talking about his new gig, which he’s tickled to have at 75 years young.
“I’m still a rookie,” he laughed, four games into his commentating career. “I try to add little stats and things.
“... I just want to make the game a little more interesting. That’s what I try to do.”
A new gig
Austin could have just continued to be a super fan; one of the guys in the stands. So, why “come out of retirement,” so to speak?
“I love basketball and I love Gulfport High,” he said. “It’s just a natural thing to do to come to all the games. I enjoy being a part of it. It was my life for so long. ... To be able to continue to follow my son and Owen and all the guys, it’s just been fun.”
Austin — who recently joined Twitter at CoachGAustin11 — is having a blast calling games, but the coach inside him still shows from time to time.
“The pressure is a lot (less),” he said. “There’s no pressure, you know? Although I still get fired up and upset sometimes.”
Caldwell said the plan is to turn over the school’s broadcasts to its students at some point; they stream every football game and select basketball and baseball games. In the meantime, the Admirals have a perfect duo calling the shots.