MERRILLVILLE — When Grady Moore Jr. took his last breath, Taylor Austin and her mother Keisha Austin were right by his side.
The 76-year-old died in Sept. of 2017 due to complications from pulmonary hypertension. And not only did Taylor Austin lose her grandfather, she lost one of her best friends.
“That right there was traumatic for her,” Keisha Austin said. “And to just know that her first high school basketball game he was not there, it hurt her. It really did. So he’s another part of what drives her to be better, because he wanted that for her.”
Moore was the person Austin could talk to about anything and her main confidant when it came to her aspirations as a basketball player. He had supported his granddaughter from the very beginning, and was there when she first started playing competitively with the Lady Region Elite on the AAU circuit.
But he would never get the chance to see her make her first high school basket and wasn’t there when she became the second player in Lake Station girls basketball history to score 1,000 points.
Taylor Austin reached the milestone in a seven-point home conference victory over Calumet last Saturday (Jan. 12), and it couldn’t have come in a more fitting fashion. Sitting on 998 points, the sophomore scored on a buzzer-beating, right-handed layup just before halftime.
“(My granddad) would feel really proud of me because this is what I do for a living,” Taylor Austin said. “He wouldn’t be too surprised because this is how I get down. I’m just a natural born baller.”
Family, friends, students and teachers were all in attendance to watch Taylor Austin make history, but her supporters didn’t stop there. The sophomore’s very first basketball coach Rudy Chabes, who started Lady Region Elite and still coaches Taylor Austin over the summer, was also present along with Judy Guess-Crites.
Guess-Crites was the first Eagles girls basketball player to reach the 1,000-point plateau and flew in from Ohio to award Taylor Austin with the game ball. She accomplished the feat as a junior and graduated in 1988.
“She ended up with like 1,400 points,” Lake Station coach Kristy Hite said. “And you know back then they didn’t have 3-pointers either. They came out with the 3-pointer in 1988 (after Guess-Crites’ senior campaign), so that’s a tough task.”
Hite said she felt that having Guess-Crites in the building added to the pressure of the moment and wore on Taylor Austin a bit early in the game. There were plays in the first half when the sophomore forced a few uncharacteristic shots.
But when she finally scored her 17th point of the contest to reach 1,000, Hite believes the accolade couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player. She said her starting guard, who finished with a game-high 26 points, has put in the work — work that began long before she suited up for Lake Station.
Before she became the Eagles’ leading scorer, Taylor Austin learned how to play basketball from Chabes. He remembers how raw she was as a second-grader and didn’t hold back when praising the player she is now.
Chabes has coached some of the Region’s top young guards, including Crown Point’s Jessica Carrothers and Bishop Noll’s Courtney Blakely, and said that playing alongside other elite athletes, being coachable and her perfectionist attitude have helped Taylor Austin emerge as a strong player in her own right.
“I told her she was a diamond, and the process of being a diamond is time and pressure,” Chabes said. “She did the time and she has a lot of pressure on her, but she’s turned out to be a diamond.”
Chabes said it’s been a joy to watch Taylor Austin finally get the recognition she deserves, but he's even more proud that her individual success has propelled her school team to new heights.
During Hite’s tenure, Lake Station has had only one winning season prior to this year. The Eagles finished 11-10 during the 2013-14 season and going into Tuesday’s matchup against Andrean, Lake Station held a 12-5 record and had won 6 consecutive games — spearheaded by Taylor Austin.
The sophomore was averaging 25.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 4.6 steals entering the contest and had notched 13 20-point games, including six 30-point outbursts. Her scoring onslaught continued against the 59ers, but it came in a losing effort.
She finished with a game-high 27 points — shooting 9 of 20 from the field and 7 of 9 at the free-throw line — but she rarely got any open looks in the 73-60 loss. The sophomore was hounded all game long and even when she broke down the defense for few and-1 layups, it was clear she had to exert a lot of energy to get to the rim.
“We just were going to go no help on her the whole game and make her earn everything,” Andrean coach Tony Scheub said. “I think we did a really good job in the first half, and I think we kind of had a little let up in the second half.”
Taylor Austin outscored Andrean (13-9, 4-0) by herself in the fourth quarter 11-10, and despite coming up on the losing end, the sophomore didn’t hang her head or show much frustration. She said having teams key in on her will only force her teammates to step up and make Lake Station (12-6, 5-1) better collectively in the long run.
But if the time comes when Taylor Austin still has to put the team on her back, the 5-foot-5 guard welcomes the challenge. She has scored 1,036 points in her career, is on pace to break her school’s scoring record and didn't get to this point by being afraid of what's next.
“I’ve always been the underdog,” Taylor Austin said. “But I was always taught to never give up.”