We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because powder blue is a beautiful color.
The 2000-01 season was not a great one for Columbia basketball as a team, but for Craig Austin, it was one to remember. The junior small forward became the only Columbia player to win sole possession of the Ivy Player of the Year award. (Buck Jenkins shared the award with Jerome Allen in 1993, the award was given out for the first time in 1975.) The Lions were perfectly mediocre in Ivy play, finishing tied for fourth place at 7-7. But Austin’s numbers stood out far and beyond his competitors in league play, especially down the stretch. Austin averaged 18.4 points per game on the season, the only Lion to average double figures, and nearly doubled the point total of the next highest scorer on the team.
Austin stepped it up when it mattered most to the Lions, averaging more than 23 points per game in Ivy play, as the Lions won eight of their last 12 games after a 0-3 start and swept a Penn/Princeton weekend for the first time in 15 years. Austin led the Ivy League in made free throws and true shooting percentage, was second overall in points scored and fifth in effective field goal percentage. It was truly a tour de force as Austin made not only his second straight All-Ivy team, but was an honorable mention on the national All-American list.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about Austin’s 2000-01 campaign was how much of the load he had to carry. Only one of his teammates would make an All-Ivy team in their careers. Austin scored 32.2 percent of Columbia’s points in that individually fantastic campaign. For comparison: LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and Matthew Dellavedova combined to average 31.1 percent of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ points in the 2014-15 NBA season. A bit of an apples to oranges comparison, yes, but one that should still shed light on what an incredible individual effort Craig Austin put together in 2001.
Rather than delve into why the Lions were unsuccessful as a team in 2000-01, or why they were unable to improve off Austin’s junior season despite his excellent 2001-02 campaign, instead let’s reflect back on the career of one of the greatest to run the floor in Levien Gymnasium. Austin’s name is still on many career Columbia leaderboards, including possession of the No. 4 spot in all-time points scored. Austin was only the third player to reach the 1,000 point club for the Lions before the end of his junior season, one in which he truly excelled in putting together one of the best years by any Columbia men’s basketball player.