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January 25, 2009

Austin Steed: Mr. Energy

South Carolina's got scoring. South Carolina's got defense. South Carolina's got ball-handling.

Everything Austin Steed can do, somebody else can do better.

Except be Austin Steed.

"What he wants from me is to bring a lot of energy and just play solid and go and get rebounds and stuff," Steed said recently. "Once I get the feel, start shooting around and everything, I just bring a lot of energy to the court."

That word keeps popping up when Steed talks about himself and others talk about him. "He brings a lot of energy to the floor," guard Zam Fredrick once said. "Austin? He's a real energetic guy," forward Mike Holmes remarked in the preseason.

At 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, Steed's too rangy to play the wing and too spindly to smash around in the post. He's got a jump shot that's good from 10-15 feet but not so good for the 3-pointer and an inside move that's developing.

So he does what he can. Get in the air. Use those long arms to get up and over defenders under the iron. Bleed the clock so the Gamecocks' other players can get some rest, saving their legs for the rest of the game and the season.

In an 82-71 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, Steed scored six points and had five rebounds in 15 minutes. He turned it over once and had one foul.

Yet he was as important as the 22 points Devan Downey poured in or the 10 boards Holmes yanked or the 12 points from Dominique Archie. Why?

He did his job.

"When he starts trying to be something he's not, we'll have to get that in check pretty quick," coach Darrin Horn said recently. "I think Austin's had success because he's doing what he can do well. Play hard, bring us energy, be effective around the basket, be active defensively."

There's that word again.

"When I have a chance to score, I just go to the basket," Steed said, struggling for an answer to a question defining his role. "I come in, just let everything go."

Perhaps it's fitting that a part of Steed's favorite Bible verse -- Proverbs 3: 5-6, which he has tattooed on his arm -- reads, "Never rely on what you think you know." An inside scorer and rebounder during an all-star career at Butler (Ga.) High School, Steed chose USC after a year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

The year of off-the-court activities, he said, changed his life and approach to basketball. Although he wasn't as opposed to marching as some of USC's other athletes have been -- "That was the fun part," Steed grinned -- the constant grind of the military disciplined schedule had him hopping.

"It humbled me a lot," Steed said. "Got a lot of discipline there. It humbled me very much."

Reporting to campus for what would be coach Dave Odom's final season, Steed only got into six games, another of a slew of long athletic guys that could play the wing or on the block. Never an outside shooter, Steed played with his back to the basket once he got in and tried to tussle with some of the other forwards he faced.

When Horn took over, Steed's game was refined a bit. Horn didn't tell him to strictly do this or that, he just said to take advantage of what he could do when the time came.

It's paid off. Steed has started two of the Gamecocks' 18 games this season and has played in all of them.

He uses his practice time to ride on Holmes' hip, letting him know that he won't back down. Once Sam Muldrow got cleared from his early-season problems, that was another big that Steed could try to work on.

"Competing against him is kind of fun for me because it's a challenge for me," Steed said of Holmes. "I like to use my quickness against him and make myself known that I'm not going to be a person he can push around down there."

Then when he gets in the game and has to bang against another physical forward -- i.e., Ole Miss' Murphy Holloway -- he can spin in, try to get a shot and perhaps get fouled. That was Holloway walking to the bench with his third foul in the first half on Saturday as Steed was toeing the line for two free throws.

Should have known Mr. Energy was coming through.



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