How family and sports kept former UConn men’s basketball player Craig Austrie rooted in Fairfield County

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]STAMFORD – College basketball took Craig Austrie all over the country and professional basketball could have taken him all over the world had he followed his days at UConn by choosing a career overseas in 2009 .

But he has long been rooted, personally and professionally, in Fairfield County. He married his college sweetheart, Heather, another basketball lifer from that corner of the state, in 2012. A typical day begins with Austria leaving their Fairfield home, dropping off their two daughters at school, heading to his place of business in Stamford and back in it’s time to tuck in those kids.

Austria, one of Jim Calhoun’s playmakers in the highs and lows of 2005-2009, rides around in a monstrous white van that matches both his family’s larger-than-life personality and ethos blue-collar work from his father, Vincent, who years ago ran a construction company by day in Stamford and by night drove 100 miles to bounce for an hour as his son took additional photos at a lodge Otherwise empty Gampel.

Basketball continues to be the thread of a busy life for Austrie, 34, who runs Craig Austrie Basketball IQ Skills, coaching young players of all ages in a space he rents on Largo Drive. He spent about a month with the NBA development league’s Springfield Armor in 2009, but soon used the sport as a vehicle to establish himself in other ways at the heart of a community he calls home. since birth and probably always will.

“I got released, came back and started coaching a few kids,” Austrie said last week, sitting next to his wife in the gym. “One became two, two became three and the next thing you know, I had a program and I could make a career out of it. Who would have thought that I would still be in basketball? But there’s nothing better than being able to pass my knowledge on to the younger generation, and they got attached to my style of play and my knowledge of the game. I try to build the whole program around being smart and having a high IQ. Being able to do that was really fun.

Austria was the calm and cool of some charismatic – and very good – teams. The Huskies were upset by George Mason in the Elite Eight and finished 30-4 as a freshman in 2005-06, when he started while Marcus Williams was serving a first-half suspension. He started 23 games as a senior — plenty early with Stanley Robinson off, plenty late with injured Jerome Dyson — on the 2008-09 team that lost to Michigan State in the Final Four in Detroit and finished 31-5.

He finished his college career averaging 20.9 minutes, six points and 2.2 assists, playing 131 games, starting 69, with one of the main highlights being his length of field for a buzzer-beater in overtime to defeat South Florida in 2007-08 to extend the Huskies’ winning streak to nine.

While a beard with a few grays now covers part of his baby face, Austrie is still largely the same guy – although leading elementary and high school kids through hour-long workouts has brought a new dynamic to his personality.

His wife? She was always high octane in every pursuit (basketball and otherwise) and every conversation, and she still is.

“Type A and super energetic,” she said.

Heather Austrie, then Heather Coombs, was one of three triplets – along with sisters Lauren and Ashley – who led Trumbull High to an FCIAC championship as seniors in 2005, when Craig Austrie led Trinity-Catholic to a second championship of State and was named Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year with an average of 22.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 steals.

Craig moved to UConn after originally planning to attend UMass and Heather, joined by her sisters, played Division I Fairleigh Dickinson basketball for one season before transferring to southern Connecticut. Heather was part of the 2007 team that won the NCAA Division II National Championship title. Lauren and Ashley played volleyball at Southern.

Craig and Heather knew each other in high school, started chatting on Facebook as freshmen, and soon started seeing each other. Their first date was at the FDU. Craig first went home to do laundry in Stamford, then drove to Teaneck, NJ, and they played 1-on-1 basketball outside Heather’s dorm.

They spent many weekends together, when basketball schedules permitted. Heather, having given up basketball to teach students as a senior, played in many 2008-09 UConn home games and was there that Saturday night at Ford Field when Craig’s career ended. At that time, they were engaged.

Today, Heather does “everything I didn’t study in college”.

She laughed. Heather left teaching a few years ago and founded Heather Austria Management. His professional life revolves around building social media profiles and presence for various businesses, from restaurants to non-profit educational organizations to plastic surgeons and beyond. She used to train Craig’s clients, but now works behind the scenes on everything related to the organization.

Years ago, the Austries drove around Fairfield County putting fliers advertising Craig’s services on car windshields, emailing driving distance basketball programs, exhausting all basketball connections, stopped by area schools to introduce themselves to coaches. Today, the approach is different.

“It’s our social media presence that has taken us to the next level and it has a lot to do with Heather because she has expertise in this area and knows how to reach out to the right people,” said Craig, who studied political science. at UConn and started his training business with a $50 loan from his father to cover insurance. “She helped me get my page started. Once it started it started to take off. I was always business oriented. It was instilled in me. And being at UConn, with Coach Calhoun and how he got created the program, it all absorbed, and it really wasn’t that hard to get started. As long as I was organized – and my wife is there to help me – it was pretty easy to get started.

The torque range is enormous. Heather has 1.1 million followers on TikTok, Craig 442,000. Craig has 222,100 Instagram followers, Heather 81,800. basketball stories posted by Craig and life and humor snapshots posted by Heather.

One of the TikToks pinned by Heather: “When people ask me why I don’t want any more kids, and they ask me which one was the hardest? Which one is it? My stepmom’s. The my mother-in-law’s son is the toughest.

Craig is a help, though. He helps Heather’s business by editing videos and developing marketing concepts.

If anyone has mastered balancing work and play, it’s the Austries. It looks like there’s a camera spinning to capture their every move and that of their daughters. Payton, 7, and Kali, 6, are already basketball fanatics.

“I’m the best shooter,” Heather said. “I’ll beat him shooting any day. But I pray our kids get his handle.

Heather’s sisters both live in Trumbull. Lauren married a former college baseball player and they have two children. Ashley married a former college wrestler and they have one. Craig has two younger sisters – Kelly, who was in charge of student basketball at UConn in 2015-2017, and Ajha, currently a student at UConn.

Austria’s father and mother, Christine, still live in Stamford. He’s always driving around in his van or Heather’s white Lexus for the next family reunion. He talks regularly to UConn coach Dan Hurley and Taliek Brown, another former Huskies point guard who is now director of the player development program. He also keeps in touch with Doug Wiggins, who coaches young players in the Hartford area, and a few other former UConn teammates.

“Playing with some of the players I’ve played with and being part of some of the best teams in the country, you look back and that’s remarkable,” he said. “You don’t like it when you’re around. But looking back years later, it’s like, ‘Man, I’ve really accomplished things that a lot of people can’t say they’ve accomplished – make the Final Four, play in the game of six overtime, hitting the winning shot, being able to play with NBA players. It’s something that I really cherish and hope that one day I can tell my children and grandchildren what I did.

[email protected]; @ManthonyHearst

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