When adversity comes at us head on, it is important to never quit — because success may very well be waiting for all of us around the corner.
While that message may appear to be corny to some, former South Webster and Marshall standout Austin Loop is living proof of what a person can do when he, or she, never gives up.
And with any person who continues to push forward through the best and the worst of times, Loop is a well-rounded individual who is mentally tough. Need proof? Just ask longtime coaching mainstay Steven Ater, who coached Loop for three years at South Webster before moving on to Wheelersburg.
“As far as the complete package as a student-athlete is concerned, Austin’s really tough to beat as far as any student-athlete I’ve come across is concerned,” Ater said. “The family’s top-notch. They have instilled great character and great resolve in him. His work ethic was simply unmatched. He’s such a self-made player. To not only get to the top realm of Division I basketball, but excel at it by becoming a two-time captain at Marshall and setting the record for three-pointers made, is fantastic. You can just go on and on about who he is as a person. His makeup is top-notch.”
For Loop, however, the success that he had with both the Jeeps and the Thundering Herd doesn’t come without a strong support system — both inside and outside of the basketball programs and the communities that the 6-4 dynamo represented.
“It was a heck of a journey, but a good one,” Loop said.”I was blessed with good coaches and was surrounded by good people who believed in me.”
Like most of us, however, Loop had to work to get to where he wanted to be.
As a youngster, Loop had to grind his way to the top, as the freshman didn’t see a single minute of varsity playing time and didn’t even dress with the varsity squad until the conclusion of the 2008-2009 season.
But when Ater accepted the job in the spring of 2009, he saw qualities that would not only make Loop a starter at South Webster, but a central figure to the success of the program on down the road.
As Loop developed from a physical standpoint, the high school standout grew from a heady basketball hooper to a guy who had strong tools from a physical and mental perspective. After making the leap from a junior varsity hand to an All-Southeast District talent as a sophomore, Loop didn’t slow down as the South Webster standout averaged over 17 points per contest in each of his final two seasons of play en route to obtaining All-Southeast District and All-Ohio honors, and led the Jeeps to Division IV District appearances in each of his three seasons in the lineup.
In two of those years, Loop helped lead South Webster to a district final, and in 2011, the Jeeps advanced to their most recent regional final by the play of Loop and Connor Scott.
“In my first year of coaching Austin, he was still very lanky and coming into his body,” Ater said. “He wasn’t filled out or very physically mature yet. However, he could shoot the basketball and he had a great IQ for the game, so he was able to put his brain to work and make up for what he was lacking. By his senior year, Austin was the man in that he was able to do it all. We told him, ‘You’re going to have to be our best defender on most nights. Your length, with a 6-7 wingspan, means that you could be guarding a post player, a point guard, or the opposing team’s best scorer on some nights.’ He took that on as a leader and as a competitor, and as a coach, it’s so nice to have a guy like that. They always say that you want your best player to be your hardest worker, and no one could ever question that with him. He was a great example for his teammates.”
“I believe that none of (my success) would be possible without (Steven Ater),” Loop said. “I played junior varsity as a freshman and hardly even dressed on the varsity squad until the end of the season. He comes along, and in my first summer with him, I immediately thought the world of him. I believed that he was going to be a great coach and gave it my all with him. Then, I go on to start every game from my sophomore year forward and have a good career in high school. Really, it’s kind of a mirror image of how my college career played out.”
As Loop proceeded to tear up opposing players all across the All-Southeast District realm, college coaches, especially from the NCAA Division II and NCAA Division III ranks, began to offer Austin scholarship opportunities with their programs. The vast majority of those programs were ones that Loop could’ve started at right away.
However, as Loop was closing in on his decision, a life-changing offer provided the senior hopeful with an opportunity to prove himself against some of Conference USA’s best individual talents.
“It was spring time, and I got a call from (Marshall assistant) Mark Cline,” Ater said. “He offered the opportunity for Austin to come up. (Tom Herrion’s staff) wanted to get to know him, and they wanted him to work out with the guys a little bit, play alongside them and stuff. So for two days a week over a two-week span, we’d leave school and I’d drive him up to Huntington, and he’d work out with them and participate in open gyms with them.”
After impressing Herrion’s coaching staff enough to obtain a walk-on opportunity, Loop had a tough decision to make: take a gamble, walk-on at a Division I program, and take a chance on seeing the floor or not, or go to one of the aforementioned Division II or Division III schools and see the floor right away, but not against the best of the best.
With some encouragement from Ater, the senior, who, four years prior, had been mired deep on the South Webster varsity bench, chose to work his way up in the same manner with Marshall as he did with the Jeeps.
“I just kept telling him, ‘You can play here. You can really do this,’” Ater said. “‘It depends on what you want to do. Do you want to try to pursue Division I basketball, where you would have to work your way up like you did in high school, or do you want to go to a Division II or a Division III school, where a starting spot or a rotation spot is certainly possible to obtain right away?”
At first, Loop’s gamble paid off in spades. After redshirting in his freshman season to catch up to the rigors of the college game, a solid redshirt freshman campaign (3.2 points in 5.8 minutes per contest) allowed Loop to obtain a full-ride scholarship from Herrion during the year.
However, while Loop’s spot on the team was secure, Herrion’s was far from it. After posting back-to-back 21-win seasons at Marshall in his first two seasons on the job, the Massachusetts native was ousted from the program after the Thundering Herd fell to a mere 11 wins and a 4-12 mark in C-USA action in 2013-14 — the program’s first losing season since the 2006-2007 campaign.
While the change of coaches didn’t mean that Loop was ousted from the squad, it did bring adversity for the South Webster native as Dan D’Antoni moved Loop back to walk-on status at the beginning of his tenure in 2014-15.
But Loop never quit digging, and as a result, never doubted his ability to re-obtain a full-ride scholarship.
“It’s disappointing, but at the same time, I did it before,” Loop said. “Some people would say, ‘Are you mad?’ I’d say, ‘Give it a semester. I’m going to get it back.’ I set my mind to it, and it worked out. Luckily, I had a great coach in Dan D’Antoni come in, and even though I wasn’t on scholarship that first semester, I was in heaven just getting to play for a guy of that caliber. The run-and-gun system fit me perfectly and allowed me to utilize my skill set, so it all worked out, as I figured it would if I put the hard work in.”
And indeed, everything worked out, and then some.
The kid who once served as South Webster’s ball boy during the Jeeps’ 2006 state championship run, and waited patiently for his opportunity to shine at the high school level, wasted no time taking advantage of D’Antoni’s high-octane, high-pressure offense by averaging a career-high 11.3 points per contest on 42 percent shooting from the field, 88 percent shooting from the free throw line, and 39 percent shooting from the three-point line.
As impressive as those statistics were for a player having to adjust to a coach with a completely different style of play, Loop was able to average those numbers while dealing with the roughest patch of his young life.
While Loop was well on his way to climbing a mountain that he had once deemed as “a laughable point,” his father, DeWayne, was fighting a battle that was even more difficult — cancer in the stage four form.
However, on Dec. 19, 2014, which was the day before Loop’s father ultimately passed, Loop was able to tell his Dad that he would be put on scholarship — a conversation that Loop still holds near and dear to his heart.
“My Dad had been diagnosed with cancer,” Loop said. “I knew that financially, it wasn’t going to be easy for my family. I knew going in, at the stage that my Dad was diagnosed at, we knew that it was going to be tough, and it was very tough. However, basketball, as it is for many players, is an escape. It was the same way for me, and I was lucky to have close family members and some great teammates who helped me get through it. That was really helpful. As bad as times were, the fact that I was starting and succeeding, and how much that meant to my Dad, was amazing. It meant the world to me and it made me work even harder.”
After a brilliant sophomore season, Loop never left the main rotation for Marshall again en route to starting 100 consecutive games, and even helped turn the Thundering Herd program around as Marshall collected 17 wins in 2015-16 and 20 wins in 2016-17.
During his final season of play, the 6-4, 210-pound guard averaged a strong 44 percent from the field, a ridiculous 44 percent from three-point range, and a 86 percent mark from the free throw line en route to making 293 three-pointers (a school-record), and scored over 1,000 points for his career.
“The system (that D’Antoni runs) was perfect for Austin in that regard,” Ater said of Loop’s success. “However, you also have to put in the work that Austin did, so when a system like that lands in your lap, you’ve got to be ready to play in it. The system was tailor-made for Austin, but he worked himself to be a position to take advantage of the opportunities that were in front of him when they arose.”
Ater got to experience Loop’s accomplishments at the collegiate level first-hand when the senior hit three-point field goal No. 252 on Jan. 29 in a 91-68 loss, and later, against Western Kentucky on Feb. 11, when Loop threw down a flush to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau.
“I was fortunate to be on hand the night that he hit the three-pointer to obtain the school record,” Ater said. “That was a special moment. To this day, it still gives me chills when I talk or think about it because it was such a special night. It was so special seeing his family there.”
As strong as Loop was on the court for Marshall, he was stronger off of it. Loop not only earned two bachelor’s degrees in biomechanics and exercise science, but he did so while averaging a stellar 3.69 grade-point-average. As a result, Loop became the first Marshall basketball player in 15 years — since Paintsville, Ky.’s J.R. Vanhoose in 2002 — to be named as a CoSIDA Academic All-American, and made the Conference USA All-Academic Team in each of his seasons eligible for the award.
With those degrees in hand, Loop plans to become a radiologic technician, a career that he plans to pursue in full following the completion of his master’s degree.
“I’m very, very proud of who Austin is,” Ater said. “He’s always been a hardworking, quiet individual who leads by example. He’s an inspiration for any kid in Scioto County because they can say, ‘Hey, somebody got out here and did something really special with their life. I can do that same sort of thing, too.’ He’s a great role model because he’s a guy that handled his business as a student and as an athlete. That’s going to take him really far in life.”
As a whole, life tends to take us for a loop from time to time. However, Austin Loop rode with the waves that life gave him, and as a result, came out on the other side by sticking to a consistent formula of hard work and dedication — both off and off of the playing surface.
“Knowing the people in his family that he’s had around him, the support system is just awesome,” Ater said. “I was lucky to get to coach him, I am lucky to call him a friend, and I am looking forward to following his future in other endeavors at this point.”
But Loop, himself, knows that much of what he accomplished wouldn’t be possible without the coach who not only gave him his initial shot to excel in high school athletics, but continued to believe in him well after the fact.
“Coach Ater is a great coach,” Loop said. “He really cares about his players and he put the time in to be successful. He’s helped me with anything that I’ve ever needed, and still has to this day. The reason that I came to Marshall was because of him. People were saying, ‘Hey, that’s a tough level to play at coming from Scioto County, especially coming from as small of a school as South Webster is. That’s a big step.’ But he always believed in me and made me believe in myself when I didn’t at times. Our relationship has grown into a great friendship, and we still talk on a regular basis.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (606) 371-9663, (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7