Jamel Austin and Nuggets forward Gary Forbes after a great session of Above Average Training. (Above Average)

Jamel Austin knows basketball. He also knows Gary Ervin.

Some might say that’s where the similarities end for the two men. But there is more. There’s the fact that they are around the same age. They were teammates in high school. OK, so maybe there’s not so much depth there. Find a roster from the 2002 squad at Brooklyn’s Paul Robeson High, and there will be about 10 other names on there with the same things in common with Austin and Ervin. But while Austin knows the game and his friend Ervin, there is another way to look at these two men.

Gary Ervin knows basketball. He also knows Jamel Austin. And that’s what has helped Jamel Austin see things he never thought were possible. Jamel Austin came to Fayetteville State after starring at the junior college level in New York. By his final season in 2007-08, Austin was a reliable guard, averaging nearly 11 points per game in over 32 minutes a game. He started 24 of 25 games, was among the CIAA’s leaders in assists per game with 5.1 and even added 3.5 rebounds a game. A year earlier, Austin started all 28 games.

Jamel Austin was a good player for the Broncos. But when the games were done, and a Mass Communications degree in hand, Austin still found himself searching for an edge. He compiled film for the NBA, but that left him a little cold. Watching guys play ball was a lot different, Austin found, than actually having the ball in his hand.

He hung around Felton J. Capel Arena some, looking for a game. As anyone with a Broncos background knows, games are pretty easy to come by in Capel for a guy like Austin. Guys like to play with someone they know will get them the ball. Austin can do that. Before long, he realized he could do even more.

Gary Ervin is a baller. High-major. When he left Robeson, he landed at Mississippi State. After a couple of seasons there, Ervin transferred to Arkansas. In two seasons at Arkansas, Ervin was a key player, averaging nearly 10 ppg in those two seasons, playing more than 30 minutes a game. Ervin wasn’t drafted into the NBA, but there are other leagues that will pay you to play.

Ervin found them. A year ago, he was named the MVP of the National Basketball League in Australia after putting up 20.1 ppg, 4.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds. He then moved on to the Ukraine, hooking on with BC Kyiv. This is Gary Ervin’s life. He may not be in an NBA uniform, but he’s gathering paychecks for his game. But even a guy like Gary Ervin needs help. And he knew just who to call.

Jamel Austin found his niche in the same place he found a home for his game. Capel Arena. He began running former teammates through drills. He led impromptu individual workouts. He began teaching. “I realized then I wanted to do something with basketball,” Austin says now, just days after returning home to Brooklyn, still fighting off the jet lag. “I wanted to stay around basketball.” At night, he began studying. Basketball videos. Drills. Books. Game film. Anything he could get his hands on.

“I looked at film and studied everything I could,”he says. “I’d study eight hours a day – game film, video, whatever. I didn’t always need to go to the gym.” The epiphany began to wash over him. Austin found the drills that clicked. He even began studying mental exercises. “You have to be elite mentally first,” he says now. “You have to be mentally strong, and then you have the tools necessary to keep working on your skills, to do all of the extra work that it takes.” With former FSU teammate (and current Broncos assistant coach) Mike Moses, Austin organized Above Average Training (www.AboveAverageTraining.com), putting his vision in place. All he needed now were clients. So he went home.

Who you know and what you know. Jamel Austin has turned the old cliché upside down. He uses both parts equally. Austin played AAU basketball with Gary Forbes, who had signed with the Denver Nuggets in 2010 after bouncing around basketball’s various professional leagues after playing at the University of Massachusetts. Back home in Brooklyn, Forbes needed a gym to work out in during the offseason. Word got out to Austin. He had a gym. Therefore, he had Forbes.

“I just jumped on it. I could get into a gym, and so I had him come down,” Austin says.

Austin worked Forbes out. The former teammates got along well. A series of workouts followed, some of which included Forbes’teammate from the Nuggets, former North Carolina star Ty Lawson. The word was getting out. Forbes and his game stayed in shape, and he was able to sign a contract with the Toronto Raptors. J.J. Hickson, a former N.C. State standout now with the Sacramento Kings, hooked up with Austin. “It all happened so quickly,” Austin says of his training career. “My dream came true. All of a sudden I was training NBA players.”

Jamel Austin heard from his good friend. Seven time zones away, Ervin felt like his game could be sharper. He offered Austin a trip of a lifetime – come to Kiev, Ukraine, for the league’s 2 ½-month season and work with Ervin for the duration. Austin packed his bags and headed to the former Eastern Bloc. “It wasn’t easy adjusting from the U.S. to Europe, that’s for sure,” Austin says.

But he did refine Ervin’s game. Working around the team’s laborious practice and game schedule, Ervin had a strong season at the point, ranking among the league’s best in assist-to-turnover ratio.

A successful season concluded, Austin returned home to Brooklyn, where more opportunities await. Austin recently signed with RBA Sports Agency, and will move his training into the Basketball City center in New York. His career is in full swing.

But Austin had to take the necessary steps to get there. His first one was on the Capel Arena hardwood. “I just have to thank God,” he says. “Just going to North Carolina and to Fayetteville State changed everything for me. It helped me mature so quickly. Lord knows where I’d be if I didn’t go to Fayetteville State.”

“The schoolwork, basketball – all of the experiences at Fayetteville State prepared me for my life afterwards.

“I love FSU. I mean, you’ve got to love FSU.”

Courtesy of CIAA