Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade shooting guard Austin Hollins, in his third Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, had to work his way up from smaller leagues to finally reach Europe's elite. Basketball has been an important part of his life since he was born. His father, Lionel Hollins, was an NBA champion with Portland in 1977 and an all-star the next year, as well as a two-time all-defensive team selection. His number, the same 14 that Austin wears for Zvezda, was retired by Portland.
Austin Hollins, Zvezda: 'My father would have to force me out of the gym'
After retiring, Lionel Hollins became an NBA assistant coach in 1985, six years before Austin was born, and rose to become a head coach between 2009 and 2016. It is no secret that his father inspired and encouraged Hollins to become a professional basketball player.
"He was a huge inspiration for me. He set the bar really high and gave me something to aspire to and that is something that I was able to use as motivation for me in my basketball career," Hollins says.
Although he never knew is father as a player, growing up under a coach might have been better for Austin.
"I think it benefited me a lot," he says. "He's the type of person that really loves coaching. And so when we were able to get in the gym, he was always giving me advice. He was always paying attention to the details and trying to help me improve my game."
Austin grew up around NBA courts and took every opportunity he could to work on his game and meet some of the best players in the planet. He would play until his father took him off of court.
"When I was a kid, I used to love going to practice with him. I used to love being in the gym and seeing all the players. And most of the time I was in the locker room, like, playing video games. But after practice, I was able to get on the court and and I always wanted to shoot, and my father would have to force me out of the gym," Austin recalls. "I don't think I practiced an abnormal amount, but whenever I had the chance, I was either at the gym with him or I was out in the driveway shooting hoops on the side of the house."
Of course, he has taken that willingness to shoot the ball better and better into his professional career. Hollins is not obsessed about how many shots he should make each day, but likes to get in early or stay after practice working on his shot, preferably in situations he can replicate in games.
"It doesn't have to be, you know, 500 shots for me," Hollins said. "But I do like to get in there and get some game reps in."
It is easier since Austin reached the EuroLeague for his father, who most recently was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, to keep an eye his games.
"When he has the opportunity, he watches the game," Austin says. "Obviously, his schedule is pretty demanding as well, but he definitely follows the team and keeps up with what's going on around here."
It was not that easy to follow Austin's games in the past. Hollins went undrafted and started his basketball career in the French second division, averaging 8.5 points from Denain Voltaire Basket in the 2014-15 campaign. He played there for one more season before joining Kauhajoen Karhu Basket of Finland. He averaged 17.2 points in 47 games and helped Kauhajoen reached the semifinals. Hollins had the opportunity to go to Germany, joining the Giessen 46ers, and started to dream on playing in the EuroLeague one day.
"I did have that goal, but honestly, early in my career I was very unfamiliar with European basketball and what that meant and what the highest level was for me. Obviously, I knew about EuroLeague, but I didn't have a lot of knowledge about the European landscape of basketball," Hollins said. "So as my career progressed, I started to learn a lot more about what it meant to play overseas. And my goals changed over the years. I started to see where I wanted to be in the level that I wanted to compete in, and EuroLeague was definitely at that level."
After a solid season with Giessen, Hollins got a call from Pedro Calles, who currently coaches Hamburg Towers, and joined German side Rasta Vechta. Hollins led his team in scoring with 16.5 points as Vechta became the surprise team in the German League, ranking fourth at the end of the regular season with a 24-10 record and reaching the semifinals. Hollins had a season-high 29 points against ALBA Berlin, getting 20 against FC Bayern Munich and 26 against ratiopharm Ulm. His outstanding season caught Coach Joan Plaza's attention, who signed him for Zenit St Petersburg.
"You know, it was a long road, five years, and I didn't play in any international competition prior to play in Euroleague. I was playing one game a week with every team that I played with, and then finally, I had a breakthrough season [with Vechta] and I got that job with Zenit that changed my life," he recalls. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be able to still be playing in the EuroLeague."
After two seasons with Zenit, Hollins joined Zvezda, a team that had great foreign shooters in recent years like Billy Baron, James Feldeine, Jordan Loyd and Kevin Punter. Far from being intimidated, Hollins wants to become the best player he can be at both ends without comparing himself to anyone.
"The only thing I can do is go in and be myself," Hollins said. "I can go out there and play the game the way I know how to play it and do it to the best of my ability."