They grew up together.
The basketball courts of St. Joseph were their homes.
Now, they’re meeting again at Benedictine College.
Central graduates Matt Austin and Jaiden Bristol, along with Benton alum Saxton Thuston, have been playing basketball together since before high school.
Bristol graduated and went straight to Benedictine and has been a strong producer for the Ravens since. During his sophomore season, he had 20 games with double-digit scoring. He ranked sixth in NAIA Division I for number of assists per game and seventh in total assists.
Austin’s track to Atchison, Kansas, was different. He played a year at Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kansas, and then went to Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley for his sophomore season.
At Seward County, Austin averaged just 5.3 minutes per game, shooting 27.6% from the field.
“It wasn’t the best year for me,” Austin said. “I learned a lot that year — I think I matured a lot that year.”
Austin had a 48.8 field-goal percentage and a 43.5 3-point percentage at Penn Valley. After averaging 22 points per game for 13th best in the National Junior College Athletic Association, Austin earned a second team NJCAA All-American honor.
“I had a great season. I knew most of the guys already because we played against them in high school, so we gelled pretty quickly,” Austin said. “After that, when Benedictine called, Saxton (Thuston) and Jaiden were just calling me all the time trying to get me to go there. So, eventually I was like, ‘Why not go play with them again?’”
Austin said Benedictine seemed to check all the boxes when it came to finding a college that was a good fit for him, including being close enough to home to watch his younger siblings grow up.
“Their academics are unmatched; they’re a great academic school,” Austin said. “Their coaches are great — I love (head coach Ryan) Moody, love (associate head coach John) Peer. They know how to coach, they know what to do, and I feel really comfortable with them.”
Before the season starts, they are all preparing for the upcoming season. Austin said he and Thuston have taken the 45-minute trip for weightlifting and practices.
Thuston, who is getting ready for his sophomore year, played in 27 games during his redshirt freshman season at Benedictine.
When they’re not in Atchison, Austin said he and Thuston are working in the gyms or the weight rooms of St. Joseph School District high schools.
Expectations are high for the Ravens next season. They were ranked No. 3 in the final NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll of the season on March 13.
“We’re just trying to get our bodies right,” Austin said. “We’ve just been in the gym nonstop from morning until night just working to get better and hopefully get a national championship.”
Benedictine lost 83-79 in double overtime in the second round of the NAIA tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 22.
“With me coming in wanting to make and impact and those guys having the bitter taste in their mouth of not getting all the way, I just hope we can gel quick and have the same season but go even further,” Austin said.