During the summer, when the Providence campus is practically
empty, Austin Croshere sneaks into Alumni Hall through a window,
an interloper in his own gym. It's not an easy entrance for the
power forward to make. First he has to remember which window he
left open after finishing his solitary practice the night
before. Then he must climb over a five-foot wall in the
darkness--he works out at night, when it's cooler, because the
gym isn't air-conditioned--and maneuver his 6'9", 230-pound body
through the window frame (it's a tight fit at best). You'd think
Croshere, the Friars' best player and team leader, would qualify
for the key to the city, let alone to his school gym. But he has
been sneaking up on people for so long, why should he break with
tradition now?

Croshere is the textbook example of how a gangly, unknown
freshman develops into a Big East player of the year candidate.
If he makes it to the NBA, don't bother handing him the keys to
the castle--or the gym--he'd rather work at building his dream
house one step at a time, the same way he has worked at building
his career.

"The day after we lost to St. Joseph's in the NIT tournament
last year, Austin was banging at the door of our weight room to
work out," says Providence coach Pete Gillen. "He's obsessed
with improving. He's like a cyclops whose eye is focused only on
being a better basketball player."

Croshere's drive borders on the extreme. This summer he spent
six days a week honing his game. (On the seventh day he rested.)
Three days he lifted weights in the morning and shot 500 jump
shots at night. Another day he practiced free throws, 200 at
each session. Another day was spent working on dribbling and
post moves. Finally, on the last day, he concentrated on his
shooting form. Elbow in, follow through with the wrist, hundreds
of times. "I know it has to be this way," says Croshere, a
third-team All-Big East selection who averaged 15.3 points and
5.8 rebounds per game last year. "I'm not a natural, Allen
Iverson-type talent. I have to work on my skills if I want to
move on."

Two years ago Croshere--a business management major--was more
likely to move on to an M.B.A. than to the NBA. Few people
outside the Santa Monica, Calif., summer league in which he had
played had any real clue to his potential. He had attended the
small, private Crossroads School in Los Angeles and been ignored
by most big programs on the West Coast during the recruiting
process. On the East Coast, UConn had offered him a scholarship,
but when Croshere had called to accept it, he was told the grant
had been given to someone else. Finally settled at Providence,
Croshere had struggled during his freshman season.

But at the end of his sophomore year, he turned his game around.
True to what would become his form, Croshere sneaked up on
everybody in the Friars' 71-69 quarterfinal win over Syracuse in
the 1995 Big East tournament. He dominated forward John Wallace,
scoring 28 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. On the strength of
that performance, Croshere earned a spot on the All-Big East
tournament team and was asked to play on the U.S. team that won
the gold medal at the World University Games in Fukuoka, Japan.
"I was the only guy who made [the roster] that didn't start on
his college team," says Croshere. "I only got invited because
something like three guys ahead of me on the tryout list
couldn't make it."

Croshere finished that summer brimming with confidence. "I don't
want to name names, but in a couple of practices I schooled some
All-Americas," he says. Croshere, who averaged 5.9 rebounds a
game, second only to Wake Forest center Tim Duncan, worked his
way into the starting lineup for the tournament's last two
games. Heading back to school for his junior year, Croshere had
firmly established himself as the Friars' big man on campus.

"When we first got here, Austin was this immature kid who
laughed when anyone said something serious in a meeting," says
senior guard Jason Murdock, who, along with Croshere and senior
forward Derrick Brown, is a team captain this season. "Now he
knows he can score whenever he gets the ball, and he's the guy
telling us to be accountable for whatever we do. And we all
listen."

But Croshere doesn't always do the talking. Take the night
before a group of college all-stars took on the U.S. Olympic
men's basketball team in an exhibition game in Auburn Hills,
Mich., in July: He sat in the back of the room and listened as
Charles Barkley, Penny Hardaway and Reggie Miller talked about
life in the NBA, both on and off the court. Croshere was just
another face in the crowd.

That all changed the next day. On national television the
college kids outhustled and outmuscled the Dream Team. They
dominated the first half and led by 17 points at intermission.
Croshere started the game, blocked a Shaquille O'Neal layup and
held his own against Barkley and Karl Malone. The Friars'
forward finished the game, ultimately a 96-90 Dream Team
victory, with 10 points and five rebounds.

"On one play Barkley and I were both going for the ball,"
Croshere recalls. "It went out-of-bounds, and my coach yelled,
'Way to be physical, Austin!' Charles gave me this look and
said, 'You know you fouled me.' All I could think was,
Cool--Charles talked to me. He knows me." And now everyone else
does too.

--Chad Millman

COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE L. SCHWARTZMAN Croshere, who struggled early in his career, has been embraced by the Friars for his focused approach to the game. [Austin Croshere]

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