Spring Garden junior point guard Riley Austin drives strong to the basket during the Panthers' Class 1A Sub-Regional basketball game at Coosa Christian on Feb. 14. Austin was recently selected to the ASWA All-State Basketball Class 1A Third Team. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

SPRING GARDEN - Spring Garden basketball coach Ricky Austin remembers when his oldest son Riley began to show an interest in the sport.

The elder Austin said Riley used sit in his lap, watching game tape with him as early as the age of three.

"I'd be taking notes, and he would have his dry-erase board drawing things up," Coach Austin said.

During that same time in his toddler years, it should come as no surprise that Riley's "toy" of choice was a basketball. After all, he came by it naturally.

Both of his parents are basketball coaches. Following a successful coaching career at Jacksonville State, Riley's mother Dana Austin is currently an assistant on Ricky's Lady Panther basketball team, meaning Riley has practically been raised on the basketball court.

"He's always had a ball in his hands. He's a product of his own environment," Ricky said.

But now, Riley Austin isn't just going to be known as a coach's son.

After averaging 18 points, six rebounds and four assists per game last season for the Panthers (16-10), the younger Austin can now say he's an all-state performer.

The Alabama Sports Writers Association recently chose its all-state teams. The junior point guard earned a spot on the third team.

And, much like his father, the younger Austin is humble when it comes to receiving such an honor.

"I'm just blessed to be a part of this (all-state team)," Riley said. "My dad has done so much for me. I wouldn't be here without him. He's paid for AAU, everything. It's just amazing how much my parents do and what my teammates have done for me. I'm just blessed."

Being the coach's son hasn't exactly been easy for Riley, but he said wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

"I think it's helped a lot," Riley said. "It's probably the best thing for me. Sometimes it's tough to switch over from that dad to coach side, but at home we usually let it go. He's just dad at home, but on the floor, it's intense."

The intensity Ricky displays on the court comes from the fact that he used to be a point guard himself for Coach Dale Welsh in the early 1980s at Spring Garden.

Much like Welsh expected a lot from his point guards, Ricky expects the same from that position.

"I know how important that position is," Ricky said. "You've heard the statement 'They're the quarterback of the team.' The point guard is that, but that point guard should also carry another quality with them, and that's leadership. Just anybody can't be a point guard. Just anybody can't lead, but if you run across a point guard who can lead, you've really got something there."

Riley said his father has always told him 'You can't do anything without a good point guard.'

"When I was younger, he asked me if I really wanted to be a point guard. I told him yes. He asked me if I wanted to put in the work. I said yes. I just try to take everything he tells me and try to apply it to practice. He's tough on his point guards. AJ (Broome), she's got that right now too (with the Lady Panthers), but he definitely knows what he's talking about."

Ricky said he realized Riley could be a good point guard "when I realized he was as invested in the game as I was."

"When I started realizing it bothered him to lose that much, it's been easy to coach him ever since," Ricky said. "His IQ of the game is pretty high. In fact, I lean on him for advice now. I ask him questions after the game, before a game, after we watch a game tape on somebody. I'll say 'What did you see? What do you think about this?' Not many times is he very far off from what I think."

Ricky goes so far as to say his son is like another assistant coach on the team.

"He goes and scouts games on his own. He's been taking game tapes to his bedroom for I don't how long. He'd sneak downstairs and get them and sit up late and watch them. I wouldn't even know it until I started hunting that game tape, and he'd have it in his room. A lot of things like that lets you know a kid is as invested as you are. "

Another trait that father and son share is they hate to lose.

Expectations were high for the Panthers this past season after they made an appearance at the Class 1A Northeast Regional Tournament at JSU in 2016. However, this season's Panthers fell short of a return trip to Pete Mathews Coliseum after they fell at Coosa Christian 58-51 in sub-regional action.

In that game, Riley finished with 21 points, including four 3-pointers (three in the final quarter).

"This was supposed to be our year," Riley said. "We've pretty much had this same team for a while now. We finally had some seniors this year and a little bit of leadership. We had a good year, but Coosa got us. They were a little better than us. They've been young for a while too. We just fell short."

It's those type performances like that mid-February night that Ricky has come to expect from his son.

"From Christmas on, he averaged 27 points a game. His 3-point percentage was over 40 percent from that point on. His free-throw percentage was like 85 percent. He led us in rebounds. He lead us in assists. He had the fewest turnovers out of our five starters who played. He led us in every category.

"A lot of that is because he's on the court. He's probably logged a lot more minutes than some, but all my points guards have been that way. I've always left them on the court. They're just an extension of us. I guess that has a lot to do with his points and stats being so high. He does log a lot of minutes, but he's built to handle that. He's handled that pretty well."

For a complete list of the ASWA All-State Boys Basketball Teams, visit The Herald's website (www.northwestgeorgianews.com/cherokee_county).