By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
BARBOURVILLE, Ky. — It was almost fitting that I got a Twitter message from Austin Cummins less than an hour before his Union College basketball team would be hosting Tennessee Wesleyan Wednesday night.
I had tweeted that I was at the game — it might have been a surprise to him — but messaged me telling me didn’t know how much he would play. Cummins, who had started 19 of Union’s 25 previous games, had been sick for two days, even battling a fever. I thought I might miss him.
I’d known Austin ever since he was a freshman at Anderson County High School and knew he could fill the nets. I’d seen him go off on teams, firing up those left-handed jump shots from anywhere inside the midcourt line. His specialty seemed to be locking in from a wing or the deep left corner. But despite seeing so many of those big nights, I had missed it when he lit up George Rogers Clark for 51 points on Feb. 3, 2015.
I had been sick that night, keeping up with the game through text messages with some people in the stands. Despite Cummins’ efforts, Anderson dropped an 82-76 decision in overtime that night.
So five years and a day later, it was almost eerie when Austin messaged me. Thankfully, he didn’t entirely miss the game, although he wasn’t in the opening lineup. He came off the bench to score nine points and grab four rebounds. Both were a bit below his season averages of 11.2 and 4.7 but he only saw 18 minutes of action. He also averages just over three assists per outing.
“I have a little bit of the common cold and a sinus infection and a touch of bronchitis,” Cummins said. “I had a 102 fever on Monday and didn’t practice at all Monday or Tuesday.”
Did it take the wind from a guy who has always played all-out, all the time? “For sure,” he smiled. “I felt it out there.”
Individually, it had been a solid night for Cummins, but unfortunately for his Bulldog team, Tennessee Wesleyan snatched an 82-77 win, almost the exact same score as when I missed his big night. It dropped the Bulldogs to 17-9 on the year.
His playing career is drawing to a close as Union, which was ranked No. 25 in the NAIA’s Division II, has only one more regular-season home game, against Montreat on Feb. 12.
“It seems like just yesterday,” he said of his time at Anderson. “It’s crazy how fast time goes. It seems like college went by faster than high school, actually.”
That big night in 2015 was during Cummins’ senior year. He’d signed at Anderson College in South Carolina but headed back to the Bluegrass after one semester in the Palmetto State. It was quite a homecoming as Union went 35-3, earned the No. 1 ranking and defeated No. 2 Cornerstone (Mich.) in the championship game.
Cummins’ name doesn’t appear in the championship game box score, he saw action in the tournament and was happy to be just over two hours from home.
“Coach (Kevin) Burton had recruited me in high school,” he said. “He was the first one to actually offer me (a scholarship) so he was one of the few coaches I called when I was in the transferring process. He has always been honest and straightforward with me and he made it feel like home.”
And being at the small college with deep roots in the Methodist church, things have gone well. “College has tested my faith, but here in Barbourville, it has helped me get closer,” said Cummins, who will graduate with a double major in Business Management and Sports Management in May. “I am thankful for this opportunity and the people I have met here. The community support is unreal.”
As he spoke, a young boy from East Barbourville Baptist Church waited to see Cummins. “He’s my No. 1 fan,” Cummins smiled. “The church family treats you as your own family.”
And Cummins stays close to his Anderson County family too, including his high school coach, Glen Drury, and current Bearcat coach Bryan Hyatt. “When I am back in town, I always practice with the high school team to see how they are doing.”
While Cummins plans to be working in business in Lexington, don’t be surprised to see him somewhere on the sidelines, coaching somewhere in the future.
He breaks into a big smile. “I got the Sports Management degree because I don’t think I would ever be able to stay away from sports.”
We saw that Wednesday night.