On Dec. 7, 2013, Austin Pinckney, a 6-foot-6 forward for Emerson’s men’s basketball team, played the best game of his collegiate career in the Lions’ 90-79 victory over reigning Division III national champion Amherst College.
After racking up 13 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in the Lions’ landmark victory over the visiting Jeffs, Pinckney appeared to be a bright part of the team’s future.
But after completing his first semester at Emerson, Pinckney, a sophomore at the time, was ruled academically ineligible and missed the last 17 games—or more than half—of the 2013-2014 season.
“It was an unfortunate situation,” said Pinckney, who transferred to Emerson from Division II Northwood University in 2013. “You never want to watch your team play without you. It was upsetting.”
Once Pinckney realized the impact of his poor academic performance, he said he knew he had to make a change.
“The transition [from Northwood] was difficult,” said Pinckney, “but it’s not an excuse to allow yourself to slip up.”
This season, Pinckney returned to the Lions, who are currently 9-10 (3-6 in conference), and has started in 17 of 19 games under first-year head coach Bill Curley.
Curley said he was surprised to learn Pinckney became academically ineligible halfway through last season, but said he recognized Pinckney’s flaws.
“Austin didn’t really believe in himself last season,” said Curley. “He didn’t really understand that he could be really good. He wasn't real serious about [basketball] last season.”
But Pinckney has rebounded from being barred from the game he loves to play, and Curley said he is pleased with the results so far this season.
“He’s really worked himself into a space where he did tremendously academically last semester. He’s growing up,” Curley said. “That’s what you come to college for. He still wants to take a shortcut sometimes, but he knows now that he can play and isn’t burdened by being the old Austin anymore. The real Austin is showing up now.”
With five games left in the regular season, Pinckney is averaging just under a double-double with 9.5 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game.
The junior, who currently leads the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference in total rebounds, with 180, and is second in 3-point shooting percentage, at 43.2 percent, credits his turnaround to hard work in the offseason and his teammates.
“It’s a huge step up for me, but take any [of my teammates] out instead and it’s the same,” said Pinckney. “It’s still a team game.”
Pinckney’s former teammate, Jon Goldberg, was co-captain last year when Pinckney was named ineligible. Goldberg, who is currently a graduate assistant for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s basketball team, said he had encouraged his team to help Pinckney and get him back on the court.
“We always wanted him to be around,” said Goldberg. “It was a full-team effort. He just understood how much we needed him. He still has more to offer, which is pretty hard to say when he is leading so many statistical categories. He’s had some monster games.”
Despite his accomplishments, Pinckney said he would happily trade the numbers for more wins.
“I could get 40 points, and if we lose, it wouldn’t matter,” said Pinckney. “All the accolades and leading points and stats [is a result] of hard work over the summer. I dedicated a lot of time over the offseason to make sure I could come out strong and make up for what was lost last season.”
Pinckney spent most of his summer in Chicago, where he said he spent time every day lifting weights and playing basketball—a process he said he knows paid off.
“I learned my lesson,” he said. “I’m just happy that I am able to play now.”