Austin Ash goes from smoldering embers at Iowa to full-on blazing fire as starter at The Citadel

Citadel guard Austin Ash (10) puts the ball in play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina on Tuesday, December 13, 2022 in Chapel Hill, NC (AP Photo/Chris Seward).

CEDAR RAPIDS – It doesn’t have a rigid schedule where every hour of every day is precisely billed and pre-determined.

He doesn’t have to march, doesn’t have to do push-ups or anything like that. Although Austin Ash plays college basketball at a military school, the military part doesn’t apply to him.

When the former Iowa Hawkeyes guard and Mount Vernon graduate took an interest in The Citadel last summer, it was one of the first things head coach Ed Conroy made sure he knew. As a graduate student, Ash lives in an off-campus apartment in the beach town of Charleston, SC, where it was 70 degrees and a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

“Coach Conroy said, ‘You know what, you don’t have to get in formation in the mornings, you don’t have to carry a gun. You’ll be living off campus, you don’t have to worry about those things,’” Ash said. “But a lot of teammates have to be at the barracks at a certain time, have to get up in the morning, so you have to be respectful with their stuff.

“But that worked really well for me. I’m living a really good life this final year in Charleston.”

And play really good basketball.

Ash has started every game for the Bulldogs (9-14) and is second on the team with 15.2 points. He is one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters and ranks sixth in treys per game.

He had seven 3s in a game against Chicago State the other night, including a 5-on-5 game in the first half. Most of his deep shots are “really” deep, as a recent chart floating around on Twitter from an analysis basket company called Synergy Basketball shows him ranked second nationally with an average distance of 25 feet, 11 inches.

From day one, Conroy has encouraged Ash to load it up and let it run first and ask questions later.

“It was pretty much everything I was looking for in my senior year,” Ash said. “I had the Big Ten experience and was able to fulfill my dream of playing for the Hawkeyes. I just never really became a significant player playing a lot of minutes… I had that last year, I was really just looking for a place to be an impactful player for a program. Do anything to win.

“Even games you’re losing, just be there and be like, ‘Oh, I really could have done that piece.’ Really just being one of those guys who have big shots at the track. That’s really all I had here at the Citadel last year.”

Ash moved to the redshirt as a freshman after progressing in Iowa and played sparingly over the next four seasons despite earning a scholarship last season. He used an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID pandemic and went shopping for school, which would give him a chance to shine.

He had a hard time finding one until he attended Jack Devlin, one of the Iowa team managers, summer graduation party in Iowa City. Family ties brought many members of the Conroy family to the same event, all except Ed, who had just taken the job as head coach at The Citadel for the second time in his career.

Conroy is an Assumption graduate at Davenport.

Former Iowa player Mike Gatens introduced Ash Conroy’s brother Duffy, an assistant coach at Tulsa. They chatted for a while and Ed Conroy finally contacted Ash the next day.

The ball had started rolling.

“Funny how that worked out,” Ash said.

A big problem was that Ed Conroy didn’t immediately have scholarships to give at the time of their first interview. Ash and his mother flew to Charleston to check out the campus, and a few weeks later Conroy called to say a scholarship had just opened up.

That was in June. If he hadn’t gone to the Citadel, Southern Illinois Edwardsville would be Ash’s other option.

“Coach Conroy trusts me a lot and it’s been great so far,” Ash said. “Hopefully we have a special end of the season.”

Ash said he always believed that having the ability to make a big contribution to a Division I program, he just needed a chance. He mentioned how he felt he could take on guys like Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon in practice on some days without feeling out of place.

He still keeps in touch with his former Iowa teammates on a regular basis. He said it’s almost a daily thing with Connor McCaffery.

“These were guys that I competed against and sometimes got the best of them in training,” he said. “So I figured if I was in a smaller school or if the circumstances were different there in Iowa, I would get this chance to play. Coach (Fran) McCaffery mentioned this before.

“But you never really believe it until you do. So this year meant too much to me.”

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