Rager excited to further his basketball career at Wabash Valley College

Mount Carmel senior Austin Rager poses with his family after signing his NJCAA National Letter of Intent. Rager elected to continue his athletic career at Wabash Valley College next fall.

MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- On February 15, Mount Carmel senior Austin Rager will have played his final game at the Hilltop with the Aces. The bruising guard has accomplished a great deal in his career as an Ace.

Rager, a four-year starter, started on a team that made the state championship game just two years ago and has averaged over 11 points per game in three of his four seasons at Mount Carmel. This season Rager has elevated his game another notch for Mount Carmel, averaging 19.9 ppg and 7.8 rebounds per game. His scoring and rebounding only tell half the story with Rager though, as Mount Carmel head coach Tyler Buss would likely tell you that Rager's his best or second best defender. His drive for the game is tremendous.

Fortunately for Aces fans, February 15 won't be the last time they'll be able to watch their hometown guard -- instead, they'll receive a couple more years to watch Rager. The senior guard signed his NJCAA National Letter of Intent to stay home and play for Wabash Valley College in the coming fall. Rager chose the Warriors over other Division II and Division III opportunities. Rager signed the letter with fans, friends, teammates and coaches in attendance at the Hilltop on Thursday night.

"I just felt like JUCO could help further my basketball career," Rager spoke of his decision. "I could go there and if I did well, like I think I can, then I can go somewhere else. I just think it's the best choice for me."

The coaches at Wabash Valley College aren't making any promises to Rager, instead, challenging him that he has to come in and earn his minutes and opportunity. Rager believes he's up to the challenge.

"They said just because I'm a Mount Carmel kid doesn't mean I'm going to walk in and get a spot," Rager said. "I have to work for everything that I'm going to get. I think if I work hard enough and go there I can get a starting spot if I want to."

Coach Buss sees the fit at Wabash Valley College as an ideal fit for Rager's abilities.

"I think the style of game is perfect for him," coach Buss said. "He's an up-tempo, attack the rim type of player and that's a lot of the style you see at the JUCO level. I think he fits in perfect. He's really developing some ball handling and shooting skills that'll help him at the next level, but his athleticism and ability to finish around the bucket will be big for them."

Coach Buss said that he's challenged Rager more than any player he's ever coached. Time and time again Rager has stepped up to the challenge and did as his coach asked. He'll be tough to replace with his strong work ethic and skillset, but coach Buss is mostly going to miss Rager's constant smile and passion for basketball.

"I'll just miss his big smile," coach Buss said. "He's a kid that truly loves the game of basketball. It could be playing in the state finals two years ago or playing in the park, it doesn't matter, he loves playing the game. As a basketball coach you can't help but love guys that love to play the game and I haven't had anyone love to play the game as much as Austin."

Rager and the Aces still have over a month until their season ends, with the postseason immediately following. He believes this team is starting to click and will be ready once the time comes. It would be a nice storybook ending for Rager if he and his fellow seniors could end the season in winning fashion.

"I think when it comes close to regionals we'll be ready," Rager said. "Everybody's starting to click and know their roles, everybody's figuring out the defense and it's just all coming together because everybody's starting to gel."

The next opportunity to see Rager and the Aces at the Hilltop will come on Tuesday, Jan. 22 against Gibson Southern. The night starts with the JV at 5:30 p.m. with the varsity to follow.

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