Austin Kyles is a basketball player who has shown improvement each year in high school. He’s gone from a player with natural talent to a more polished all-around player.

The South Aiken High School senior knows what it takes to build from the ground up, and that’s a big reason why he chose to sign to play at Mars Hill College.

“They’ve got a new coach, and he wants to rebuild the program,” Kyles said of first-year Mountain Lion coach Rick Scruggs. “He told me what he was trying to build and that I was a priority and offered me right away.”

Scruggs’ aggressive approach paid off, and had Kyles choose Mars Hill over other suitors including Lenoir-Rhyne, USC Upstate, Jacksonville University, Missouri S&T, Lincoln Memorial and The Citadel. Kyles gives the new Mars Hill coach something to literally build around. At 6-foot-8, 218 pounds, Kyles is big enough to be a true center. He’s dedicated lots of time and effort into evolving from a big kid into a well-rounded player.

“Austin has showed a lot of improvement in the last year,” Drew Jernigan, the head basketball coach at South Aiken, said of the player he’s seen grow into one of his top players as the Thoroughbreds embark on the 2012-13 season. “He’s just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of, and a lot of that is because of his work in AAU basketball. If he keeps working, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Jernigan praised Kyles touch as well as his mobility and athleticism for a big man. While Kyles can defend the rim and bang on the boards, his coach appreciates his ability to play in the high post, where he has good shooting range and is a capable passer.

According to Jernigan, the main thing Kyles needs to do to keep improving in college is add more muscle and weight to his frame.

While Kyles said his main goal is to make the Mountain Lions a better team, he’s looking forward to his college experience. He’s undecided about a major, with sports medicine a possibility, but is certain he’ll enjoy living in Asheville.

“It doesn’t sound bad at all, the atmosphere is awesome,” Kyles said. “Education is my top priority, but I want to help rebuild the team. I just want to contribute to the team and win a lot of games.”

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.