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Provo • Ten days ago, BYU basketball players had a little extra spring in their steps, and not only because they had knocked off Pepperdine at the Marriott Center.

They got their scholarship checks on the first day of the month, checks that included a little something extra, from past years, for cost of attendance. Senior forward Nate Austin could only look on in amusement — but not regret.

After receiving those checks for four years and having his tuition paid as well, Austin is a non-scholarship athlete this season. He received a medical hardship waiver from the WCC and the NCAA to return this season after missing all but nine games last season with a hamstring tear — but as a walk-on because BYU's 13 allotted scholarships were already promised to other guys.

"You don't realize how much you get, and the perks and all that, until you don't," Austin said after practice on Tuesday as the Cougars continued preparations for Thursday night's game at San Francisco (8 p.m. MST, BYUtv). "Without a scholarship, your life is definitely different."

For instance, last fall Austin was assessed a small fee for not paying his tuition before the deadline. Before, that sort of thing was taken care of by the athletic department. In some ways, it is like being a freshman again. "So, I've got this [tuition] account that I didn't even know about," he said.

But the 6-foot-11 forward is happy with the decision he made to come back, despite the sacrifices that it required.

"For me, it wasn't that tough of a decision," he said. "I love playing at BYU. It was my dream as a kid. I came to games here with my dad. I have been around BYU my whole life, so when coach Rose gave me the opportunity to come back, it was a pretty easy choice."

Austin saved up some money last year, and his parents are pitching in as well. Plus, he's old enough to qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. A communications (advertising) major, the additional time in school has allowed him to get a business minor.

On the court, he has given Rose some valuable minutes as a starter in 12 games and off the bench in 13 others for the Cougars (17-8), averaging 5.3 rebounds per game. Rose said Austin will leave as one of his all-time favorites.

"Because you always get a great effort from Nate," Rose said. "If you really broke it down and tried to evaluate what he has really overcome as far as issues with his body, you would understand. He takes about 30 minutes longer than the rest of the guys to get loose, get stretched. But it never slows him down.

"He is always working hard," Rose continued. "And then he is a guy who has really struggled with our system early in his career. And he has learned it, and he knows it as well as anybody. You love those kind of guys who are team guys, and they find a way to help your team win."

Knee, back and hamstring injuries aren't the only obstacles the returned missionary has overcome. A speech impediment he has fought since childhood has made it difficult at times to answer questions in class, or answer questions from the media before and after games.

"Ever since I was young, I have struggled with stuttering," Austin explained. "I have seen speech therapists who have helped me learn how to get through it, learn how to slow down, use some breathing techniques, things like that."

The progress he's made from his first interview in 2011 to his lengthy responses for this article is noticeable and impressive.

"I think [the therapy] has helped me gain a lot of confidence talking to [the media] and I realized the media wasn't there to intimidate me, or bite my head off," he said. "It has helped me ask for a date, or talk to people in class. I noticed pretty quickly that I couldn't talk like a regular person. I would raise my hand in class, but words wouldn't come out. I saw a therapist a couple years ago, and then last semester as well, just to keep improving."

Injuries have hampered his improvement on the court and his minutes have fluctuated over the course of the season. But that's fine with Austin.

"Hey, this year was never guaranteed," he said. "I told coach Rose I was going to be good with anything, from playing 30 minutes a game to sitting on the sidelines, being a teacher and a leader. I'm just thankful to be here."

That's even true on the first day of the month, when almost everybody else is getting a scholarship check.

Twitter: @drewjay —

Austin file

• Part of BYU's Lone Peak Pipeline, Austin played for assistant coach Quincy Lewis in high school and also played on Dave Hammer's Salt Lake Metro club teams.

• Has started 12 games this season and is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game.

BYU at San Francisco

P Tipoff • Thursday, 8 p.m. MST, War Memorial at The Sobrato Center

TV • BYUtv

Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM and Sirius XM 143

Records • BYU 17-8, 8-4 WCC; USF 13-10, 6-6 WCC

Series record • BYU leads, 14-6

Last meeting • BYU 102, USF 92

About the Cougars • Are 4-0 at San Francisco as members of the WCC. … Guard Chase Fischer has made 79 3-pointers, most in the league, and seventh-most in a season at BYU. He made 103 3-pointers last year. … Freshman Jakob Hartsock has started the past two games, including Saturday's stunning 77-72 loss to Pacific.

About the Dons • Coach Rex Walters is 125-122 in eight years. … They are 1-9 against BYU in WCC games. … G Devin Watson leads them in scoring with a 19.8 average and F Dont'e Reynolds is their leading rebounder, grabbing 6.7 per contest. … They have won two straight games, including Saturday's 89-86 win over Santa Clara in overtime.