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Spring Signing Week '14: Austin Bates Follows March Madness to FGCU
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Studies are done each year on how many work hours and wages are lost during "March Madness." Each March, the country is transfixed on college basketball and filling out their brackets. Fans root for the underdogs, and in some cases, schools they couldn't place on a map.

Being a sports and college basketball fan, Marietta, Georgia's Austin Bates was among the millions that followed the run of the Florida Gulf Coast University's men's basketball team to the "Sweet 16" in 2013.

Then a light went off.

"March Madness, well the funny thing is, was that is how I heard about the school," admitted Bates. "I checked them out, and they were a solid D-I school in tennis. I got in contact with them, and it went from there."

It may seem like a strange way to narrow down a list of possible colleges to attend, but Bates has been doing things differently than most elite junior tennis players, for a number of years.

"I would consider myself a late bloomer," said Bates, who has been consistently one of the top players in Georgia and USTA Southern for years. "For years, I played other sports like baseball, basketball, football, and even hockey. Some of these kids that go to the big SEC schools started playing tournaments when they were seven or eight years old."

With the prodding of his mother, Bates said he started getting more serious and played some tournaments around the age of 11.

Bates says he knows he is one of the few top juniors in the state that attends a normal high school. That would be Pope High School in Marietta, and Bates actually walks the halls with his fellow classmates each day until noon. Then he says his "tennis day" starts, but he also takes an online class to make sure he stays on pace to graduate with all of his friends.

Friends.

"Friends are important," explained the big-serving righthander, who trains at the Stephen Diaz Tennis Academy in Marietta. "I see some of the homeschooled players, and they have one set of friends. For me, I like having a tennis and a high school group of friends."

Bates also says he puts a priority on academics and the "student" part of the term, "student-athlete."

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