Taking the reins
Augustin has Longhorns poised, ready for title run
Posted: Sunday March 23, 2008 6:58PM; Updated: Tuesday March 25, 2008 3:12PM
Walk into the Texas basketball locker room on any given day before practice and in the lounge 6-foot-10' center Connor Atchley, guard Justin Mason, and point guard D.J. Augustin are in their places, gathered around the video game Rock Band. It's Atchley on the mic, Mason on the guitar, and on the drums, featuring the one-and-only Augustin. There's no Jay-Z or Kanye West, we're talking classic rock songs by Lynard Skynard, AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen.
"I don't even know the songs, I just play the drums," says Augustin. "Justin's amazing, he's the best guitar guy." (Cut to Mason, who takes Augustin's cue and starts jamming on the air guitar.)
Augustin's talent has roots in his middle school days, growing up in New Orleans. "I was in a marching band. I had a snare drum, a base drum, I had a little drum set. I wanted to be in a band, but I couldn't because I had to decide either band or basketball," he says.
That choice to play hoops has paid off big time for the Longhorns. This season, Augustin has stepped up to lead the team in the wake of Kevin Durant's departure. He has a poised presence, exceptional court vision, and has racked up impressive numbers on the stat sheet: in six of the last nine games, he topped 20 points; in his first four postseason games, he posted 24 assists against six turnovers (4.0 to 1 assist to turnover ratio); and in Sunday's 75-72 win over Miami, he finished with a team-high eight assists and three steals.
"This year, I know what coach [Rick Barnes] is thinking. Last year I was just out there, I didn't know what he wanted me to do at times. Now I do, I know what we need as a team to get the job done," Augustin said. "It's fun. To have the ball in my hands at crucial times, that's why we play the game for those moments."
For Augustin, becoming the most important player for Texas pales in comparison to the challenge he overcame in 2005, when his family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The Augustin home was destroyed and his grandfather barely survived the flood. They now live in Houston.
"The last time I went back to New Orleans was this summer for the Adidas camp, I was a counselor," Augustin said. "It was good to be back but it's still kind of emotional. New Orleans will never be like it was when we were living there."
Last summer Augustin also spent time in Austin playing pickup against another Texas point guard, T.J. Ford (now of the Raptors), who returned to campus along with Longhorns alum LaMarcus Aldridge. Sure, Ford took Augustin under his wing, but make no mistake -- there was nothing corny or sentimental about it. Rather, Augustin made it clear that the Longhorns are now his team. The two battled day in and day out, with plenty of expletives thrown around. "I just wanted to step up and show my teammates that I'm not afraid because of who those guys are," says Augustin.
Atchley saw the difference immediately. "He realized that he has a key role and has to be vocal and gets guys going," he says. "His presence on the court is overwhelming. It changes what defenses do. And when he has the ball, you feel comfortable out there."
Says forward Ian Mooney, "If sometimes coach tells me not to shoot it, I'll tell him D.J. told me to shoot, and coach will be like, 'OK.' So it's like there's the floor coach and there's the game coach. And if D.J. tells you to shoot it, you better shoot it. He'll say, 'You can make it.' He instills a lot of confidence in other players."
Augustin now finds himself in a similar spot as Ford was in 2003: a sophomore All-America who many regard as the top point guard in the nation. That year, Ford took the 'Horns to the Final Four, the team's first trip since 1947. Now the Longhorns belong to Augustin (he certainly made that clear over the summer), and don't be surprised if he takes the team one step further, to a national title.