Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Memoriam: D.J. Augustin's College Eligibility, 2006-2008

As I planned to move to Austin in August 2006, one question casual acquaintances would ask me was, "Are you gonna give up the purple and gold for burnt orange and white?" Despite much private laughing at first, the question became old, because it was always a no-brainer to me-- literally-- because you can't really think about feelings. [Cue quasi-no homo release of emotion:] There's never going to be a team that I care more deeply about than LSU's football squad. It's simply not something I could turn off if I wanted to; in fact, it's almost as if LSU football is a really close friend or family member. It was nearly as important in my formative years-- in fact, my formative years coincided with modern LSU football's formative years. (The 1998 and 1999 seasons would fit this correlation if I had, like, mono for two consecutive falls.)

"No, no, Craig Nall, Northwestern State is that way!" But hey, he was a more successful pro than Josh Booty. In fact, he probably owns a few Green Bay preseason records.

So it was surprising, to say the least, when I started developing a connection with Texas's basketball teams the past two seasons. Don't get me wrong, my mention of LSU football in the first paragraph is in no way a comparison to Texas basketball. It's just... I've never cared for a non-LSU college team more than the Texas basketball squads of 2006-2008. And, for the most part, it was because of two players.

A lot of it had to do with Durant in 2006-2007. I hadn't seen a player like him before, a player more spidery than Chris Bosh who could create his own shot better than Dirk. ("Spidery" might be a late-round sleeper in TANBR's upcoming NBA Draft Cliche Draft.) And I had access to his Facebook through the Texas network! I uploaded his screen name to my AIM, laughed at his cute away message misspellings, and looked up his incessant Wayne quotes. And I went to a few basketball games too. It was like St. Vincent-St. Mary's LeBron all over again-- I was watching a superstar develop before anyone else had really noticed. And it allowed me to keep the JaMarcus Memorial Chest Thump going for a few more months.

Spidery. I'm still awaiting his Friend Confirmation, and it's been over 18 months. Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day.

But as Austin was abuzz about the eventual 2nd pick of the 2007 Draft, I'd critique the other heralded freshman way more often. And 'critique' was about as euphemistic as possible-- I hated Darryl Jerard Augustin, Jr. at first. The antagonism of LSU fans toward D.J. is well documented: a native of the Gentilly neighborhood in New Orleans (I grew up about a mile from his house), D.J. was heavily recruited during his sophomore season at Brother Martin High School, the rival high school of Tank and I. (Actually, he was coached by my former 8th-grade algebra teacher; I'd like to make a joke here, but the truth is, he was one of a handful of teachers responsible for my becoming an engineer.) Anyway, by his junior year, he was a solid verbal to join LSU's steadily-improving basketball team, coming off the recent losses of Ronald Dupree and Brandon Bass.

Then Katrina hit, and the Augustin family was forced to evacuate to the Houston area. Even if D.J. had wanted to come back for his senior season at Brother Martin, it would've been impossible-- the Gentilly campus endured eight feet of water and was forced to close for the Fall. He enrolled in Hightower High School and had a successful season-- he was named the District 20-5A (!) Most Valuable Player. Naturally, Rick Barnes took notice that the Augustin family was claiming residence a mere 180 miles away. There was nothing keeping him tied to Louisiana anymore, and, by Signing Day, Augustin changed his alliance to Texas. It was like the Ryan Perrilloux Recruitment Saga, but in reverse, and with a hurricane.

I remember playing Marian Central at St. Dominic; they were pretty terrible. For some reason, we played a lot of the traditionally white schools in football and traditionally black schools in basketball. Hmmm.

While a freshman at Texas, Augustin showed flashes of point guard brilliance, but was frustratingly reckless as he got deeper in the paint. His best ball distribution involved driving halfway to the paint and kicking it out to KD or A.J. Abrams, a Bloodbath Barry-like three-point shooter. Other than Durant and Augustin, though, the Longhorns didn't have much: a few raw slashers in Desmond Mason and Damion James and a few towel-wavers in Connor Atchley and Ian Mooney. However, the asterisk of his freshman season involved Durant; it was easy to rack up assists with an improvisational sharpshooter on the court.

Chili? The funniest thing about this photo is that the defender almost over-jumped the block. I particularly enjoyed Googling "D.J. Augustin blocked." "D.J. Augustin reckless" and "D.J. Augustin fail" just weren't working.

It was clear that D.J. made a leap in his sophomore season. In November and December, he toyed with teams like UT Arlington, scoring only when necessary, trying to make his teammates better. In Big 12 play, he was consistently inconsistent, allowing teams like Baylor to hang around in games in which they didn't belong. He hit a dreadful shooting slump during February: A&M (6/18), Baylor (1/7), Oklahoma (6/14), Iowa State (5/22), Kansas (1/13), and Baylor (2/12). (It should be noted that UT lost only the first game of those six.) He looked nothing like an NBA point guard, much less a lottery pick, but the Chad Fords of the world consistently had him ranked in the top ten. To me, there was no doubt he was coming back for his junior season, since he was an Academic All-American, and talked to his mom everyday, and stuff.

However, Augustin compiled his most complete game against Stanford in the tournament's third round. Despite putting up a 23-5-7 on 10/18 shooting, Augustin showed that he could simply dominate a slower backcourt even with a height disadvantage. Granted, the Memphis game might've left a bad taste in scouts' mouths, but it's unlikely that Augustin would be asked to score much against-- and over-- Derrick Rose in the NBA.

There's no way this is New Orleans, with all those clean, unused, safe courts in the background.

D.J.'s the premiere pass-first point guard of this draft, cut from the same mold as college-level Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. And the most promising indicator of his potential NBA success is the fact that he still has several things to learn about playing the point. It's becoming evident that Rick Barnes leaves something to be desired as a personal-level college coach; I wanted both Durant and Augustin to stay for one more year, but I realized they'd learn very little from it. Either way, I let out an audible "oh no" by myself when I read the ESPNEWS crawler this evening, and if that's not an indication that I've become close to a player and his team, I'm not sure what is.

Godspeed, D.J. I'll miss your dangerously low, dress-length shorts. I'll miss your ill-advised choices in the paint that inevitably resulted in a block into the stands. And I'll miss seeing you near the PRC bus stop, looking like you could give a shit about how many assists you're averaging.

1 comment:

Tank said...

I can't believe you mentioned the draft cliche draft. There goes our chance at Deadspin. We were keeping that under wraps, my man. Otherwise, nice post.