With no lone star, tenacious Texas has launched the post-Durant era by shooting to its best start in 26 years
This is an article from the Dec. 24, 2007 issue
THE SPECTER of Kevin Durant hangs over the Texas locker room, where replicas of the trophies racked up by last season's national player of the year are displayed. The hardware looms atop a shelf across from point guard D.J. Augustin's stall. "It's not a problem," says Augustin, whose own stellar freshman season (he averaged 14.4 points and 6.7 assists) was overshadowed by Durant's. "Seeing those things just makes me proud."
Perhaps the folks in Austin should begin setting aside space for Augustin's plaques. While he hasn't dominated in the manner of Durant—who was taken by Seattle with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft—at week's end the 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore was averaging 19.5 points on 54.4% shooting and 7.0 assists while leading the No. 4 Longhorns (10--0) to their best start in 26 years. Texas has already beaten two presumptive title contenders in Tennessee and UCLA (and faces another stiff test this Saturday in No. 9 Michigan State) and appears positioned to make an even deeper postseason run this season than last, when the Longhorns reached the second round.
At week's end Texas was shooting a scorching 51.9%, including 45.3% from three-point range, had outscored opponents by an average of 23.0 points and had stiffened on the defensive end, limiting foes to 38.2% shooting. The 2007--08 edition is inevitably more balanced without Durant, whose 25.8 points a game accounted for almost a third of the team's scoring last year. Augustin has shared the load with two juniors, guard A.J. Abrams (19.2 average) and center Connor Atchley, whose scoring average (12.6) was up nine points from last year, thanks in part to Augustin's judicious passing. "If you're open, D.J.'s gonna get you the ball," Atchley says.
The playful Augustin has a gift for impersonating his teammates. They, in turn, have emulated his prodigious work ethic. Overweight when he arrived in Austin as a freshman, Augustin promised Texas coach Rick Barnes he would lose 15 pounds by the start of the season—then shed 20. Thus inspired, 6'10" center Dexter Pittman followed his lead and lost 70.
After wearing down late last season, Augustin hit the gym even harder over the summer. "He's not one of those kids who's ever going to say, 'I'm there,'" says Barnes, who has heaped more leadership responsibility on his floor general this season. "Kevin evolved into what he obviously became, but D.J. was the guy who's always had the most pressure on him."
Stress was a constant for Augustin even before he arrived in Austin. Hurricane Katrina forced his family to relocate from New Orleans to Houston. Instead of pursuing a third straight Louisiana state title at Brother Martin High, Augustin adjusted quickly to his new school and state, signing with Texas over LSU in November 2005. He then led Hightower High to the regional finals and teamed with Durant at the McDonald's All-American Game.
The former teammates keep in close touch. "We talk or text every other night," says Augustin of Durant. The NBA rookie has one main message for his buddy: Ignore my trophies. Texas is your team now.
ONLY AT SI.COM Seth Davis's twice-weekly Hoop Thoughts.
Seth Davis's Three Pointer
1 Chris Lofton (right) has lost his shooting touch. Tennessee's senior guard entered the season as a player of the year candidate after going 47.9% from the field in 2006--07. Through Sunday he was at 34.8%.
2 The SEC is soft. Last week Arkansas (to Oklahoma), Mississippi State (South Alabama) and Kentucky (UAB) all lost, and Florida barely beat Georgia Southern. This looks like a five-bid league at best.
3 Southern Illinois is a mid-major disappointment. The Salukis began the season ranked 24th, but a lack of perimeter scoring punch has caused them to drop four of their last five, including last Saturday's loss to so-so Saint Louis.