Off the court James Augustine is every bit the happy-go-lucky guy, a wide-eyed optimist with an oversized personality to match his 6'10" frame. But once he hits the hardwood, the same person who appeared to own the room minutes earlier tends to fade into the background while his teammates soak up the spotlight.
At no time was the senior big man's disappearing act more evident than in the national championship game last April against North Carolina. Saddled with the unenviable task of having to body up on 6'9", 255-pound Sean May, the eventual Final Four MVP, Augustine picked up two fouls in two stints in the first nine minutes and took a seat for the rest of the half. It got worse: In two second-half appearances totalling approximately two minutes, Augustine was whistled for three fouls and was done for the night.
His final line: three missed shots and two rebounds in nine minutes of play in a 75-70 loss. "Obviously," he says, "it didn't end the way I wanted it to." In the early part of the tournament Augustine was one of the Illini's most productive players, leading the team in scoring (15.0) and rebounding (11.7) through the first three rounds. But he had just four points in the Chicago regional final against Arizona and then turned in the embarrassing performance against May.
On his best nights Augustine will knock down jumpers with a smooth lefthanded stroke and hit the offensive glass. Coach Bruce Weber believes he can be the go-to guy on a regular basis. "When we get him the ball," the coach says, "we need for him to score, not just swing it to someone else."
That's because Illinois will have fewer established options this season. Three of the top four scorers--Luther Head and Roger Powell were seniors and Deron Williams departed early for the NBA--are gone from a team that was second in the Big Ten in scoring (77.0 points per game) and led the conference in margin of victory (15.9). Guard Dee Brown appeared on his way to joining Head and Williams in the NBA until he broke his right foot at the NBA's predraft camp in Chicago and decided to return for his senior year. He moves to the point this season.
For Illinois to again advance deep into the tournament, Brown will have to prove he can run the offense and continue to improve as a defender and a three-point shooter, while Augustine has to be more assertive inside without getting into foul trouble. "No doubt I have to step up and take that leadership role," he says. "But I don't think I have to go outside my personality to play any differently."
The Illini have most of the state wrapped up (nine of 12 players are homegrown), but Bruce Weber has to make a bigger impact in the Chicago area. Duke-bound Jon Scheyer and Kansas-bound Sherron Collins are the latest to spurn Illinois.
Coach: Bruce Weber 2004-05 record: 37-2 (15-1, 1st in Big Ten)
2005 tournament: Lost in championship game to North Carolina
James AUGUSTINE [RETURNING STARTER]
Dee BROWN [RETURNING STARTER]
‚Ä†HIGH SCHOOL STATS
RETURNING STARTER *2003-04 STATS ‚Ä†HIGH SCHOOL STATS
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
The personnel around Dee Brown is much better than people think. James Augustine is ready to have a breakout year, Rich McBride can stretch defenses by hitting threes, and Brian Randle, who sat out all of last season with an injury, could be a sleeper.... Brown is going to have the ball more, and you have to keep him from beating you with threes; try to make him put it on the floor and take tough twos.
The Illini need Augustine, the team's fifth-leading scorer last season, to be aggressive inside without drawing the refs' attention.