In a similar situation to fellow frontcourt member Garrick Sherman, Irish forward Zach Auguste’s breakout moment at Notre Dame came out of desperation rather than choice.
With starting forwards Jack Cooley and Tom Knight fouled out and the Irish miraculously in overtime thanks to a late-game surge from guard Jerian Grant, head coach Mike Brey turned to Sherman and the true freshman Auguste as the final options in the frontcourt against the eventual NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals.
Auguste ended up playing 36 minutes in the 104-101 five-overtime game after averaging four minutes in the team’s first 23 contests. He contributed eight points and three rebounds before eventually fouling out himself with 13 seconds remaining in the fifth overtime.
At the team’s media day last week, Brey noted Auguste’s energy as a key component for Notre Dame in its inaugural ACC season. No longer is Auguste viewed as a last resort, but rather as an integral piece of a team that fully expects to reach its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament.
“I think Zach has a lot of [Cooley’s] traits and Zach gave some of that last year,” Brey said. “Zach has a little bit of that reckless abandon. Quite frankly it’s a little too reckless for me some days but I love it. He’s always going 100 miles an hour. He’ll get a tip dunk and a goaltend, but he’s going to make stuff happen and he can run and he’s active.
“He’s unlike any of our other big guys, so bringing him along and getting him confident is a key. … [Auguste and freshman guard Demetrius Jackson] will be really good energy guys for us.”
After the Louisville game, Auguste became a consistent reserve out of Brey’s rotation as the team finished tied for fifth in the final season of the Big East as formerly constructed. His minutes per game down the stretch (12.7 per contest) will expand in 2013-14 as part of a three-man rotation with Sherman and Knight. With that expectation in mind, the sophomore said he focused on imitating the play of NBA star Tim Duncan during the offseason.
“[He is] Mr. Fundamentals, he does everything right,” said Auguste, who admitted that he did not have an appreciation for the fundamentals during his rookie campaign. “His footwork is what I’m really trying to get down because I had happy feet last year so I’ve been trying to slow down and work on the fundamentals.”
When Notre Dame takes the court for the first time this season in its exhibition opener Oct. 28, it will be without Cooley and his double-double average from a year ago. Brey said one of the season’s top storylines is trying to recoup Cooley’s presence on the boards, a key factor in handing out minutes among this year’s trio.
While Notre Dame undoubtedly hopes to see a fundamentally sound Auguste that can consistently rebound and defend, at the same time it does not want to lose the spontaneity of the sophomore’s play that helped him find a place on the court late in the season.
“Zach is a much more polished player,” Knight said. “His post moves have been a lot better, [his] stamina is 10 times better and his shot is looking good. Last year he provided a lot of energy, athleticism and rebounding, but this year I think he’ll provide a little more on the offensive end.”