When Student-Athlete Isn't An Oxymoron

By David Scott - March 28, 2008

HOUSTON -- There are, as you may be aware after watching the last couple of years of NCAA programming, over 380,000 NCAA student-athletes.

"And," as the Association's public service announcement proclaims, "just about all of them will be going pro in something other than sports."

It is the organization's attempt to emphasize the "student" portion of its much used "student-athlete" description that goes into overdrive this time of year. "Players" are not brought to the interview room here at Reliant Stadium; "student-athletes" are. Questions are asked to head coaches and then "student-athletes," according to the Association's "Interview Policies." No mention of ballplayers or even just "athletes." Always student-athletes, with the emphasis on the word before the hyphen.

More than a few of the jaded followers of NCAA sports - this one included - have snickered at the inference made by the years-long point of emphasis meant to distinguish the amateur athletes from the professional ones and further intended to represent the educational goals of the organization's member institutions.

Those snickers and that skepticism have been tempered over the last week as we have been introduced to the story of Texas guard - and capital "S," capital "A" - Student-Athlete, D.J. Augustin.

Augustin's story would be compelling enough even if the Education major wasn't a viable candidate to become just the 15th player in NCAA history (and the first from the Big 12) to earn both consensus, first-team All-America honors (for his play) and Academic All-America distinction (for his studies).

As a New Orleans native, Augustin and his family were forced out of Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and the 6-0, 180-pound sophomore spent his senior season at Hightower High School just outside the very city where he will play in his first-ever Sweet 16 on Friday night. The Augustins are survivors, yes. But D.J. is more than that, too.

"He's just real," says Texas coach Rick Barnes. "A real person. A very strong person inside."

"He knows what it takes ot be successful at anything," says his teammate, senior Ian Mooney (a graduate student himself). "He's one of the smartest guys in the classroom and it carries over to the court. The choices he makes in general are smart and then it shows these guys on the team how to show themselves as a student-athlete. He's an ideal student-athlete for a program like ours. He's a really good student, a really good person and really good player."

Oh yes, Augustin can play. His 4.0 in the Fall semester GPA (and overall 3.64 GPA) is right up there with his five-game 2008 post-season 3.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has led Texas in assists in all but six games, averages a team-high 19.2 points per game and led the Big 12 in assists with just under six per game. The court numbers are impressive - the class numbers are downright ridiculous for such a prospect. With the NBA drooling over him, Augustin could cruise through his classwork and take ballroom dancing and golf courses. He doesn't.

"As a player, I don't think there's any question that he continues everyday to try to get better with his basketball IQ, just like he worked academically," Barnes says. "He's never ever stopped trying to improve, not only physically but mentally, and he has really gotten better all year long in terms of understanding not only the role and the play of a point guard, but more as a teammate and how he can best get those guys involved and help those guys."

Still, no matter how much his play has improved and no matter how many whispers about the NBA hover around the 20-year-old, it's the "student" part of the equation that he's most interested in.

"I take a lot of pride in that term, student-athlete," says Augustin, whose current favorite class in African American studies. "My mom (Vanessa) and my dad (Darryl), they instilled that in me as a young child and I take a lot of pride in it. It's very important to me.

"A lot of people think that athletes just focus on their sport and don't take school serious," he says. "But my teammates and I, we take it serious and we want to show all the poeple who don't think we do the right thing that we can excel at it."

It's a mantra that appears to emanate from Barnes.

"(If he gets both honors) that would mean as much to us as the two National Player of the Years that we had in Kevin Durant and T.J. Ford," says Barnes convincingly. "That was a goal D.J. set for himself early in the year. That's the only thing he personally said he would like to accomplish, was becoming an academic All-American."

"I told him in his office at the beginning of the year that was my only goal," confirms Augustin. "That's the only goal I can control . Whatever else happens, happens. I wanted that and to win a national championship. That's what I'm hoping to get."

What he's already given, however, is validation that the NCAA really and truly does produce "student-athletes." Cynics be damned.

Posted by David Scott at 12:14 PM on March 28, 2008

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