Ready To Step Up

Oct. 24, 2013

By Tayler Turner ’14

If you’ve ever familiarized yourself with sophomore Zach Auguste, you’ve probably noticed his height. At 6-10, he towers over everyone around him, even the other players on the court. But if you’re ever standing next to him, 6-10 feels a lot taller than you thought it would; the “kid” seems like a giant.

You’d think that with his height, basketball would have been the only sports that Auguste ever played. Surprisingly, that hasn’t always been the case. Growing up, Auguste actually tried several sports including football, baseball and soccer before settling in on basketball.

For a time, he dreamt about following in in the footsteps of his father, a semi-pro soccer player, and being a soccer star. The decision to only play basketball didn’t occur to Auguste until his high school years, when his dad told him he needed to focus on one sport.

As a natural athlete who loves sports in general, choosing which sport to play wasn’t easy for Auguste. Ultimately, it came down to the love of the game and the ability to play with his friends.

“Most of my friends played basketball,” Auguste says. “I loved the competitiveness and being able to play it with my friends at the park or out in the driveway. It’s just an all-around fun game for me.”

Once he decided on basketball, Auguste was able to take the sport to a whole new level. With his height and size, he brought a physical presence to the court that was unparalleled at the high school level.

“It was very natural for me,” he reminisces. “Right away I felt comfortable with the ball–I fell in love with the ball.”

And as Auguste was falling in love with the ball, the Notre Dame coaches were falling in love with him, particularly assistant coach Anthony Solomon.

“Zach’s a fine young man,” Solomon says. “He and his family are great people. He’s a great young man that we felt had the strength and athleticism that would be a great addition for us.

“We needed to try and upgrade our frontline in terms of overall ability and talent level, and certainly Zach’s been able to do that.”

Solomon’s interest in Auguste was vitally important to his decision to come to Notre Dame. In fact, Notre Dame initially wasn’t even on his radar.

“At first I had cut it down to four other schools, and then I got a call from Coach Solomon,” the Southborough, Mass. native remembers. “He kept calling me almost every day telling me, `Hey this is the school for you, just come check it out, come take a visit.'”

The persistence of Solomon finally convinced Auguste to come out to South Bend for a visit. Fortunately for the Irish, the young forward felt a connection.

“I loved it,” Auguste says with a smile. “Definitely the coaching staff and team was a big part of it. But I came on my visit and, just like a lot of people say, it’s a family-oriented community. I just felt like as soon as I walked onto campus that `Yeah this is definitely the place for me.'”

That “family” feel came from his on-campus experience–rooming with current junior Pat Connaughton, who at the time was freshman. The two shared a connection with Connaughton being from the Arlington, Mass. area. During the visit, his comfort level within the program also came from the clear care and effort that the coaches put into getting to know him.

“Coach Solomon calling me all the time really showed me something,” Auguste says. “He showed me that they had a passion for me and that they wanted me to come Notre Dame. I felt like that was something I really wanted to be a part of.”

Just a couple of years removed from his initial visit to campus, Auguste is now a sophomore with big shoes to fill as he looks to close the void left by forward Jack Cooley, a first-team all-BIG EAST selection last year and the team’s leading rebounder each of the last two seasons.

“I think his role is going to increase from where it was last year,” Solomon says. “We lost Jack Cooley, who was an all-conference player. He led us in rebounding, so there are a lot of rebounds left out there for someone to get.

“And we think Zach has a chance to be one of the better rebounders in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I think it’s something he’s been concentrating on since the season. Certainly that’s going to help our team overall this year.”

None of this is news to Auguste. He explains that not only was he expecting this bigger role, but that he is ready for it.

“I guess you could say I’m ready for this season and try to take his place,” he says. “I’m not sure that I can every really take his place because Jack meant so much to the success of our team, but I definitely feel like I’m ready to step up and take on the role that he did the last two years, especially as a rebounder.”

The need for Auguste to step up is more apparent than ever now that the start of the season is just a couple weeks away. In his season-opening press conference, head coach Mike Brey outlined that Auguste would be one of six players who will be crucial to this year’s performance.

The other five players–Connaughton, Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman–are all veterans on the court. In age and in experience, Auguste is the youngster in the group.

Recently, Auguste suffered a broken hand in practice and is sidelined for the next month. He is expected, however, to return in time for the season against Miami of Ohio on Nov. 8.

“It feels great to be grouped in with all of those guys,” Auguste says. “I feel like I’ve been working hard and working towards this year. I feel like I earned my place in that core group. I expect to do good things and I look forward to doing them.”