So, why the question? Or perhaps better, why the confusion over how Augustus fits into Rick Stansbury's 2010-11 schemes since it all sounds so familiar? This will come across as an contradictory concept, but Stansbury wants his 6-8 upperclassman to play a better-defined all-purpose role.
"Well, I think a defined role means when you get between those lines you've got a role to play," Stansbury said. "You have a role to defend and rebound and play to your strengths, and don't get caught-up in positions." Yeah, that clears it up greatly.
To be fair to both coach and player, practically from the day he arrived on campus Augustus has operated in an undefined and even ill-defined basketball identity. Blame it on both his varied gifts—center size, forward moves, and perimeter touch—and the rather unstructured way State has operated the last couple of campaigns. Especially last winter when, due to a thin frontcourt, Augustus was pushed into the paint more often…yet also told to keep shooting longballs.
No wonder his frustrations showed through at times, including that spectacular opening-night meltdown after State was upset by Rider.
"We had to move him around last year because of a lack of depth back there at the five some," Stansbury admits now, adding "And that may happen again this year, early." For the also-obvious reason that with Renardo Sidney sitting out nine games, Elgin Bailey still not up to 100% speed, and John Riek being a work in progress, State needs some frontcourt options to survive the opening five weeks of play.
So Stansbury is asking Augustus to apply his experience and size more around the rim this month. "He's just on me every day in practice, telling me to stay in the post, and about not really relying so much on the three."
Ahhh, yes, the three. Augustus threw in 35 longballs last season at almost 37% accuracy, easily the best of his State career. And in an impressive six-game stretch to end the regular schedule he was 11-of-21 at the arc. But his coach still recalls another span where Augustus was only 4-of-27 on long shots.
"You know, I thought he had an OK year last year; I expected a lot more than we got, to be honest," Stansbury said. "More consistency. One thing that I think he can do that he was very inconsistent with last year was shooting the basketball." Because for the whole season Augustus was only 40% on all shots; put another way, he was only 41.4% shooting INSIDE the arc.
The fan would immediately suggest, then, to leave him outside and let Augustus keep popping since 37% of threes made trumps 41% of two-point buckets scored. Nice idea, and Stansbury has not ruled out the outside offense. But under the early-season circumstances he wants Augustus to put more emphasis on the inside aspect. "And I think he's gradually gotten better at defending and rebounding."
He had to. "I mean, Coach told me I needed to get more physical," Augustus says. "He was like I was playing a little soft, I was a little too finesse. I said yea, that's my game! But I have to change it, he said if I want to play at this level I have to get more physical." And with 220 or so pounds on that 6-8 frame there's no reason Augustus cannot give MSU some needed muscle around the middle while the true centers shake out in the weeks ahead. Though Augustus says not to overlook young postman Wendell Lewis in this regard; in fact he sees some similar versatility in this sophomore.
"He can play. I think when he came in last year we had to have him at the five, but this year we can have him on the perimeter. He's coming along well, he's an athlete."
Augustus is undeniable an athlete; few men of his size anywhere can get up and down the floor, especially up it on offense, as easily and then do something with the ball. Yet his very versatility has become a problem over time, and narrowing options just a bit could be the senior-season trick to achieving the consistency Stansbury seeks.
Something else is worth noting. Augustus has developed in other ways. He says he's focused on keeping the mouth shut at practices and in workouts and other non-game settings, and setting an example. Especially in that weightroom, which has not always been his favorite place.
"It's just a thing, maturity. The first few years you really kind of talk too quick. You get used to the process and say I've got to stop talking, and go in and you focus more on giving every rep."
The fact is, with age and experience comes increasing obligations. "I've got to be a leader," agrees Augustus. "I'm a senior, I've just got motivate people to do better and do my part and show them the right way to do it. It's kind of just ‘grow up' I guess."
No guess, though, that this is something Mississippi State needs as it opens the first portion of a discombobulated schedule. And if an old Dog like Augustus can learn new tricks, it speaks to what the entire team can achieve as old issues are forgotten and new challenges addressed. Augustus is willing to do his part.
"You want to move on with things and move forward. It's part of trying to be a leader and trying to be a guy that the coach is going to rely on."
The Bulldogs hit their Humphrey Coliseum court this Saturday at 2:00 for an exhibition contest with Linsey Wilson College.