UPDATE: Notre Dame men's basketball: Broken hand shelves Auguste

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

In an effort to shake feelings of frustration that festered following his freshman season, Notre Dame power forward Zach Auguste switched jersey numbers this fall from 2 to 30.

It was in No. 30 on the AAU circuit back home in New England that convinced Auguste that he could grow his basketball potential into a big-time college prospect.

“A lot of good stuff happened to me when I wore No. 30 back in the day,” Auguste said last week. “I wanted to kind of move on with a new focus and a new direction.

“I want to start over and have a great season.”

That fresh start lasted less than a month. Auguste’s sophomore season looks a whole lot like his first one. As preseason fall camp gets into high gear, the 6-foot-10, 242-pounder again is battling injury.

On Thursday, Notre Dame announced that Auguste will miss four to six weeks after suffering a broken bone in his left (non-shooting) hand.

Still able to do light shooting and running, Auguste is expected to miss Notre Dame’s two exhibition games (Oct. 28 and Nov. 1). He could return for the season opener Nov. 8 against Miami (Ohio).

“I’m confident he’ll be ready for the first game,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after Thursday’s scrimmage. “It’s frustrating, but we’ve been down this road before with him.”

Auguste was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Still trying to find where he fit last fall, Auguste sprained his ankle twice in a 10-day span. He went from being on the verge of cracking a veteran front-line rotation to spending November and December playing catch-up to get back to a point where he might see meaningful minutes.

Auguste gave a glimpse of his energetic game in February’s five-overtime game against Louisville. He played a career-high 36 minutes off the bench with eight points and three rebounds.

He averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 10.7 minute a game as a freshman.

This summer, he spent a week in a walking boot because of another ankle sprain. He knows that he has to stay healthy if he wants to have a larger role.

“I’ve been icing down after every practice,” Auguste said last week. “I definitely feel I can do some big things, have a big role.”

The coaches feel it as well, which is why Brey plans to fast-track Auguste’s return the court the minute he’s medically cleared.

Last year, Auguste could afford to take his time getting back and getting confident. Not this winter.

Even with fifth-year power forwards Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman, there’s simply nobody on the roster who can impact games in ways Auguste can. He can block a shot on one end, sprint the floor and finish with a two-handed dunk on the other.

It’s a skill set the Irish haven’t had from a big men since Ryan Humphrey.

“We’ve got to start working with him right away,” Brey said. “He’s got to be right in there for us.”

Auguste hurt the hand late last week when a teammate reached in and slapped the ball free from his grasp during a practice. Nothing about the sequence screamed serious injury, and Auguste went days feeling no discomfort.

But when his hand swelled Sunday and pain increased, X-rays taken Monday revealed the fracture. No surgery is required. No cast is needed.

After the recent run of knee injuries at Notre Dame — the Irish lost a key contributor for critical stretches three of the last four seasons — moving on until Auguste returns seems somewhat normal.

“We just say, ‘All right, here we go,’” Brey said. “Nobody’s going to panic.”

No Auguste means a longer look for sophomore Austin Burgett, who responded Thursday with one of his best days in an Irish uniform while playing Auguste’s role in a team scrimmage.

Expected to develop along the lines of former Irish Tim Abromaitis, Rob Kurz and Scott Martin, Burgett grabbed Brey’s attention for the way he was able to rotate and help on defense, make a shot and fit in with a veteran group.

“You look at him and go, ‘Wow, look at that,’” Brey said. “Austin Burgett has gotten an opportunity and taken advantage of it.

“This may be a good thing.”

Notre Dame's Zach Auguste dribbles a basketball during the team's media day on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER