Future uncertain for Notre Dame PF Auguste

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

No Zach Auguste patrolling the paint Wednesday for No. 12 Notre Dame, no problem.

With the starting power forward back on campus tending to an apparent academic matter and his immediate future clouded, the Irish won a second-straight league road game for the first time since 2004-05, 62-59 over Georgia Tech in midtown Atlanta.

Notre Dame improved to 16-2, 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Irish have won one more game by mid-January than all of last season.

"It’s an academic matter; he's handling it," coach Mike Brey told the media following Wednesday's game. "That’s all I’m going to say about it. Ask me about basketball.”

A Notre Dame spokesperson offered no further clarification as to the specifics of why Auguste did not make Tuesday’s trip to Atlanta. Notre Dame was scheduled to return home early Thursday morning.

Auguste’s playing status for the rest of the regular season and any potential postseason is unclear. There’s a chance he could miss the rest of the season. There’s also a chance that he returns to action Saturday at home against Miami (Fla.). He remains a part of the team.

Brey declined to speculate on the timetable for a possible Auguste return.

"I don’t have enough info on it yet," he said. "I’ll have a little more info on it (Thursday).

"It's out of my hands."

The coach will meet with the media Thursday at 3 p.m. EST, before practice.

The team’s tallest player at 6-foot-10, Auguste has started all 17 games and is enjoying a career year. He’s tied for second on the squad in scoring (14.3) and is second in rebounding (6.4). He’s shooting 64.3 percent from the floor – most of that on dunks – which was good for second in the ACC.

He is enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters as a film, television and theater major.

One reason Auguste had played so well, he has acknowledged, was his ability to better handle adversity and mature on the floor. Auguste missed part of preseason last year with a broken left hand, suffered after he had punched a padded wall during practice.

When Brey learned of a potential academic problem with Auguste is not known. Following Saturday’s loss to No. 2 Virginia, a game that saw Auguste miss his first four shots before finishing with as many points (4) as turnovers in 22 minutes, Brey talked of needing Auguste to bounce back and be a big part of the plan starting Wednesday at Georgia Tech.

Four days later, Auguste remained on campus for the team’s second league road game. Auguste met Tuesday with a core group of teammates – including seniors Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant – to inform them that he would not be making Notre Dame’s second road trip in ACC play. As of late Tuesday, he was still listed as a starter on Notre Dame’s pre-game notes package.

After not having a single player miss extended time because of academics during his first 13 seasons, Brey has had three fall into academic difficulty the last 13 months.

In December 2013, Grant was separated from the university following an “academic misstep.” Grant was forced to leave school at the end of the first semester, which also coincided with the Dec. 21, 2013 game against Ohio State at Madison Square Garden. He reapplied to Notre Dame, reenrolled for summer school last June and is on schedule to graduate in the spring.

In February 2014, sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson missed two games and a week of practice to better get his academics in order during his first year of college. The hiatus was mandated not by the academic side of campus but by Brey, who believed Jackson had allowed some slippage in his studies to affect his basketball business.

While Grant was essentially kicked off campus the day the fall semester ended in 2014, Auguste has never left. He returned to South Bend following a four-plus day Christmas break at home in Marlborough, Mass., and is enrolled for the spring semester.

Grant could not appear in any games after the end of the first semester, Auguste played in five after the fall semester ended. That included Notre Dame’s biggest victory, Jan. 5, at North Carolina. Auguste scored 18 points with six rebounds and two blocked shots. He had a key basket, key rebound and helped defend a potential game-winning shot all in the closing minute.

Auguste’s work on the basketball court this winter has attracted attention. He is in the running for league most improved honors and is projected by as a second-round selection in the 2016 draft.

How might the Irish carry on without their main low-post presence? Auguste may have offered a glimpse into that game plan when he discussed handling adversity with the Tribune.

“When you’re winning, everything is good,” he said last week. “But win or lose, this team is going to stick together.”

His loss — at least for now — is a big one for the Irish.

--The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Notre Dame's Zach Auguste (30) wipes his face as he reacts to the 62-56 loss to Virginia on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)