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Pick-Up Game 

A local basketball star's evacuation to Texas during Katrina leads to hoop dreams with the Texas Longhorns.

Most of the tangible testaments to an illustrious high school basketball career were lost, with the exception of some trophies and a mold-tinged crimson-and-gold Brother Martin letter jacket. The vestiges of the district titles, AAU accolades and back-to-back state championships remained intact, if only in D.J. Augustin's memory.

"I had no choice," Augustin says. "I had to pretty much start from scratch."

But Augustin was more equipped than he could have known to negotiate the uncertain terrain of his future. Exceptional maturity, the support of a close-knit family and his uncommon athletic gifts helped him move on, fit in and grow up in the months ahead.

Nearly two years to the day after Hurricane Katrina walloped southeast Louisiana, inalterably redirecting Augustin's life, he begins his sophomore year at the University of Texas as one of the top college point guards in the nation.

Augustin had just started his senior year at Brother Martin High School when Katrina plunged his Gentilly home into 6 feet of water and forced Augustin, his parents and two older sisters to flee to Texas.

While still digesting the reality that a return to his old neighborhood was impossible, Augustin enrolled at a new high school, much like thousands of other displaced students. What set him apart was that a nationwide group of highly paid middle-aged men (read: college coaches) closely monitored his transfer. As one of the most highly recruited prep players ever to come out of New Orleans, Augustin was not your typical boy with a bulging backpack.

On the recommendation of a family friend, he attended Hightower High School, a sprawling public school in suburban Houston. The school's mascot: the Hurricanes. The address: 3333 Hurricane Lane.

Call it kismet, irony or a cruel twist -- to Augustin it was his new home.

"My senior year at Hightower, it was tough in the beginning," Augustin says. "I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be home in New Orleans. But I had to make the best of it. I had to meet new people, I had a whole new team, and new teammates that didn't know how I played."

Of course basketball helped ease the transition.

Off the court, Augustin is soft-spoken, polite -- almost shy. On it, he's a confident maestro, a take-charge, pass-first point guard who can manipulate a game without ever taking a shot.

"That was his saving force," says his mother, Vanessa. "He even said it himself. When he's on the court, it's like he forgets about everything else. It's like he knows when he comes off that court, it's back to normal. But that gave him a little refuge. It gave him a sense of comfort."

He had academic incentives to excel. If Augustin completed his course work at Hightower, he would receive his diploma from his beloved Brother Martin.

"That really was the driving force for him," Vanessa says. "He was able to make it through the rest of the year because he knew he would at least receive his diploma where he started. He started in eighth grade so he wanted to finish there."

At Hightower, the 5-foot-11 Augustin joined a team that was returning four starters and 10 lettermen. He made it clear to his new coach that he didn't expect to start, he just wanted to play. Of course he did start and star, averaging 19 points, six assists and five steals as he led the Hurricanes to the state quarterfinals. He was named to the McDonald's All-America team -- the most prestigious honor bestowed on a prep basketball player.

Augustin was also the object of an intense recruiting tug o' war between LSU and the University of Texas. Tiger fans clamored for the poised point guard to return to his home state to play college ball. Texas fans were tantalized that the recent transplant might stick on their side of the border.

On Nov. 10, 2005--his 18th birthday -- Augustin announced he would become a Texas Longhorn.

"I made the best decision for myself," he says. "LSU is a great school, a great team, the coaches are great. I just had to make the best decision for myself and that's what I did."

Vanessa Augustin disputes the suggestion that her son arrived at his decision strictly on the basis of geography.

"It wasn't like because we moved here, he went to the University of Texas," she says. "Wherever D.J. was comfortable is where he was going to go. And that's just the type of person he is. Back home, a lot of people thought he was going to (St. Augustine High School) because of my husband and my brother-in-law going to St. Aug, but D.J. wanted to go to Brother Martin and that was his choice."

It's hard to argue that Augustin's choice has been anything but sound for him and for Texas. As a freshman, he started at point guard for the Longhorns, led the Big XII Conference in assists and was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press. He also made the Honor Roll.

In fact, he commands such respect from his peers that he shared the team's MVP award with fellow freshman Kevin Durant, the Big XII Player of the Year and the second overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Augustin's precocious play was enough to add a dash of grist to the rumor mill that he would follow in the footsteps of Durant and go pro. But Augustin demurred.

"It was somewhat of an easy choice," he says. "I thought about it, but the thought didn't last long. I feel like I made the right decision to come back to school."

That temptation will be much harder to stave off during the next two years, when Augustin's combination of court awareness, tenacity and passing virtuosity will be coveted by NBA teams.

He may never play a senior season in college, but he'll likely draw strength from that senior season in high school in which everything took a new shape, except the dimensions of a rectangular basketball court and the steadfastness of his family circle.

Adam Norris is a sports anchor at WGNO-TV, ABC26 in New Orleans.

click to enlarge Hurricane Katrina ended Augustin's hopes to be a - basketball star at Brother Martin, but he joined the team - at a Texas high school where he evacuated and now - plays for the Texas Longhorns. - MATT HEMPEL/ UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
  • Matt Hempel/ University of Texas at Austin
  • Hurricane Katrina ended Augustin's hopes to be a basketball star at Brother Martin, but he joined the team at a Texas high school where he evacuated and now plays for the Texas Longhorns.
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