Augustin used to weathering the storm

The latest chapter of D.J. Augustin’s circuitous journey has him averaging 10.3 points and 6.2 assists in his 16 games with Chicago as one of the most important additions in stabilizing the backcourt for the Bulls in their stormy season. Though it hardly

D.J. Augustin had his qualifying offer rescinded by the team that drafted him, the Charlotte Bobcats, and was let go. He then played sparingly for the Indiana Pacers in having his poorest season as a pro and was released. Then he was waived by the Toronto Raptors less than two months into his first season with them.

But that’s been the easy part of Augustin’s circuitous journey that has him averaging 10.3 points and 6.2 assists in his 16 games with Chicago as one of the most important additions in stabilizing the backcourt for the Bulls in their stormy season.

Though it hardly compares to the tempest and squalls in Augustin’s travels.

“It’s been a good journey,” says the relentlessly positive point guard. “Obviously, I see now God does everything for a reason. Everything that happened to me from then to now just made me a stronger person.”

Yes, Augustin has a story to tell that goes far beyond his trip to professional basketball.

Augustin and his family were among the victims of Hurricane Katrina, though the lucky ones. They merely lost everything they owned. But they all survived.

Even his grandfather, Earl, who decided to ride out the storm at home in what became the subsequent collapse of dozens of levees that were supposed to protect the city. Not sure in what city Earl was or even if he were alive, Augustin’s father and uncle literally walked into Earl after several days of examining every hallway of the Astrodome to see if he were there.

“The thing is,” said Augustin, “you cherish everything.”

There are many stories like that of the Augustins, and many without such a happy ending. Even if it meant leaving New Orleans for good, splitting up the close knit family, looking for new jobs and new lives in another state with basically what they were wearing the day they took the ritual journey to avoid yet another hurricane.

Augustin goes in for a layup
“Coach Thibs is a great coach," said Bulls point guard D.J. Augustin. "I felt like this is where I wanted to be and they wanted me as soon as I got waived. So I felt this was a good opportunity for me.”

It was a regular occurrence for many in New Orleans. And the Augustins were among the most conservative and careful. Every time there was a forecast of a hurricane, the extended family that was gathered within blocks of one another in the middle class, seventh ward Gentilly neighborhood met to map out a plan.

They’d select a city to drive to, a caravan of perhaps a half dozen cars. They’d get a hotel and the kids loved it, a few days away from school, an adventure in another place and perhaps even a pool. But better to be safe, cautious.

Augustin by then was a big basketball star, one of the top rated point guards in the country, prepared to lead his New Orleans Brother Martin High School to its third consecutive state championship.

It was late August 2005 and the reports of a big storm were coming in again. Augustin’s parents had barely survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965, forced to the roof of their home to be rescued. It was not happening to their kids. So every time the reports came in, they’d take off.

“We would always have a family meeting and decide which city we would drive to,” said Augustin. “Following each other. We always made a plan. We usually went to Houston because it was far enough to get away but not too far a drive. Houston was mostly our place.”

The year before with Hurricane Ivan it was the same. They packed up. But that time they brought with them just about all their possessions. It took 24 hours to drive to Houston, normally perhaps a four hour trip. But Ivan veered away.

“We took everything with us and nothing happened,” said Augustin.

So when the reports came about Katrina, they knew they’d go. But drag everything there again? Nah. The little, brick house was locked up.

And soon under water.

The water line reached almost to the ceiling. Appliances were floating around. Nothing was salvageable.

All that was left were memories.

Augustin’s mother would record all his basketball games since he was a small child and Augustin would watch them for hours. He kept them in boxes under his bed near his high school championship rings and all the trophies.

“I loved to watch those old games,” he said. “I wish I could watch those tapes, show my children. But, hey, worse things can happen.”

The thrill of the almost annual road trip was quickly gone.

A bad dream became reality.

“It was scary,” Augustin acknowledged. “We didn’t know what was going to happen next because we lost everything. My dad went back. They weren’t letting people back in the city. My dad called us and said everything is gone and everything is destroyed. He headed back to Houston and we tried to decide what we were going to do as a family.

“Mom’s crying; we couldn’t get in touch with family members because there’s no cell phones. It was a hard time in my life,” Augustin admitted.

Eventually they just decided to stay. No more evacuations; no more annual horror threat. It could never be the same. But New Orleans never would be, either.

“We lived in different houses (in New Orleans), but we were all around each other,” recalled Augustin. “New Orleans is really small. My grandfather five minutes away, my auntie two minutes, cousins. Houston, it takes an hour to get anywhere. New home, new school, new team for me. We made it through somehow. I’m blessed.”

Augustin’s mom was a second grade teacher and got a teaching job. His father eventually found work. D.J. went to work at basketball. A McDonald’s all-American, he enrolled as a senior and was accepted immediately, he said. He worried about jealousy and resentment, the big national guy coming in. But he said teammates were wonderful and he remains friends with many.

He decided to go to the University of Texas over LSU, but said he really was leaning that way, anyway. Really.

“We’d just won two state championships and were going to win again,” said Augustin. “It was tough to leave all that, my friends, everything, to a different school, a different city, a different kind of basketball.”

Plus, his girlfriend since eighth grade, Brandy, went to Texas with her family. But they’d stay close as the families took turns driving to Dallas or Houston on weekends so the kids could see one another. Just little things to remain normal that were so big. They now are married with a child and one on the way.

Augustin would switch in his senior year in high school to the number 00 to symbolize a new beginning.

Augustin went on to play with Kevin Durant as a freshman at Texas and then was named first team all-American as a sophomore before going pro. In his last college game, he was denied the Final Four in a loss to Derrick Rose’s Memphis team.

“It was tough,” agreed Augustin, a top student who became an academic all-American at Texas. “I don’t know how to explain it. I made it through. Basketball helped me get through it. Once the season started, playing basketball helped me. I think it prepared me for college and the things that happened to me to this day.”

So much for being rejected in Charlotte, Indiana and Toronto. Augustin shows no resentment.

“The NBA is up and down,” noted Augustin. “You are going to have some good times, some tough times. In Charlotte, I had some great times. I played really good in Charlotte for a long time (averaging in double figures three of four years). Then things didn’t go as well. Indiana was an adjustment, a winning team that already was established. But I had a good run with them making it to the Eastern Conference finals. That was a good experience for me. I’d never been to the playoffs that far.

“Toronto, I really don’t know what happened there,” said Augustin, 26. “When I signed with them I thought it would be a good opportunity. It just didn’t work out. Coming here, it’s been a blessing. I love being here, love the city, love coach Thibs, love my teammates.”

In a season of subtractions, Augustin became the biggest addition for the Bulls.

The six-foot guard is a free agent this summer after signing for the regular season. The way he’s played the toughest part may be bringing him back. Thibodeau has used Augustin and Kirk Hinrich effectively together in a backcourt with exceptional ball movement. The Bulls are 9-7 since signing Augustin. His double-doubles of 20 points and 12 assists against Charlotte and 18 points and 10 assists against Cleveland were crucial in those wins. He also had 13 points and nine assists in the win over Phoenix. He fit in seamlessly in running the offense.

“I grew up watching Michael Jordan and the Bulls,” said Augustin. “Coach Thibs is a great coach. I felt like this is where I wanted to be and they wanted me as soon as I got waived. So I felt this was a good opportunity for me.”

Looking back, Augustin, pensive, sighs and agrees, “New Orleans is not the same.”

But his spirit and of so many others from that terrible time carries forward.

Augustin puts up a shot against Orlando
“It’s been a good journey,” says the relentlessly positive point guard. “Obviously, I see now God does everything for a reason. Everything that happened to me from then to now just made me a stronger person.”