Augustine still mostly silent about title game

Augustine still mostly silent about title game

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – They talk daily, about all manner of topics.

James Augustine calls home every night, and the Illinois senior and his father discuss basketball and football and goings on in each other's lives. On South Padre Island last weekend, they talked for an hour about Christmas and the family's plans for the holiday.

But there is one topic they have never discussed.

"We never talk about the North Carolina game," Dale Augustine said. "I always tell him, 'If you ever want to talk about the North Carolina game, I'm here.' But to this day, we have, never, ever, ever discussed it. We don't talk about how many minutes he played. We don't talk about losing the national championship. Not ever."

In last season's NCAA championship game, as you're no doubt aware, foul trouble limited James Augustine to nine minutes of game time. He finished the game scoreless and with two rebounds. He sat on the sideline in shock, unable to lend a hand as Carolina's Sean May had 26 and 10 in the Tar Heels' 75-70 win.

Tonight, Augustine plays his fourth career game against North Carolina, and he can only hope he'll be more willing to discuss this one than the last.

It stands to reason that if Augustine is unwilling to talk to his own father about last season's outcome that he's hardly forthcoming to reporters.

But even as he brushes past the question, it's clear there's some lingering disappointment.

"I've thought about it, but that's the way the game goes," Augustine said. "You've got to deal with it, whether you take (yourself) out or other people take you out of that game. That's the way the game is."

It's a hard reality.

Time has dulled the pain from that April night around the Augustine household, but not much. Old wounds open easily, and Dale Augustine grimaces when he thinks back to his view from the stands in St. Louis.

"I felt so bad for James," he said. "You work so hard to get to where you want to go, and that had been a dream of his, to play in the national championship game. He gets there, and he plays nine minutes. I felt so bad for him."

Dale and Barb Augustine shared in their son's frustration that night, sitting idly by, unable to change the on-court outcome for their son and his team. But it could have been worse had a seat beside them not been occupied by Nick Sorensen.

Sorensen, James Augustine's cousin, is a defensive back for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. In his career, he's come up short in a college football national championship at Virginia Tech and a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams, and his experiences helped the Augustines immeasurably.

"As the game was going on, he kept telling us, 'Things happen for a reason. Don't worry about it,' " Dale Augustine said. "He kind of kept us pretty focused on the game and didn't let us worry. If he wouldn't have been there, I don't know how hard it would have been."

In the months that have followed, Dale Augustine said, Sorensen is one of the few people with whom James Augustine has discussed the game. The two have had "a few conversations about it," Dale Augustine said.

Father and son, meanwhile, have tabled that discussion.

"We were walking back to the hotel that night, and Nick said, 'All you have to do is support James. You don't have to say anything,' " Dale Augustine said. "And I kept thinking, 'I've got to say something. What am I going to say?' But when I saw James that night, I didn't say a word. I could see on his face that he was disappointed, but he knew there were better days to come."

The hope, of course, is that today is one of those better days.

Illinois enters tonight's game 5-0, ranked 12th in the nation. North Carolina (3-0) is unranked. Augustine and Dee Brown are the only players from either team who started the title game and also will start tonight.

So the game is a rematch in name only. The only significance it carries with most of the Illini and Tar Heels who'll take part is that it's a high-profile game against a nationally ranked, tradition-rich opponent.

It might mean a little more to James Augustine.

"I don't know how he's going to react when he gets down there," Dale Augustine said. "It'll be interesting."

Bruce Weber wonders, too. And worries.

Augustine is averaging a team-high 15.4 points a game for Illinois this season. He's been the Illini's most dependable scoring option and he'll be asked tonight to guard Tyler Hansbrough, the North Carolina freshman who is the Tar Heels' most talented player.

Augustine is too important, Weber said, to try doing too much.

"The thing we've got to be careful about is, two years ago when we played them in Greensboro, he was so hyped up. Then (last) time, (he committed) careless fouls in the championship game (and) he never got to be a part of it," Weber said. "We can't have those early fouls. He's going to have a handful. Hansbrough's very good – big-bodied kid with great bounce. We have to have the advantage because we have a senior and they have a freshman."

In other words, Weber needs Augustine to play like a veteran.

He needs him to forget last season.

For his part, Augustine is trying.

"It's a new game. It's different teams," Augustine said. "You're going to go out there and play the same way you'd play any other game."

That won't be easy, and Weber knows it.

He's aware that Augustine doesn't like talking about last season's game, and he understands why. This is a player who, despite joining Illinois' 1,000-point club in career scoring last weekend, has spent most of his career in the background, playing a supporting role to the likes of Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head and Brian Cook.

"He's such a team guy," Weber said. "But he's also human."

That means he's likely harboring harsh feelings about last spring. Weber hopes they won't manifest themselves tonight. For his part, Augustine said he's simply trying to move forward.

"You can't be bitter about it," Augustine said. "You've got to move on and focus on this season, and I think that's what I did. It's just another game. I don't think about last year so much. We're focused on this year."

This year, Dale Augustine hopes his son has a game worth gabbing about.

Even then, he doesn't know when he and his son will look back to last April. For now, the wounds still seem too fresh.

"Someday we'll talk about it," Dale Augustine said. "I don't know when. Probably when his career is over."

NOT SO BIG

The Big Ten has come up small against the ACC in the history of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. A look at the event's previous six years:

Year, Winner, UI result

1999, ACC, 5-4, Duke 72, UI 69

2000, ACC, 5-4, Duke 78, UI 77

2001, ACC, 5-3, Maryland 76, UI 63

2002, ACC, 5-4, UI 92, North Carolina 65

2003, ACC, 7-2, North Carolina 88, UI 81

2004, ACC, 7-2, UI 91, Wake Forest 73 (right)

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