Augustine Rubit is the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. He was also named an honorable-mention All-American last season. The University of South Alabama’s 6-foot-7 senior forward is one of the best college basketball players in America.
But unless you’re a college basketball coach, follow the Sun Belt, or a fan of the South Alabama Jaguars, you’ve probably never heard of him. Once you examine his story, though, chances are that you’ll never forget him.
This is the fourth and final installment of our four-part series.
Leticia and her daughter Lexi drove Augustine to the South Alabama campus in the late summer. They stayed for a couple of days to help him get situated. They purchased his textbooks, met with the coaches and tried to make him feel comfortable as he began the next phase of his journey.
“Augustine had some meetings one day, and my daughter, who was going into her senior year of high school, set his room up really nice,” said Leticia. “She made his bed, set up his closets and put stuff on his walls to make the place look pretty. He was so surprised when he came back. The look on his face was priceless.”
But the joy faded when the Trauber’s had to head back home to Houston. Leticia knew, firsthand, the struggles he would have to endure. She harkened back to her first difficult days as a freshman at Rice, trying to make sense of the foreign and unfamiliar culture that she was suddenly thrust in. Before leaving, she sat Augustine down and began to get emotional.
“Augustine, this is going to be a culture shock for you,” she said, trying to stay composed. “This is going to be so different from anything you’ve ever known. The people are going to be different, the food is going to be different, the way they talk and dress, everything is going to be different. It’s going to be really tough and there are going to be times when you want to leave. We just want you to know that we are always going to be here for you. But you can get through it.”
He promised her that he would work as hard as he possibly could, and that he would one day be a college graduate.
“Seeing his face when we were leaving, I was crying, my daughter was crying,” said Leticia. “I knew he didn’t want us to leave. One of the hardest things I ever had to do was drive away and leave him there.”
As soon as they drove away, Augustine felt the walls closing in on him.
“I felt like I was in jail,” said Augustine. "I felt like I was trapped and for those first few days, I really didn’t go outside. The other guys on the team had finished summer school and they hadn’t come back yet. I didn’t know anybody and I wanted to be around my family.”
When his teammates got back on campus, they started inviting him to come to the gym and work out. In them, he found people with similar goals and ambitions. They bonded, which helped him resist the urge to flee. The academic piece was another major adjustment. But he listened to advice, met with his tutors regularly and showed up at class on time and ready to work.
“I was told to take notes, so I wrote down everything, even stuff that I wasn’t supposed to be writing down,” said Augustine. “I talked to my teachers after class and e-mailed them if I didn’t understand something. I found that they liked that, that if you showed them that you were trying, they were willing to help you. I figured out that I wasn’t really alone and that I had some help.”
During his first year at South Alabama, Augustine trained with a vengeance. He lost forty pounds. He replaced them with twenty pounds of muscle on his suddenly sculpted body. He maintained a 3.0 grade point average and endeared himself to the coaching staff, his professors and tutors.
“His first year with us, I don’t know if he said more than ten words,” said Ronnie Arrow, the Southern Alabama head coach that recruited him. “He was very laid back, but I could see that he was observant. There are some young men that you have to go get out of bed to make sure that they go to class, kids that don’t do what they’re supposed to and they’re only there to play ball. Augustine was just the opposite. School might have been something that he wasn’t interested in when he was younger, but he became interested. He took advantage of every resource and was always on time.”
At the end of his first year in college, Augustine flew with Leticia out to Colorado to help Matthew, who had also finished his first year of college, move out of his dorm. Matthew was still studying for his finals, so the unlikely pair spent a lot of time together while getting Matt's stuff packed and ready for the long drive back to Houston.
(Augustine helping Matt move out after freshman year. Photo Credit: Leticia Trauber)
They went out to breakfast one morning, and Augustine started talking. The prior Saturday had been mother’s day. He opened up about his childhood, about his mother.
“He looked at me and said, 'I just want to thank you for everything that you’ve done for me,’” said Leticia.
“You taught me how to be a gentleman,” he continued. “Nobody ever told me that I could go to college. You’re the first person that has kept their promises. My mom never kept her promises. I love my mom, because she’s my mom. But you’re my mom too.”
“I cried and said, ‘Augustine, that’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten,’" said Leticia. "It was really sweet that he could express himself like that.”
The next year, Augustine got basketball back. As a redshirt freshman during the 2010-11 season, he was named the Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year and enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history, leading all Division I freshman with 11 rebounds per game. He also averaged 13 points per game. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, now a member of the Boston Celtics, was the only freshman with more double-doubles.
As a sophomore, he devastated the double and triple-teams that opponents sent his way, averaging 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds while connecting on over 50% of his shots. Last year, he was even more overwhelming, posting 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds en route to being named the conference Player of the Year.
When the Jaguars experienced a coaching change last season, agents tried to coax him into leaving school to play professionally overseas. The Trauber’s also fielded calls from schools like Indiana, Arizona, Florida and a host of other elite programs, wondering if he’d be interested in transferring to play on the big national stage.
“We knew he was talented, but we never thought that he’d be playing at the level that he’s playing at right now,” said Leticia. “We always told him to use basketball as a tool to get his education. The promise he made to me was that he would get his degree. That was always the goal.”
He boxed out those offers with the same deftness that he boxes out opponents for rebounds, telling the Trauber’s that he wouldn’t be going anywhere. He was staying at the University of South Alabama. He was going to be loyal to them in the same way that they had been loyal to him.
“To be able to see Augustine blossom on the court and in the classroom like that, it’s nice to see him getting the rewards for all of the effort that he put in,” said Arrow. “There are a lot of kids that have talent, but some of them get in trouble or they don’t work hard enough. They take their talent for granted and never develop it fully. I’ve seen countless kids that were given great opportunities that didn’t make it. Here’s a young man that put it all together.”
When Augustine became the Sun Belt Conference’s all-time leading rebounder this season, the Trauber’s and the rest of his family had to read about it in the newspapers.
(Matthew Trauber and Augustine at Matt's college graduation. Photo Credit: Leticia Trauber)
“He doesn’t boast or brag, he’s extremely humble,” says Lorraine. “When I call him to congratulate him on his accomplishments, he’ll just say, ‘Thank You, but I still have to work a little bit harder to get where I want to go.’ That’s just the way that he is.”
When Ronnie Arrow stepped down as the Jaguars Head Coach, the school hired Matthew Graves, the former Butler University Associate Head Coach. He’d heard great things about Augustine prior to taking the job. But when he met him in person, he was even more impressed.
“I knew that he was extremely talented, a high-level rebounder and scorer,” said Graves. “I’d heard that he had great character and that he was a great person to be around. But when I saw him work out, he tested off the charts in the weight room. And his conditioning times were comparable to our guards. When you have a fifth-year senior show that type of work ethic, the type of effort he puts forth makes a statement to all the other guys, in terms of what they need to do.”
Graves was also struck by Augustine’s versatility and his ability to play away from the basket, a skill that he was never asked to show before. The new coaching staff is utilizing him in more space this year, in the ball-screen offense that Graves brought over from his days of working with Brad Stevens, now the Head Coach of the Boston Celtics, when they were at Butler.
“He’d never made a three-point shot in his college career, but he showed me that he had a lot of potential and room for growth with playing on the perimeter,” said Graves. “If we would have left him around the rim, he’d really struggle at the next phase of his career. Hopefully, by us being able to work with him, we can help his transition to the next level.”
At the end of this recent fall semester, Augustine Rubit, the kid who ironically hardly ever talked when he arrived on campus, received his bachelor’s degree in communications. He is currently taking graduate school classes this semester.
“I feel like getting my degree was something that I was supposed to do,” said Augustine. “My mind changed once I got to college. At first getting there was the goal. Once I got there, the goal was to graduate.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t walk across the stage at the school’s winter graduation ceremony on December 14th, because the Jaguars were at Key Arena in Seattle, playing a game against the nationally ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. To celebrate his special achievement, he took the court against one of the best teams in the country and scored 35 points while collecting seven rebounds in the Jaguars 69-58 loss.
Before the game, like he does prior to all others, he listened to blaring hip hop music on his head phones, getting himself pumped up.
His current song of choice is ‘O.G. Bobby Johnson’, by the Atlanta rapper Que. It’s the same cut that LeBron James recently claimed to be his pre-game favorite as well.
For the uninitiated, the song is driven by a thudding, penetrating, hypnotic bassline. It’s infused with some funky drum-machine, synthesizer and special effects fireworks. It’s a down-south, trap music anthem among the young crowd and makes your heart pulsate while your body involuntary leans to the side and wiggles. It makes you feel strong, like you need to go do something with the energy that it conjures up inside of you.
The artist’s scratchy call of the name ‘O.G. Bobby Johnson’ is intense, and even though his pitch remains the same, the more he says it, the more it feels like the six-syllable name is building toward an explosive crescendo.
O.G. Bobby Johnson was taken from the name of the main character of the 1992 movie South Central, which was set in Los Angeles and produced by Oliver Stone. The fictional Bobby Johnson was a gang member, who rejuvenated his mind in prison, cast aside the negative and destructive life he once led and set out to save his own son, who had joined the same gang that he once belonged to. He’s determined, at the film’s end, to walk the righteous path, convinced that it is the route to true manhood.
While the particulars differ, Augustine’s story, and his own regeneration, have some vague similarities.
In May, Augustine Rubit will walk across the stage to receive the degree that he’s already earned. It’s an accomplishment that was unfathomable a few short years ago.
“That’s the day that I’m waiting for, to be able to see the smiles on my family’s faces, my brothers and sisters, and the Traubers,” said Augustine. “Over the past five years, through all of the hard work, I see the improvement, both on the court and as a person. I’ve learned to appreciate everything, how you have to work hard for everything you want out of life.”
His biological mother has made strides of her own. She’ll soon be celebrating eleven years of sobriety.
When asked about his future goals, he mentions playing professional basketball. He has a legitimate chance to be an NBA player in the future. If that doesn’t work out, he’s guaranteed to earn money as a pro overseas.
But in the same breath that mentions hoops, he also talks about having his own family, being a good provider, giving his future children the same opportunities that he’s been afforded.
Right now, he’s focused on the task at hand. His team has been struggling. Unless South Alabama wins the conference tournament, they won’t make the NCAA Tournament this year.
It’s one goal that he might not be able to reach. But it won’t deter him from doing all that he can to finish what he started
“This is my last year, the last time I’ll get a chance to play college basketball,” said Augustine. “I’ll never get this time back. I’m going to keep working harder and give it everything I’ve got.”
We know you will Augustine. You’ve already proved that, many times over.