By BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Kodi Augustus insists it’s never been about him.
Past events would suggest otherwise, but it’s not as simple as it seems. There are certainly good reasons to believe that Augustus, Mississippi State’s 6-foot-8 senior forward, has been prone to put himself ahead of the team.
As a sophomore, he started the first nine games but was benched for 11 games after getting in coach Rick Stansbury’s doghouse. By season’s end, though, he was a major factor as the Bulldogs won the SEC Tournament.
There was talk of him leaving after that season, but Augustus ultimately decided to return.
“We just looked at everything, and the positives outweighed the negatives,” he said then.
Last year, Augustus criticized Stansbury’s coaching after a season-opening loss to Rider, and was suspended two games for that.
He returned to the starting lineup but didn’t have quite the kind of year that was expected of him, averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Stansbury insists, though, that Augustus didn’t necessarily have a poor attitude.
“He was never a bad kid, just immature and never had to work consistently,” Stansbury said. “There’s a learning curve for kids. There’s a learning curve, and maybe people perceive them as bad kids when they don’t do exactly right. That’s never been the case for Kodi.”
Augustus said his issues arose from frustration with playing time. Coming out of prep school Maine Central Institute – he’s from Baton Rouge – he was a three-star prospect with good length and playmaking ability.
Like a lot of highly touted players, he expected to play early and often, and when that didn’t happen, he had trouble disguising his discontent.
“It’s always been about the team for me,” Augustus said. “I just want to be out there so bad, I just got so frustrated at times when I wasn’t playing as much.”
Knowing just what Augustus is thinking isn’t always easy. He’s not quick to smile, isn’t the fist-pumping, chest-bumping type, and until this season wasn’t keen on talking to the media.
He’s just hard to read, and he thinks that might have contributed to a negative perception by outsiders.
“People should know I’m all about Mississippi State, all about the team, all about winning,” he said. “I don’t want to lose. I know I’ve heard people say something about I have an attitude. I probably don’t smile as much or do all that, emotion and stuff. But it’s no attitude, it’s just a great deal of focus, trying to win when I step out there on the court.”
That focus has been sharp as ever this season.
Augustus has four double-doubles in five games – he had two in his first three seasons. He’s averaging career highs in points (14.8), rebounds (10.8) and minutes (33.4) for the Bulldogs (4-1).
On the court, as well as off, Stansbury has noticed a big difference in Augustus. He goes hard every day in practice, he’s more aggressive on the boards, and he’s becoming a more consistent playmaker.
That’s good, because with junior point guard Dee Bost and sophomore big man Renardo Sidney both on the bench with NCAA suspensions, Augustus’ leadership and post presence are extra-valuable.
“He’s got to bring it and bring it to another level even. That’s the thing he’s got to do,” Stansbury said. “There’s a lot more expected from him right now.”
Augustus wouldn’t have it any other way. His desire to play is driven by his desire to perform. He believes he can be the difference-maker, and that’s what he’s believed all along.
Right now, Augustus is one of MSU’s two major offensive threats, along with senior guard Ravern Johnson (25.4 ppg).
“That’s what you play for, for the pressure, to have all that pressure on you to do well,” Augustus said. “It’s not any pressure for me. At the end it’s part of the game.”
Augustus credited the coaching staff with helping him mature and improve his game. That’s notable, because he and Stansbury haven’t always seen eye-to-eye.
But, Stansbury said, it’s never been a bad relationship.
“Just because he doesn’t always do what you want him to do don’t mean he’s a bad kid. … He just came here with very little accountability in his life. That’s all gotten better for him.”
Augustus said he’s learned from his past. He made a promise last year, after the Rider incident, that he would never repeat that mistake.
He’s kept that promise, and this senior season is what he wants to define his career at MSU, not the previous tumultuous years.
“It’s all about being on the court, helping the team out, doing what’s needed as a team,” Augustus said. “Like I said, years ago I didn’t play that much; now I’m playing more.”
And everybody’s happy.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.