MARLBOROUGH - Zach Auguste watched the University of Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament game against Xavier in his Marlborough living room with his mother, Lea Tzimoulis.
As time expired, he became so animated it was like he was courtside in Greensboro, N.C, cheering on the Irish from their bench.
It won’t be long before the 6-foot-10, 228-pound Auguste dons a blue and gold uniform for Notre Dame, on full scholarship. He must first complete his senior year at the private New Hampton School in New Hampshire. But his focus is clearly on South Bend, Ind.
That is what made it so disappointing when a free-throw violation down the stretch stalled Notre Dame in its 67-63 second-round loss on March 16.
“It was tough,’’ Auguste said. “It was crazy. I was upset. I jumped up and started screaming at the TV, but that wasn’t going to change anything.’’
He continues to put in the work, preparing for his freshman year. At home on spring break, he headed over to Ghiloni Park almost every day to hone his skills. Often, he met up with Fabrice Yoyo, a former teammate at Marlborough High. Other times, he joined a couple of other former Panthers, Canaan Severin and Carlos De La Cruz, for spirited pickup games.
De La Cruz just completed his freshman season on the basketball team at Suffolk University, while Severin, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior at Worcester Academy, has committed to the University of Virginia to play football. Understandably, the games became very competitive.
“It gets mean out there,’’ Auguste said with a chuckle. “Everyone plays hard and aggressive, so it’s good. It’s a great way for us all to stay in shape.’’
Auguste, Severin, and De La Cruz were all classmates at Marlborough and expected to do “big things’’ as seniors.
But when Severin left after his sophomore year, the Panthers had lost their first star. Auguste departed after his junior year, leaving to attend New Hampton in order to prepare himself for college, on the court and in the classroom.
“There’s no way Notre Dame would have been an option if not for New Hampton,’’ said his mother, who praised the school’s small class sizes and disciplined approach. “We’re blessed.’’
New Hampton coach Peter Hutchins has watched Auguste mature, on and off the court, over the last two seasons. On the court, the improvements really started late in his first season, when he headed to the gym at 6 a.m., before classes, for workouts with his roommate, Boston College recruit Olivier Hanlan, and the team’s coach.
“He was in the gym a lot before that,’’ Hutchins said. “But was he working on the right things? That’s something kids need to take a hard look at.
“He bought into that. It’s not even close to the transformation he made from one year to the next. It’s hard to put into words how much he’s improved.’’
Auguste’s game took off last summer while playing for the Mass. Rivals AAU team. Last fall, he committed to Notre Dame and coach Mike Brey on his first visit.
Since then, he has not stopped working. Time in the weight room, fueled by organic meals in the New Hampton cafeteria, helped Auguste put on 28 pounds over the last two years. Already athletic enough to run the floor and skilled enough to step out and shoot jump shots from the perimeter, he has added strong post moves to his repertoire.
He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, earning second-team all-Evergreen League honors, as well as New Hampton’s Gnerre Basketball Award as the team’s most valuable player.
Auguste doesn’t know how exactly he’ll fit next season in South Bend, whether he will play in the post or on the outside. But he has taken the Irish coaching staff’s message to heart: Just be ready.
He plans to be. And a year from now, he plans on finding himself in the middle of March Madness.
“It’s not gonna be the same next year,’’ he said, thinking about Notre Dame’s final tournament game. “I can’t wait.’’
Phil Perry can be reached at paperry27@ gmail.com.