With coaching career in mind, Maryland’s John Auslander works on his leadership skills

October 24, 2012

Maryland forward John Auslander likely won’t play much, but he’s taking on a leadership role for the Terrapins. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

During a postseason meeting this spring, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon brought John Auslander into his office and issued a challenge. Auslander, a seldom-used forward who had been brought in as a transfer by former coach Gary Williams, had led Maryland’s scout group, dubbed the Black Team, throughout practices in 2011-12.

“Why not lead the whole team?” Turgeon asked. “You know what I want, you can help other guys do that. Why not step up and try to take that role.”

Auslander played 92 minutes his sophomore season after sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules, and the Herndon High graduate scored 14 points. But on this young Maryland team, he’s a veteran, one who stuck around after Turgeon arrived in College Park.

A former high school basketball camp counselor who has worked tirelessly at Maryland’s summer camps, Auslander isn’t expected to star on the court for the Terps this season. At best, the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder is the 10th man in Maryland’s rotation. But Auslander has coaching aspirations once he graduates, so every practice is also a classroom session as he watches Turgeon and his staff operate, while still soaking up the information necessary to keep his playing abilities sharp.

“The biggest things, when they’re addressing the team, how they go about doing it, I just try to listen to whatever they’re saying and take anything I can from it,” Auslander said. “The stage I’m at, the biggest thing I can do is keep learning. I always keep ears open, mouths shut, listening to what they’re saying.

“I’d say it’s lucky. It’s great. I’m trying got be a coach, so I know what he wants out of me, and it helps me as a player. I’m right there. I’m having to do it too. It’ll help me teach it better eventually when I start coaching. I’m going to know how the guys are feeling, just have a better feel for how to teach them better.”

Immediately after he met with Turgeon this spring, Auslander began reading. He devoured books by legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden, including “Wooden on Leadership” and  “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.” He learned to be more vocal, unafraid to step up and “tell them how it needs to be,” he said.

A poster of Wooden’s pyramid hangs in his dorm room, and he often reads the devotions for personal improvement. One focuses on enthusiasm. “Your heart must be in your work,” it reads. “Stimulate others.”

“I thought that was really important, and I’ve tried to focus on that, try to bring energy every day,” Auslander said.

Belief truly set in this preseason, when his confidence grew and Auslander figured things out. He was vocal last season, even as a sophomore, so it became a matter of summoning the courage to speak more, trusting that teammates want to hear his words.

“Most of the guys, Coach told me they respect me,” Auslander said. “To be confident when addressing them, because they do respect what I have to say. That’s the biggest thing, knowing they’re going to listen.”

After graduation, Auslander plans to travel. Turgeon has talked about helping him find elite camps to work across the country, possibly next summer. Until then, Auslander will continue to serve as a leader in the locker room, an extension of Turgeon in practice, a floor general without the minutes.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · October 24, 2012