II. When Auslander first transferred to Maryland from Division III Greensboro (N.C.) College, he began attending summer pickup games at Comcast Center. He would leave his childhood home in Reston, drive for two hours into the teeth of Beltway rush-hour traffic and sit on the sideline. No one knew who he was, so no one bothered to pick him. Once, a former Maryland player looked at Auslander, considered tabbing him then rationalized deciding against it by saying, “Nah, I want to win.”
This ticked Auslander off, but what else could he do? He was trying to become teammates with these players, trying to show them what he could do. For two weeks he came to Maryland, watched the pickup games then drove home to shoot around and work out, because he had to do something besides sit around.
Eventually, someone either no-showed or got hurt, so Auslander got in. The regulars learned he could play. He wasn’t particularly strong or fast, but could shoot and always seemed to put himself in the right spots.
When fall came and school began, Auslander talked to former assistant Keith Booth and asked about a walk-on spot. He waited for tryouts, but Booth said Maryland wasn’t holding them that season. The roster was full. Around that time, John Auslander’s father, Bill, was ready to call it. He even told John, “Well, you gave it your best,” indicating that it was okay to quit.
Then something unexpected happened. Ersin Levent, a walk-on, got mononucleosis and was lost for the season. So Auslander made the team.
III. Bill and Christine Auslander, John’s parents, both went to Maryland. They lived in the same apartment complex. One day, they were walking down the sidewalk, met and realized they lived near each other. They used to attend games at Cole Field House together, during the heyday of Len Bias and Adrian Branch. Bill would wait in long lines and sprint to midcourt to be one of the intense fans. Christine came later. She didn’t like basketball so much back then, but she loved Bill.
IV. When Christine was pregnant with John, her first of three sons, Bill purchased a Nerf hoop to stick on the side of the playpen. He had played intramural basketball at Maryland and loved the game. They had no idea if John would be tall, or even if he would enjoy basketball, but before long he began hoisting himself up onto the side of the playpen, taking the ball and tossing it through the hoop.
V. John Auslander’s first word was “ball.” Well, the sound he really made was, “duh.” But they consider it “ball” because he would point to a ball and say “duh.” They knew what he meant.
VI. “Here’s another good John story,” Bill Auslander said, sitting on the couch in their Herndon living room on a beautiful March afternoon. In the summer of 2012, entering Coach Mark Turgeon’s second season, the Terps were booked solid with scholarships. Auslander had been on scholarship the year before, but guard Dez Wells transferred from Xavier and took the last one.
Walk-ons, by NCAA rules, are free to eat team dinners, but they have to pay. It comes out to roughly $15 per meal, which Auslander figured wasn’t fruitful, because that could buy two meals at Chipotle. But forward Spencer Barks was on the meal plan, so soon he and other Terps tried sneaking Auslander dinners.
“He would always refuse,” Christine Auslander said, rocking in her chair with laughter as she realized the story made her son sound like a stray dog. “He wasn’t on scholarship and wanted to earn it. He told them: ‘When I earn it, I’ll eat. It goes against my principles.’ ”
Later that summer, Sam Cassell Jr. was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Auslander was on scholarship again, free to eat as he pleased.
VII. During one practice, Maryland was running its secondary break and Turgeon halted play with a sharp whistle blast. “John,” he said, “what am I about to say?”
“Well,” Auslander replied, “they’re not setting any screens.”
He was correct. He is usually correct.
VIII. Opposing fans heckle Auslander on the road, mainly because he stands up anywhere between 50 and 100 times per game. Student sections perched next to the Maryland bench usually get in him the most. At Georgia Tech last season, one fan started hollering: “Who are you? Gary Williams?”
Auslander turned to director of basketball performance Kyle Tarp. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said.
IX. At a particular youth league game, on a team coached by Bill Auslander, the opposing coach took one look at their roster and decided he wanted to press. Auslander’s team didn’t look like much, but they were smart enough and quick enough to shred whatever hubris came their way. A few layups later, Bill Auslander’s competitive fires started to burn, so he shouted at the opposing coach, “Keep pressing us.”
The other week, as the intramural team comprising Maryland student managers that Auslander coaches crushed a full-court press, Auslander looked at the opposing sidelines and said, “Keep pressing us.”
X. He can dunk. He has dunked before, usually in private. At a recent workout, his teammates were begging him to dunk on the rim inside the Comcast Center weight room. He did not. He didn’t even dunk at Maryland Madness. But he can dunk. He just chooses not to.
XI. The late, great college coach Jim Valvano used to tell a story. It was about his father, Rocco. When Jim Valvano reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in his career at Iona, they celebrated at his childhood home. Rocco Valvano had never left New York before, but he brought Jim into his bedroom and showed him a suitcase.
“I’m going to be there when you win a national championship,” Rocco said. “My bags are packed.”
Iona lost in the first round. The next year, the Gaels lost in the second round, but Rocco Valvano issued the same edict. With time, it became tradition. Each year, Jim made the tournament and each year, Rocco would say, “My bags are packed.”
Bill Auslander told this story for a reason. He talks to John every night, mostly about basketball and Maryland and the Division I coaching career John hopes to have. They talk about the coaching ladder, and how John will first take the graduate assistant route, then probably become a video coordinator, then probably get a low-level assistant job, then work his way up from there.
They know the salary will be low. Bill and Christine plan to support their son, in exchange for one big favor: Whenever he makes the Final Four, he will take them, too.
“I tell John my bags are packed,” Bill said
Bill Auslander never cries. He is a large man with a crew cut who works out with his children at Gold’s Gym. But at this moment, when he says those four words, he fidgets in the living room couch and a few tears come to his eyes.