At Coppin State, former Maryland walk-on Kent Auslander gets second look at hoops 'dream'

Kent Auslander was done playing basketball last summer, and that was fine. He had graduated from Maryland in three years, had played for the Terps, a walk-on following his brother’s path, and now, Auslander thought, he would be a teacher. And that was fine, really.

So he applied to graduate school at George Mason. He got in. His first day of school wasn’t until the spring semester. Plenty of time to play “Madden” and, as it turned out, watch a little basketball.

He caught random Cleveland Cavaliers games. He tuned in for college action. And he never lost track of Coppin State, where his older brother, John, a first-year associate head coach, was having trouble fielding two five-man teams at practice.

A day or two before Thanksgiving, the brothers were back home in Herndon, Va. The Eagles had just lost their sixth straight game to open the season, and their top returning scorer was hurt. Kent approached John. During his months of basketball retirement, he hadn’t so much as found a regular pickup game. He asked whether there was maybe a spot for him at Coppin State.

“I thought it could be a good opportunity for me to get one last chance at my dream,” Kent Auslander said Thursday. He was sitting courtside at the Physical Education Complex, where the Eagles (1-19, 1-4 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) and their newest teammate — certainly their most unlikely — will on Saturday host Morgan State (7-11, 3-2) in their first showdown this season.

It was fitting, in a Hallmark-movie kind of way, that Kent would come back to Maryland to help his brother. After all, that’s what John had done for Kent.

After a year at Division III Greensboro College, John left the North Carolina school and its basketball program in 2010 to be closer to home. He didn’t know then that he’d walk on to the Terps’ roster, only that he wanted to help his brother, a rising star guard at Herndon High. Forced to sit out the 2010-11 season as a transfer, John found he had the time, and the patience, to brave Capital Beltway traffic and attend “every possible game I could possibly be at” across state lines in Virginia.

At Maryland, their careers briefly intersected for the first time. John was a second-year graduate assistant on coach Mark Turgeon’s staff when Kent walked on to the team as a sophomore in 2015. John was there when Kent scored one point in an early December game and two points a few weeks later, each a career high.

The next season, as John took a job as an assistant coach with the Maine Red Claws, the Boston Celtics’ affiliate in the NBA Development League (now the G League), Kent’s career went in reverse. Late in the fall, doctors discovered a benign tumor in his right fibula. Offseason surgery required removal of part of the bone. Recovery sidelined him until midway through the season. He never again made it onto the court for the Terps.

“It kind of made it so I wasn't able to contribute as much as I wanted to,” Kent said, “and I think that might have had an effect on why I didn't want to play anymore.”

Said Coppin State coach Juan Dixon: “We thought Kent was done with basketball.”

So Kent would teach. History, specifically. Three of his favorite teachers in high school taught history, and it was his minor at Maryland while earning a criminal-justice degree. And anyway, by the time he applied to George Mason, he in no way resembled the guy who months earlier was hanging in Division I practices. He still stood 6 feet 6, but he’d lost 15 pounds. His girlfriend remarked on how skinny he looked.

Then basketball returned on TV, and so did those old pangs. He had loved basketball. One fall night, he said, he awakened thinking of Coppin State. “Hey, maybe they could use me,” he wondered. Why not talk to John?

“It wasn't a complete shock,” John recalled of their November confab. “To be honest, my initial reaction was one of excitement.” Not only over the chance to reunite with his younger brother, but also because Coppin State needed help. Top guard Dejuan Clayton had a bad shoulder injury. Another guard, Joel Boyce, was transferring out. The Eagles, winless until Jan. 8, couldn’t afford to be picky, not even over a graduate transfer with 18 career minutes of playing time.

So Kent enrolled at Coppin State, where he’s pursuing a master's of science in adult and continuing education. He got used to taking orders from Dixon, a special assistant during Kent’s time at Maryland, and from his brother. And he remembered the ecstasy of a smart pass, a 3-pointer, a hard-earned defensive stand.

“There's nothing like those feelings,” he said. “Nothing else can really create that in real life outside of basketball.”

Early on, Kent might have looked at times like a teacher trying to play basketball. First eligible to play Jan. 3, he was 2-for-14 from the field over his first four games. But in a 60-47 loss Monday at North Carolina A&T, he had 10 points (4-for-7 shooting), four rebounds and two assists.

John said Kent still has room for improvement, if not much time, with six weeks standing between Saturday’s game and the start of the MEAC tournament. But Kent also has another year of eligibility remaining, enough time to finish his master’s.

He figures he’ll probably be back next year. The great thing about history, he said, is the lessons apparent in how you can learn, or not, from your mistakes. He might spend all of his professional career in a classroom. He’s got only so much time left on the court.

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