The call from Maryland coach Mark Turgeon came toward the end of the summer, and a man who was a Terrapins basketball fan almost from birth received some incredible news.
John Auslander would be on scholarship at the ACC school.
"I was almost in shock," Auslander said. "I really needed the help with school, and he knew that."
It turns out Auslander is helping out Turgeon and the Terps quite a bit, too.
The sophomore logged 20 minutes in Friday's 73-67 defeat of Florida Gulf Coast, starting the second half as a reward for his steady play. With Maryland short on scholarship players to begin with and redshirt freshman Alex Len serving an NCAA-mandated suspension until Dec. 28, Auslander is especially valuable to the Terps early this season.
That includes Tuesday, when the Terps (3-2) meet Illinois (6-0) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Comcast Center.
"John does everything right," Turgeon said. "Physically, he can't do some things that he has to try to do. But he does everything right. He guards right every time. He's in the right position. He knows every play. He knows where the holes are in the zone. He does everything right. He understands how to play the game. We're teaching other guys how to play the game right now, and they could learn from John."
Especially since his route to College Park was anything but ordinary.
The Herndon native began his career at Division II Greensboro (N.C.) College, averaging 1.4 points, 1.0 rebounds and 7.4 minutes in 25 games in 2009-10. But he wanted to come closer to home and looked at local options.
The perfect destination was Maryland, the school both of his parents attended. In fact, there's a photo signed by former coach Gary Williams in the office of Auslander's father. The other people in the image? Both of Auslander's parents and Auslander as a baby.
"It started young," Auslander said with a smile Monday.
After working out on campus, he received the opportunity to walk onto Maryland's roster. At 6-foot-7, he provided a big frame hard to come by in a practice player. He also couldn't participate in games because of NCAA transfer rules and concedes it probably wouldn't have mattered if he was eligible.
"Last year, I wasn't ready to play," Auslander said. "I wasn't at that level yet. But I'm extremely motivated, and I just kept pushing."
That meant making a favorable impression on Turgeon, who was hired in May to replace the retired Williams. Perhaps most impressive was Auslander ignoring pain throughout an offseason of workouts. He also added 20 pounds, bulking up to 215 pounds for the season.
Auslander was diagnosed with two herniated discs in his back, trying cortisone injections along the way to stave off the discomfort. Eventually, he underwent an operation Aug. 19 to correct one of the discs, and was not cleared until Sept. 30.
"He's got a crazy work ethic," senior center Berend Weijs said. "He works whenever, even when he's in a lot of pain. Ibuprofen doesn't even work on his body anymore. I'm a good friend of his, and I'm very proud of him doing that. He's fundamentally very good."
That, coupled with the Terps' lack of depth, created a break for Auslander he hopes to build upon — even if the idea of spending half the game on the floor wasn't something even he expected.
"Realistically, no," said Auslander, who scored six points Friday. "Every athlete, you have to have some confidence about you. I thought I could eventually earn some time. I never envisioned 20 minutes. It's a great opportunity and I just want to keep working and getting better."
NOTE: Turgeon said an MRI exam revealed a break in guard Pe'Shon Howard's foot, meaning the sophomore will likely be out until late January. Turgeon said "significant healing" had occurred, and Howard is expected to undergo another MRI exam Dec. 7. He was hopeful Howard could remove his walking boot in two weeks.
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