HOUSTON (AP) — D.J. Augustin calls Houston home — sort of. It's his home now, but it's not where he grew up and built his childhood memories.
It's not where he earned his cherished high school letterman's jacket with two state championships. That home, back in what had once been the soulful city of New Orleans, no longer exits.
Augustin and his family fled New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, leaving friends and most of their personal belongings behind when the levees broke, swamping their house under stinking floodwaters.
They settled in Houston, where Augustin spent his senior year of high school sticking close to family and throwing his heart into basketball until it was time to go to the University of Texas.
Augustin is back in Houston again, trying to lead the Longhorns (31-6) past Memphis (36-1) in the South Regional final on Sunday and into the Final Four.
"Houston is a home to me now," Augustin said Saturday. "But New Orleans will always be my home in my heart."
He was already one of the most cherished point guard recruits in the country when the storm struck, making basketball seem trivial, yet at the same time, oddly elevating the importance it played in Augustin's life. It would be his saving grace in Houston. He could bury his frustration and fears under 100 free throws or by practicing layups and his crossover dribble.
Uprooted from his closest friends, it was difficult to make new ones. His family and basketball provided the emotional wall between his new life and the one left behind.
"I basically stayed with my family," Augustin said. "Basketball takes my mind of everything. It really helped during those times."
When the Augustins fled New Orleans, they took only what they thought they would need in their car, which wasn't much. There had been a chance the storm might miss the city and nothing would happen.
Augustin forgot his class ring for Brother Martin High School and made the family turn around so he could run back in the house to get it. What he didn't grab in the rush was that letterman's jacket, which he wouldn't see again until months later when the family returned to their washed out home and it sat in a closet, stinking and covered in mildew.
"Those things were important to me," Augustin said. "I had earned those. They were mine."
The Augustins were part of a huge migration of evacuees to Houston, as Texas opened its doors to take in more than 250,000. Many of them didn't get out before the storm and were trapped for several days in the toxic brew sloshing through New Orleans.
One of them was Augustin's grandfather, Earl, who had stubbornly refused to leave New Orleans. When the levees broke, Earl, at 82 years old, crawled on the roof of his house to await rescue.
Earl was among the tens of thousands of evacuees eventually bused to the Astrodome, the once-great landmark that stands across the sidewalk from Reliant Stadium, where the action is this weekend.
Texas guard Justin Mason, one of Augustin's closest friends on the team, said Augustin rarely tells stories of New Orleans or his family's ordeal. Mason, however, believes the experience gives Augustin a drive other athletes don't have.
"He pretty much keeps everything to himself," Mason said. "I think it fuels him to be as tough as he can be … I think it made him realize that everything could be taken from him at any time."
Texas coach Rick Barnes marvels at Augustin's ability to thrive under the enormous pressure of being torn away from his roots shortly before going off to college.
"He has real courage," Barnes said. "He has perservered."
Augustin has not only persevered, he's also excelled. When Kevin Durant was winning national player of the year honors last season, Augustin was quietly voted by his teammates as the team co-MVP.
This year, Barnes coaxed him out of his quiet shell into becoming into becoming a more vocal leader. Augustin spent last summer working out with former Longhorn guard T.J. Ford, who led Texas to the Final Four in 2003 and went to Steve Nash's elite camp for college guards.
He also earned Academic All-American honors, earning a 4.0 grade point average in education in the fall semester. Augustin calls it his most significant accomplishment in college.
"I knew it was only thing I could do all by myself," Augustin said. "It was something I totally controlled."
If Texas can get to the Final Four and win a national championship, Augustin could get another ring to go with the high school one he refused to leave behind. The ring and the jacket now stay with his parents in Houston for safekeeping.
"They take care of those things now," he said.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.