You might say that James Augustine fits Unicaja Malaga like a hand in a glove. All three of the club's teams until now under head coach Joan Plaza rank in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague's top 11 this century for average offensive rebounds, and this season Unicaja is third and climbing. Augustine, meanwhile, is a top 15 performer in offensive rebounds since he came into the league in 2010 and currently ranks third individually with 3.2. per game. His career-high 6 offensive boards and 31 performance index rating last Thursday helped Unicaja end a five-game winning streak by scoring 93 points, 20 above its league-low average coming into that game, to beat Khimki Moscow Region. As he says in this EuroLeague.net interview, Augustine expects his team to keep fighting and improving all season long. "The results don't show it, but we've been playing good," he said. "Our coach reinforces every day that we have to go down fighting. Even if we lose, we have to go as hard as we can, and I think we are doing a good job at that."
James, first of all, you helped lead Unicaja to a much-needed win last week. What did that one mean to you guys on the team and to the Unicaja fans?
"It was a big one for us. We needed that win, but it was especially good the way it came, fighting the whole game and staying with them and making sure to win it for our fans. They've stuck with us the whole year as we tried to pull out wins. We were playing hard all the time, but falling short by a few points, or even just one or two. So it was good to get this win and put ourselves in a position to get more, I hope."
What was the mindset during that five-game losing streak with so many close losses?
"We were frustrated by trying not to show it. When you play so many games, between the EuroLeague and the Spanish League, the best reaction is to just bounce back and play the best basketball you can in the next one. It's frustrating to come up a little short, so it was good to finally win one. Whenever you are working hard, you know it'll turn around."
Coach Plaza seemed to keep the losing streak in perspective and not overreact to it. Did his attitude help the players?
"I think we play together as a team always, and we bounce back together after every game. It might be frustrating that night to fight and lose by a couple points, and maybe a little the next day. But we stick together and Coach does a good job of keeping perspective and keeping us together so that we take it one game at a time."
You spent last season with CSKA, where the imperative was to at least make the Final Four. Unicaja's goal is different, to always challenge the big teams. Is that being accomplished?
"I think so. I think we've done a good job so far. The results don't show it, but we've been playing good. We lost a couple of big games, but all the others have been by a few points. And some we've given away at the end or the beginning of the second halves. Our coach reinforces every day that we have to go down fighting. Even if we lose, we have to go as hard as we can, and I think we are doing a good job at that."
Unicaja has already faced three of your former teams: Valencia, CSKA and now Khimki. Do you get extra motivated in those games?
"In the Valencia one, I didn't get to play, but it's always good to go against your old teams. There's a little extra motivation, sure, but it's also a motivation because they are big teams. So the motivation extends to our whole team, to play hard as a team and come out on top. Our fans here, they help us to overcome adversity and get through the tough spots, as we saw against Khimki last week."
Coach Plaza's teams at Unicaja have always emphasized offensive rebounding, which you obviously enjoy. Was that a factor in your decision to join this team?
"I just knew they would play hard. I knew that they always did that, played hard on defense, competed hard. Something I wanted was to come to a team that plays hard and fights for itself and its position. We do that, but we also have fun on the court together. If we won a couple more games, it would be better. But we'll keep fighting, I know that."
Of the top 18 offensive rebounding teams by average this century, 10 have played in the last five seasons, including three in this one. Do you think offensive rebounding is trending in the EuroLeague?
"I think coaches are trying to emphasize it slightly more because it's a big game-changer. It allows your team to get more shots than the opponent. Lots of coaches are going to statistics more to look at things like possessions and shot percentages, and offensive rebounding is a big factor in both. If you can put back your own misses and make tip-ins easier than other shots, it gives the team more of an opportunity to score and at the same time slows the other team from running its fastbreak."
This season, you traded maybe the coldest place in the EuroLeague for probably the warmest. How's that working out?
"It's great. My five years in Moscow were good for me. It was cold there, of course, and the weather is nice here. It's always sunny, and when we practice in the morning, you can enjoy the sun in the afternoon. It's a good lifestyle for me and my family."
You must have a warm spot for Spain after now playing on your fourth team in your fifth season there.
"It's a great place. So we live here in the summertime, too. The kids are in school here. It's all good. I knew that I wanted to come back to Spain as soon as I could."
Finally, after the team found its offense last week, how much room for improvement is there for Unicaja to do more damage in the EuroLeague going forward?
"I think we can improve for sure. I think we knew that scoring was one of our weaknesses at the beginning of the season. We were playing great defense, but not getting enough points, holding teams to low numbers and still losing. We know that with more points we can compete better, and Khimki is a good example. We gave up 30 points in the first quarter of that game, and normally we'd be down at that point by 15. But we stuck with them scoring-wise and kept it going until the end. I think we just need to keep that energy up and keep defending the way we have been. We should keep getting better shots that way, and if we can score up near 80 points regularly, we will win more games."