Augustine Rubit's path to the basket
South Alabama forward found basketball, family when he needed it most
He was always too quiet. It freaked out his sister.
She already had enough to worry about. A new mom at 17, with another on the way, Lorraine Rubit had dropped out of her Houston high school and turned her focus into making her apartment at a low-income complex on the Northeast side of Houston a home. She knew she made mistakes, but this wouldn't be one of them. She was going to do right by her kids.
Only Lorraine wasn't striking out on her own. The apartment wasn't hers -- not legally, anyway. It was her mother's. Plus, there was her brother, Mitchell, and her sister, Ashanti, and her her twin sister, Mary, whose disability required constant care. There wouldn't always be food, but they would share. The clothes wouldn't always be clean, but they'd be folded and ready when Child Protective Services came to the door. No, our mom isn't home right now, but everything looks good, doesn't it? She'd help with homework when she could.
Their mom was lost to crack cocaine, consumed by the life. So what? Lorraine would be the mom. The Rubit kids would pretend. Sometimes, it would even be fun.
But Lorraine worried about Augustine most of all. She couldn't understand why her brother was always so still. All she felt was anger. Their mother would come home after two or three days on the street, hazy and strung out, giving orders. Or she'd return from who-knows-how-long in jail, promising better days ahead. The apartment would rattle with Lorraine's resentment. Where have you been? What have you been doing? We're your kids! You're doing us wrong!
But Augustine, all of 12, would never cry, never raise his voice, never flinch. He wouldn't say anything.
"It wasn't that I wasn't mad," said Rubit, now 24 and a star senior forward at South Alabama this season. "I just didn't understand. I just wanted to see my mom."
By age 12, Rubit had long since learned how to hide in plain sight.
On his first day of sixth grade at one of the eight or nine elementary schools he estimates he attended, Rubit had to take a longer bus route from his new apartment to his school. The bus was late. Teachers started asking questions. Where did you move to? Who are you living with? Augustine had seen those concerned faces before, and he knew what they meant -- CPS would make him go back in the system. He wanted to stay with his brothers and sisters. He knew how school was. You needed your legal guardian to sign things. His mom wasn't there, and Lorraine couldn't fake that. The solution was obvious.
If I don't go to school, he thought, they can't take me away.
So Augustine stayed hidden, and stayed quiet. He avoided all of sixth grade. He flunked.
This winter, Rubit will graduate from South Alabama. A redshirt junior in 2012-13, he averaged 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and was, despite his team's 17-15 record, honorable mention All-American. His chances of landing on an NBA roster next season are realistic, and if that doesn't pan out, a career in Europe looks like a lock. He will be the first person in his family to earn a college degree. His major? Communications.
The path that saved Rubit from becoming another quiet, forgotten son of Houston's drug-torn inner city, and brought him to the perch he now occupies within college basketball -- he is arguably the best true mid-major player in the country, and undoubtedly one of the nation's best rebounders at any level -- began with a decision his sister made at the end of that lost sixth-grade year.
"We were so close and it hurt so bad," Lorraine said. "I didn't want anyone to think I was leaving them, or I didn't care. But after a year of him not going to school, that's when I decided."
Lorraine had seen what the hiding was doing: Augustine was staying out later and later, coming home without explanation. She made the call: Augustine would go back into protective services to live with his other "play-mom," his godmother, Doris Brown.
Rubit was drastically behind in school, but with Doris he did enough to catch up and move forward. He started to get into sports. Football was first, but basketball was intriguing. When he got to ninth grade, basketball began to come easiest.
That's when he met the Traubers.
Steve Trauber, a former player at Rice in the early 1980s and currently the vice chairman and global head of energy in Citibank's investment banking division, and his wife, Leticia Trauber, were forming an AAU team -- Houston Select. Steve would coach, and Leticia would help with everything else. Their son, Matthew Trauber, was a budding young hoops star in his own right.
The Traubers wanted to build a place for kids from Houston who might "have been in danger of going the wrong way," Leticia said. In 2006, the Traubers held tryouts for a group of Houston's most talented, and troubled, young players. Rubit was there, and Leticia noticed him immediately.
"He was usually alone," Leticia said. "His shoes, his stuff was literally falling apart. Every day at practice he wore the same shirt and shorts. I gave him some money and told him to buy some T-shirts and some shoes."
For most of that first year, Rubit revealed little of his personal life to the Traubers. He was quiet. The Traubers opened their home to many of the boys on the team; there was no block Leticia Trauber wouldn't wheel her car down if it meant getting one of her players safely home.
By his sophomore year of high school, Augustine's natural dominance on the court -- he was an unstoppable rebounder from his first game -- was attracting national recruiting interest. Leticia Trauber worried someone might try to take advantage of their son's sweet, shy friend. She and Steve stepped in, helping with college visits, answering schools' questions. How were his grades?
"I went and got his transcripts from his school," Steve said. "And this was the absolute worst high school in Houston. …. They let him go to class and go straight to the gym. They were just trying to push him through the system. They gave up on him."
So the Traubers dove in. They found a tutor, enrolled Rubit in night classes and summer school, sat with him before and after practices, pushed him to be engaged in his work. When he couldn't find a ride, Steve arranged for a car service to take Rubit where he needed to be. Slowly, Rubit was at the Traubers' for more than basketball dinners or video games with Matthew. Soon, he was there pretty much all the time. Soon, he had moved in.
"So many of these kids are good kids that just don't have an opportunity," said Steve Trauber, who has spent roughly $1 million of his personal wealth sponsoring Houston Select since 2006. "So many of them are living in environments where family-wise and neighborhood-wise there is zero expectation of college."
Steve and Leticia didn't quite know the extent of Rubit's background. He never asked for anything. But Rubit knew, and was starting to grasp the opportunity the Traubers were giving him. Mostly, though, he just hated being away.
"I saw what a family was like," Rubit said. "The whole family was there, they had dinners every night. Everything just felt like home. I never had a relationship like that with anyone growing up. Somebody that's happy to see you, that makes you feel appreciated. Somebody that makes you feel like a human being."
In 2009, when Rubit first landed at South Alabama, Leticia and her daughter, Lexi, now 21, drove to Mobile to help Augustine set up his dorm room. When they left, Leticia said, they were both crying. Later, Rubit would tell her that not running back to the car was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
"That was one of the toughest things in my life," Rubit said. "I didn't want them to leave. As soon as I got in that room I felt like I was in prison, or like I was on an island. Like everybody just gave up on me.
"You know, I don't know what makes you feel that way," Rubit said. "But it felt like I had no one left."
Only the Traubers weren't going anywhere. It wasn't until later, when Leticia asked Augustine to help move Matthew out of a college apartment in Colorado, that Augustine opened up to her about what his childhood had really been like, but it didn't matter. By the time he went to South, "Aug" was already a brother to her kids. Aug was their son.
The Traubers set goals for Augustine, and he has followed through -- bringing up his grades, pushing himself in the weight room. As a redshirt freshman in 2010-11, Rubit was the Sun Belt newcomer of the year. As a sophomore, when he began to draw double- and triple-teams from overwhelmed opponents, he averaged 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds and shot 50.6 from the field. He kept getting better. Last season, Rubit posted 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds, and was the Sun Belt player of the year.
This year, the family goals are different: Be a Sun Belt and Academic All-American, win the league, play in the NCAA tournament under his new coach, former Butler associate head coach Matthew Graves. Both Graves and Steve Trauber are thinking about ways they can expand Rubit's game, not only to impress NBA scouts but relieve him of some of the punishing double-teams on the low block. The first thing Graves did after his announcement news conference was work out with Rubit. What he saw thrilled him.
"The biggest surprise in our first workout was how capable he is of playing on the perimeter," Graves said. "He just hasn't had the opportunity to do that in his college career. But if we can get him more confident and comfortable out there, in our ball-screen offense, it's not dissimilar to what we had [former Butler center] Matt Howard doing late in his career. He'll show people what he can do."
But the biggest goal, the one that matters the most, is already well within sight.
"We told him from the start that basketball was just a tool for him to get his degree," Leticia said. "We never realized he could play like this, at this level. The focus was to get his degree. That's the promise he made to us at the very beginning."
Every offseason, agents have tried to get at Rubit, assuming a player from his background would want to play pro ball as soon as possible. He has never thought twice.
"I'm going to get my degree," he said.
Back in Northeast Houston, the Rubits are doing better, too. Lorraine is now 31, just a few weeks away from finishing her own college degree. She wants to open group homes for at-risk families in her own area.
Her daughter, Chelsea, is now 12. Her son, Terrence, is 14, and idolizes his uncle.
"It's all he talks about," Lorraine said. "Augustine this, Augustine that."
Lorraine and Augustine's mother, Kimberly, has been clean for 11 years. Her last battle with cocaine ended in 2002, when she became pregnant with twins -- shocking the family and herself. She spent all nine months of her term in the hospital before giving birth to Jamarri and Jamaria. Every year, when the Rubits celebrate the twins' birthdays, they also celebrate another year of Kimberly's sobriety. Augustine still goes home, too. He swings by the neighborhood, checks in with family and old friends. His relationship with his biological family is "great," he said, and he's proud of the positive things his family members are doing with their lives. But he still spends his summers at the Traubers. That's where he feels at home.
Every now and then, Augustine's two worlds have collided. The Traubers took Kimberly to South Alabama one season, where she got to see her son play for the first time, for example. But almost all of Rubit's biological family still hasn't seen him play in person.
That will change this season. On Dec. 6, South Alabama visits Rice for a nonconference game, and early unscientific polls suggest a rather large turnout for one player in particular.
"I'm printing T-shirts, my daughter is already making poster board," Lorraine Rubit said. "I'm sending out emails, Facebook messages, telling everybody to mark the date and get the ticket."
"A lot of our friends that have had the chance to meet Aug will definitely be there," Steve Trauber said. "I've already got my 'I love No. 21' stuff ready to go," Leticia Trauber said. "We're so proud of him. He's like a son to us. He's our son."
Aug talks more now, everyone says. He doesn't look at his feet or mumble; the communications classes have drilled the uncertainty out of him. He doesn't softly omit his childhood; he happily describes it in bracing detail, even to a reporter he has never met.
"I just want him to know no matter what he does, whether it's the NBA, playing overseas, coaching, anything, I'm so proud of him just for the fact that he's going to be the first person in our family to graduate college," Lorraine said. "Of all the things he did in college, that's the biggest thing. He got an education for free. It will be with him the rest of his life.
"And the Traubers? They were mom and dad to him. They were a godsend. They were there for him when he didn't have anybody else."
On Dec. 6, 15 miles from the place he spent an entire year avoiding those who would take him away from the only family he ever knew, Rubit will draw members of two families, two different communities, to the same gym. They'll come to see him do what he does best, of course, but mostly they'll come to scream. They'll hold up signs, chant his name, tell him how proud they are, how much they love him.
When the game is over, he'll have two families to hug. There will be too many relatives to thank.
Finally, Augustine Rubit has nowhere to hide.
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