NOTE:This story is scheduled to appear in the March issue of the Heart River Voice, of which I am a contributing sports feature writer.
After Austin Dufault scored an interview to be a coaching associate for the Los Angeles Lakers, it took him about 10 minutes to realize the job opportunity was with one of the most storied franchises in professional sports, not its minor-league affiliate.
The confusion, laughable now, was created by the job history of the people who connected Dufault and Lakers head video coordinator Will Scott. Not to mention the National Basketball Association team shares a nickname with the G-League’s South Bay Lakers.
“For about the first 10 or 15 minutes I was on the phone, I just assumed he (Scott) was with the South Bay Lakers,” Dufault said. “We were talking for a while and he kept saying, ‘Luke likes things this way.’ … I’m like, ‘Wait, are you talking about the Los Angeles Lakers?’”
Dufault, a Killdeer High School graduate, didn’t hesitate when Scott eventually asked him to join Lakers head coach Luke Walton’s staff as a coaching associate. He handles video preparation and some scouting duties alongside two other coaching associates.
“It’s a paid internship,” Dufault said, describing his position. “We work all of our practices and all of our home games. We’re on the court helping guys out with pre-game workouts. They throw me in drills a lot. I’m used as a defender a lot when guys are working out.”
On Monday night, I spent 20 minutes chatting over the phone with Colorado senior forward Austin Dufault. The 2008 Killdeer High School graduate and former North Dakota Mr. Basketball winner leads his team into their first NCAA tournament game since 2003 when they face UNLV at 8 p.m. Thursday at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
Below is our complete interview. In bold is a brief overview of the questions I asked Austin. Make sure to check out my feature story on Dufault in Wednesday’s edition of The Dickinson Press.
Less than a day after his best offensive effort of the season, Colorado junior menâ€™s basketball player Austin Dufault wasnâ€™t entirely pleased with his performance. Nevertheless, the 2008 Killdeer High School graduate and former North Dakota Mr. Basketball is pleased with the direction his teamâ€™s season is going as they prepare for Big 12 Conference play.
I spoke with Dufault on the phone on Thursday morning. He scored a season-high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds during a 92-65 home victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Wednesday night at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colo. The win helped the Buffaloes improve to 9-4 on the season.
Dufault, a 6-foot-9 forward forced to start in the post for his undersized team, is averaging 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds a game while shooting 56 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line.
Colorado visits Cal State-Bakersfield on Sunday and hosts Western New Mexico on Wednesday, Jan. 5 before opening the Big 12 season at home against Missouri on Saturday, Jan. 8.
Monke: With Colorado going into the Big 12 season soon, how are things going right now? How are you making the transition to new head coach Tad Boyle and being back in that same old center spot you didnâ€™t expect to be in?
Dufault: I think so far, itâ€™s been going pretty well. The beginning of the year we struggled a little bit right away, just with guys not knowing their roles â€” myself included. We had couple of losses early on that were really tough losses on the road that were games we should have won. We met as a team, players only, after we lost to Harvard and we just kind of talked about having a better effort, day in and day out, especially in practices and lately thatâ€™s carried over into games and weâ€™ve been playing a lot better. We know what coach expects from us now. Overall, itâ€™s been a pretty smooth transition besides the first three games. I think itâ€™s been going well so far.
When center Shane Harris-Tunks was injured in the preseason, it thrust you back into the center spot. You know how to play the position, but it seemed like the coaches were more intent to play you at forward again this year. What was that like for you, having to go back to being an undersized center in the Big 12?
It was tough at first, I was excited to get back to playing some forward and being out on the perimeter a little bit more, then Shane went down in practice. That was pretty tough. Iâ€™m pretty close with Shane. It was tough to see him (get injured). He worked hard in the offseason to take over the center spot and put on a lot of weight, and did all the right things. He was in the weight room all summer. It was tough to see him go down with how hard he worked. I was down for a while, then I thought about it and the first guy who would want me to play well and do well is Shane. Iâ€™m trying to do things that Shane does out on the court and learn from things he did and fill in as best I can.
Are you a little more acquainted with the center role this year? Do you feel you’re playing better there because were in the same spot last year?
I definitely learned a lot last year. It was kind of like I had two freshman years. I had a freshman year playing forward, then I had a second freshman year trying to learn to play center and guard some of the guys I had to guard in the Big 12. It was a big-time learning experience. It was really tough at times, but itâ€™s carried over to this year, I think, pretty well. Just the experience from this year has helped me feel more comfortable playing that role this year.
It looks like your team is playing better than you were at this point last season. What are your thoughts about this team going into the Big 12 season?
We definitely have a good shot to do some really good things, but the effort has to be there consistently every night. Last night (against Maryland-Eastern Shore), in the first half, we didnâ€™t play really well. I donâ€™t know if the score really reflected it that much, but we need to keep holding ourselves accountable to our standards and not worry about the competition that weâ€™re playing. Just play the right way and I think we can match up with any team. In the Indiana game, we held them to four points in the first nine minutes of the second half. If we could do that on a consistent basis and have that effort game in and game out, I think this team could surprise a lot of people in the Big 12.
With the quality of guards Colorado has, do you think you have a chance to be a team that could shock a few teams in the Big 12?
It definitely helps having guards that can score the ball really well, but the main thing for us is going to be defense. Offensively, weâ€™re in the top three of pretty much every category in the Big 12, but defensively, weâ€™re sitting pretty much at the bottom. You look at the teams who go deep into the tournament every year, the NCAA tournament or are winning Big 12 championships, theyâ€™re at the top of every defensive category. Thatâ€™s something that weâ€™ve need to change. If we want to be a top team in the Big 12, we need to focus more on defense and not just look to compete with people, but completely shut teams down defensively.
How has the team adjusted to new head coach Tad Boyle? Are how things going under him?
Theyâ€™re going pretty well. People kind of know their roles now. At the beginning of the year, there were little stretches in there where people weâ€™re trying to feel out what coach asked of them. He just asked that everybody plays hard, defends. Offensively, we have quite a bit of freedom, a lot more so than playing in the Princeton system (under former head coach Jeff Bzdelik). He runs a motion where pretty much everybody gets involved. Itâ€™s nice for me, playing center, I can back-screen people and get on the perimeter and I have five-men guarding me who arenâ€™t as quick as me so I can take them to the basket or make plays for other people. Itâ€™s been a lot better. We almost play kind of like a five-guard offense, with somebody always in the post, but it doesnâ€™t have to be me. It can be the guards if they have mismatches. Itâ€™s been fun, I like the system a lot and thereâ€™s a lot more freedom and coach has confidence in everybody to shoot the ball.
How is Colorado preparing for next yearâ€™s switch to the Pac-12?
Weâ€™re just focusing on the Big 12 season right now for all the sports. Football finished up, and now itâ€™s basketball season so everybody is just focused on having a good last season in the Big 12 and not really worrying about the Pac 12 stuff until next year. I think all of the schedules are pretty much done … Iâ€™m not sure about basketball. All the divisions are set. Weâ€™re in the Pac-12 South, so itâ€™ll be us, USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.