The Augustana men's basketball team has something any other small-college program could only hope for — three times over.
Featuring a starter in Micah Martin who measures 6-foot-11 and two backups in Donovan Ferguson and Roman Youngblut who each stretch the tape to 6-9, the Vikings stand tall at the center position.
“There's nobody in Division III that has big guys these guys' size — the shot blockers like we do,” said Youngblut. “These guys (pointing to the thick and athletic Martin and Ferguson) have Division I bodies playing Division III basketball.”
Augie's “three-headed monster” in the paint has proven to be a winning recipe for the 26-3 Vikings, who are playing this Friday in their fifth straight Sweet 16 game in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship.
“We always view that spot as a collective — how many points, rebounds and blocked shots do we get out of the 5 spot and not just out of one guy,” said Augie coach Grey Giovanine, who has always taken big-man projects and made them productive contributors. “Collectively, they are all playing well.”
That's the key to these three being important parts of the team — they all know their roles, know that they will be splitting the minutes at the 5-spot and embrace those duties.
“They really are in it together,” said Giovanine of the three juniors. “They really pull for each other, they complement each other, and they are all very different.”
Which is also what makes the trio so valuable as they can make contributions in so many ways. As Giovanine says, Martin is the most polished of the three offensively. Ferguson is “such a defensive factor and really alters things and has great quickness.” Youngblut, the former Davenport Assumption standout “is the most versatile defender” who has enough quickness to defend on the perimeter and has a wingspan that seemingly covers the entire court.
Together they average 14 points, 10.8 rebounds and nearly 3.5 blocks per game, which Giovanine said led one CCIW coach to wanting to nominate the three as a group for all-conference honors.
“I think we all have confidence in each other,” said Martin, who has 15 starts in 29 games this season. “I know if I'm not having the best game, Don can usually go in and pick up my slack and get as many rebounds, just as many blocks and score. On any given day, any of us are ready to step up to the plate. Roman's great on defense, so he's been able to pick up the slack if I'm fouling out, which I tend to do.”
Accepting those roles is critical to the trio working so well together, which they do. There is no animosity among them.
“I think it's hard to handle if you have a selfish mindset,” said Ferguson, who had 14 starts in the middle of the season but missed two games with an ankle injury. “We just have to always be ready and be at at our best. Coach G feels we're at our best when all three of us are in the lineup, and you have to accept it and take advantage of the time that you have out there. Do the best you can and go as hard as you can because you have two guys right behind you.”
Or right next to you.
It can also make it challenging at times for the coaches to play the right cards at the right time. Some games, Giovanine has had to juggle the three to find what he needs in certain games. In last Saturday's 85-79 victory over Capital, Youngblut sat the first 39 minutes and then was sent in in the final minute as a defensive stopper.
“You just have to be ready to go at all times,” said Youngblut.
While the three battle on the court — during practices and for those coveted minutes — they are best friends off the court.
But those on-court battles are almost badges of courage.
“For me, it's fantastic,” said Youngblut of practicing against Martin and Ferguson. “It's way harder in practice against these guys than it is in a game, to be honest.”
That is how all three of them have made such great strides in their three seasons together at Augie.