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Dufault returns to USA to spend time with family, friends

Living half a world away from family and friends is tough — especially during the holidays.

Just ask Killdeer High School and University of Colorado graduate Austin Dufault.

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Nonetheless, the 6-foot-9 professional basketball player surprised his father and mother, Rich and Karen, by arriving in Colorado a week earlier than expected.

“He surprised us by coming home a week earlier than what he originally had thought,” said Rich, who is the principal at North Valley Middle School is La Salle, Colo. “But, he didn’t tell anyone. He kept it between him and his brother Zach. They surprised us by coming home the Monday before Christmas Eve. Karen and I were just ecstatic that he could spend two weeks at home. That’s probably the longest stay that he’s had with us at our home probably since he graduated high school. It was great, because Karen and I were off and we didn’t have school. It was nice to catch up with him.”

Dufault rolled up Christmas, New Year’s and his birthday all into one during the recent two-week trip back. He plays for the Kozuv of the FYR Macedonia.

“It’s just been great and I’ve been able to catch a couple of CU basketball games,” Dufault said. “It’s been great to be here with my family and friends. It has been nice just to take a little bit of break in the middle of the season, because it can be a really long season.”

Aside from being a coach one day Rich can’t imagine his son doing anything else.

“This is really where his heart is,” he said. “This is where he wants to be right now. If I was given that opportunity when I was that age, I’d probably do the same thing. It’s pretty amazing the countries that he’s been in and the things he’s seen. Again, it isn’t easy at times, but as he looks back, I don’t think he’s going to regret what he did. If he didn’t do it or didn’t get the chance to do it, he’d regret that by not giving it a try.”

Playing well

In the first 10 games of the Prva Liga season, Kozuv is at the top of the standings with a 9-1 record. However, in the Balkan League standings, Kozuv is in the middle of the pack with a 4-4 record.

Austin Dufault is averaging 11.9 points per game in the Prva Liga season and 11.3 in the Balkan League. He is also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. The power forward had his best performance of the season against Pelister Bitola as his team won 95-75 and he supplied 19 points and nine rebounds.

“I’m playing pretty well,” Dufault said. “Every year you are going to have your ups and your downs. I started out the season playing really well and our team has been playing really well. We have a good group of guys.”

However, the biggest surprise for Dufault this season is the number of assists he has been able to dish out. He is averaging nearly two assists per game in 15 games.

“I play on the perimeter quite a bit and I’m able to pick and pop or pick and roll if I have a smaller defender guarding me,” he said. “I’m just playing all over the court this year. My assists are probably the highest they’ve been since I started playing.”

In 15 games this season, Dufault has scored double-digit points 12 times. The only game where he went scoreless was against Rabotnicki on Nov. 23. He played 11 minutes, going 0 of 2 from the field and grabbed five rebounds.

Dufault is the lone American on the Kozuv’s roster. He said it isn’t very different as the players on Kozuv’s roster — which made up of mostly players from Serbian and Macedonian — speak English.

“Sometimes it’s nice to have somebody out there — as far as an American — that knows what it’s like going through the European season,” he said. “Being the only American has its benefits also. Just being able to really get that cultural experience of being somewhere else and I have to adjust to their type of lifestyle. I’ve had to learn some of their language, even though everyone speaks English. The players are teaching me new words and new things every day.”

Spending time in Colorado

Despite taking the two-week holiday break, Dufault didn’t stop thinking about basketball. He returned to his alma mater to work out and attended multiple basketball games. The Buffaloes, who he helped win the Pac-12 championship and reach the NCAA tournament two years ago, are ranked No. 15 in the country with a 14-2 record.

“I was able to catch up with the guys I used to play with who are still playing at CU and the coaching staff,” Dufault said.

After spending the last 20-plus years watching Austin transform into the basketball player he is today, Rich Dufault said it has been amazing to watch his son grow. Rich was Austin’s high school basketball coach in Killdeer. Rich is the principal at a middle school in a suburb of Greeley, Colo., which is 54 miles from Boulder, where Austin played his college ball.

However, Rich said it wasn’t just his influences on Austin, but everyone in the town of Killdeer when he was growing up. Not to mention Karen, who was the reassuring figure throughout his high school, college and adult life.

“When I coached and taught in Killdeer, there were so many incredibly supportive people at that school that helped all the athletes, including Austin,” Rich said. “A big part of this is the support that my wife gives. It’s not just me. Mom had a lot to do with it too. A lot of credit goes toward her. She was the calming influence a lot of times at home. I always wore those different hats whether it was a teacher, coach or father, but mom was always mom.”

Though he can’t take a quick hour drive in Colorado to see his family and friends, Austin Dufault said technology has enabled him to see or chat everyone via Skype, FaceTime or texting.

He does, however, have the ability to have one person over in Europe he can spend time with after practices, games and throughout day-to-day life — his girlfriend, Lauren Sandford. However, Sandford can only stay over in Europe for 90 days at a time.

“It can be tough to be away from your friends and family for long periods of time,” Dufault said. “Sometimes you can keep isolated, but with technology now it isn’t too bad. I’m able to talk to my family pretty much every day if I want to. I keep in contact with all my friends. It’s tough not being able to see them, but at the same time I’m still able to talk to everybody and stay in the loop of what’s going on.

“(Lauren) stayed until December and I’m planning to have her come back from the second half of the season. It has worked out really well. She was with me for nearly the entire first half of the season.”

Returning to professional basketball

Dufault’s two-week trip back to states is over and he is returning his focus to playing basketball. He wants to continually improve and progress throughout the levels of European basketball.

“The goal every year is to get better,” he said. “From a team standpoint, you want to win and have the opportunity to play for a championship in your league. I think both the leagues we are playing in right now, we are competitive enough to have that opportunity. From a personal standpoint, what I’ve learned in the last two years is just to work hard every day and try to develop a new skill every year.

“I hope to continually further my career with better opportunities in the future. We’ll see how this year ends up and after that focus on the next year.”