Why Seimone Augustus stayed home, became LSU legend instead of picking Tennessee, UConn
Legendary LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman, who was serving as athletic director during Seimone Augustus' stardom in school, once labeled her as the most influential recruit in the history of Louisiana State University athletics.
Think about that for a moment. Not a football player. Or baseball player. But Augustus, the highest-rated women's basketball prospect in her 2002 class at Capitol High School and who grew up just five miles from campus in Baton Rouge.
Her decision to stay home and sign with LSU women's basketball changed the trajectory of the team. And ultimately left a permanent imprint what will now never be forgotten as LSU will unveil a statue of Augustus on Sunday afternoon outside the basketball practice facility that'll stand alongside other legends, Shaquille O'Neal, Pete Maravich and Bob Pettit.
The statue unveiling will come at 12:45 p.m., prior to the LSU women's home tip off with Auburn, which is set for 2 p.m.
"There will never be another Seimone Augustus," said Bob Starkey, who was an assistant coach under Sue Gunter while Augustus was a player, Saturday during a press conference. "Not at LSU. She was homegrown. That's what make it different. She understands and loves Baton Rouge."
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Starkey recalled the staff not knowing for sure if Augustus would sign with LSU or Tennessee out of high school on her signing day, remembering the orange she was wearing.
"I will not repeat what Gunter said (about Augustus' orange garb). But when she announced LSU, I can't describe how it felt to us because we knew we didn't just get a great player, we knew our program was getting ready to change forever," Starkey said.
Gunter and Starkey were the first coaches to recruit her, well before she was rated the top of her recruiting class. And they wrote her a hand-written letter, something that stuck with Augustus during the process.
At that time, Augustus said, with Tennessee and Pat Summitt and UConn on top of women's college basketball, leaving home was a real possibility. She dreamed much bigger than just playing college basketball and wherever she chose to play needed to be to conduit to get her there.
But she bet on herself.
"I just felt like the things they were doing (at LSU) resonated most with me," Augustus said. "Being at home giving my family, my supporters another four years to really let me become who I needed to become then go out into the world.
"Home is where the heart is."
The short, five-mile journey from Capitol to LSU broke ground on a legendary basketball career that featured leading the Tigers to three straight Final Fours, winning the National Player of the Year award multiple times, scoring more than 2,700 points, becoming the WNBA No. 1 Draft pick.
Going against the grain ultimately led to her statue.
"It means a lot. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around what's happening. Everyone is excited," Augustus said. "There are so many people in Baton Rouge that have followed my career since biddy ball days. This is a celebration for everyone, not just myself."
"I'm just thankful it's happening. It's awesome to think about what this moment is going to mean for everyone."
Augustus said she's unsure of what her legacy is at LSU, although there'll now be a permanent effigy of what she meant to the women's basketball program bronzed for all to see.
To Starkey, her commitment to greatness should be what others absorb and emulate from Augustus.
"Leadership in the example you set. She set it in everything she did. From her practice, her work ethic, what she did in the offseason the unrequired work, the preparation and film study, the weight room, she was absolutely obsessed with being great," Starkey said. "She understood all the elements that went into that. She didn't just make the players better, she made the coaches better."
"We had to elevate the way we were teaching and coaching because we never coached anybody like her before. It was the way she did, the way she opens up to the community. The way she signs autographs, the way she is with other people. She understands the responsibility that comes with greatness."
Even coming out of high school, Augustus wanted to be a representation of what it means to be from Baton Rouge and that anything can be accomplished from her hometown, including LSU. It may have been a heavy cross the bear but she chose that.
And that mindset chiseled out her legend.
"Young people here, you can do anything if you put your mind to it," Augustus said "I started here at Gus Young Recreational Center, bouncing a basketball. And that led me to places that I could never imagine.
"With the right mentality and sacrifice, many things are possible. I'm living proof of that."
Cory Diaz covers the LSU Tigers and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns for The Daily Advertiser as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his Tigers and Cajuns coverage on Twitter: @ByCoryDiaz. Got questions regarding LSU/UL athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org.