Tiger Rag High 5: LSU’s all-time best women’s basketball player

Seimone Augustus starts her 15th WNBA season this weekend. PHOTO courtesy of LSU athletic department

Welcome to the 12th category of our Tiger Rag High Five, the best-ever women’s basketball player.

A 15-member media panel with a collective 582 years of sports journalism experience picked LSU’s five best athletes, coaches, moments, and individual game and season performances in 21 categories covering all present and past sports.

Voters on the panel were provided information of six to 10 nominees and were asked to rank one through five. The panel voters could also write-in their own candidates.

Scoring was tallied as 5 points for a first-place vote, 4 for second-place, 3 for third-place, 2 for second place and 1 for last-place. Ties were not broken.

LSU women’s basketball hasn’t won a national championship despite five Final Four appearances. The Tigers have won three SEC regular season championships and two SEC tournaments.

The winner of the best-ever LSU women’s basketball player is. . .

Seimone Augustus 73 (13 first-place votes)

2. Joyce Walker 48 (1)

Three-time All-American who averaged 24.8 points from 1980-84

3. Sylvia Fowles 47 (1)

2007 and 2008 first-team All-American, 2008 SEC Player of the Year

4. Julie Gross 20

Second leading rebounder in LSU history and third-best ever in SEC

5. Pokey Chatman 19

Three-time All-SEC choice, led LSU to first SEC tourney title (1991)

Here’s Augustus’ story:

If Seimone Augustus ever paused to reflect on her life of continuous magnificent basketball accomplishments, it would take a while.

Start with the 6-foot guard winning consecutive state championships for Baton Rouge’s Capitol High where she was Louisiana’s Class 4A Player of the Year four straight times from 1999 to 2002.

Move on to LSU where she was a two-time national Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006 who keyed the first three Final Four appearances in the Tigers’ five-year consecutive run to women’s college basketball biggest stage.

Finally, there’s the four WNBA titles she’s won in 2011-13-15-17 as an eight-time all-star with the Minnesota Lynx and the three Olympic gold medals she captured as part of the U.S. team conquering the world in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

The reason the 36-year-old Augustus, voted by the 15-member Tiger Rag High Five media panel as LSU’s best women’s basketball player ever, doesn’t look back very often is she’s always eager for her next challenge.

Even with the coronavirus-pandemic shutting down sports for three months, she’s looking to if and when she can start her 14th WNBA season. This time, it will be with a new team, the Los Angeles Sparks, for the first time in her pro career.

Then next July, with the 2020 Summer Olympics delayed a year, she hopes to win her fourth gold medal as part of a U.S. team that has won the last six Olympics dating back to 1996 in Atlanta.

Honestly, what’s left for someone who has won big on every competitive level?

“You envision the way you want to finish,” Augustus said. “I have a few more goals that I want to check off. I don’t disclose them to anybody. It’s my own personal things that keep me going. I want to keep motivating and inspiring kids, especially from Louisiana. There’s not a lot of us who make it out.”

When not in season, she comes home to the Baton Rouge area where she lives on a farm in Baker.

“I love the people, I love the weather and I love the food,” she said. “I love the whole laid-back country feeling we have here in Louisiana.”

Home has always been important to Augustus.

At age five, she played in a Biddy basketball league at the City Park gym. As she grew older, her father began bringing her to Baton Rouge area rec centers to play in male-dominated pickup games to accelerate her growth as a player.

Slowly but surely, she earned respect from her skeptical male counterparts.

“It was like a battle,” she said. “They had guys stronger than me, faster than me, they talked trash to me. They did all kinds of things to throw me off my game. When I started playing against girls – no disrespect – it was a tad bit easier because of the difficulties I faced playing against boys.”

Her legend soon spread through the Baton Rouge rec centers.

“Every court was different,” Augustus said. “I knew when I went to a certain court, I knew what type of basketball to expect. It was like, `I know I’m not going to get a (favorable) foul (call) on this court, I just gotta play through.’ Or I’d go to another court where the guys were really athletic.

“It really helped me identify how certain players played and then strategically began figuring how I would play against these guys.”

College coaches quickly learned her name and her game.

“There aren’t too many players that have the all-around skills that Seimone has at this particular age,” said the late Sue Gunter, the LSU coach who won a fierce recruiting battle for Augustus over then-perennial national power Tennessee and its legendary coach Pat Summit. “You look at her, you don’t see any weaknesses.”

Augustus admitted it was hard to turn down Tennessee (“On my visit they immediately brought me to the arena to see all those national championship banners,” she said), but signed with LSU which had never advanced past the regional finals in 12 previous NCAA tournament appearances.

“I had the feeling if I could get to LSU and we got a few more players we could create something special,” Augustus said. “It was important to me that I wanted to make my city and my state proud. So many athletes leave and sign elsewhere. They just hit the gas and go.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to tough it out. You’ve got to make something happen here. That was my mindset when I came to LSU.”

The Tigers didn’t win a national title, despite Augustus bucketing 2,702 career points, including scoring in double figures an NCAA record 132 of 140 games and a school record of 97 consecutive games in double figures.

But Augustus, the first female athlete to have her jersey number retired (in 2010, followed by Sylvia Fowles in 2017), found satisfaction of setting the program in a positive direction.

“When I got to LSU, I remember that black curtain they used to have up on one side because they couldn’t fill the PMAC,” Augustus said. “We started selling more tickets. The curtain came down. It felt good to know I could impact some change in some way.”

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