A single-ring hoop stationed 8 feet off the ground was the childhood centerpiece of Louisiana native Seimone Augustus and her neighborhood playmates. The basket, located in the family’s backyard, was a fixture on a court that was a mixture of gravel and patches of dirt.
From age 8 to just before she started high school, the lower- than-regulation height proved to be a neighborhood delight with dunking contests that lasted for hours until the dinner bell rang. Even after the break, the crowd would reconvene to live out their basketball dreams.
More than a decade ago, her father, Seymore Augustus, would tell a Minnesota reporter that kids in the neighborhood “didn’t want to be like Mike. They wanted to be like Seimone Augustus.”
Maybe dad wasn’t too far off. In May of 1999, Augustus, as a 15-year-old, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Women. The headline asked the question: “Is She the Next Michael Jordan?”
It is difficult to argue against. After all, she was a teen phenom that would become a superstar at every basketball level.
During a four-year prep career at Capitol High School in Baton Rouge, Augustus powered the Lions to a 138-7 record. The shooting guard, who graduated in 2002, compiled 3,600 points, 1,728 rebounds and 869 assists during her high school career. She led Capitol to two Louisiana state championships and a runner-up finish. Augustus was a two-time All-American and a two-time Miss Louisiana Basketball Award winner.
At nearby Louisiana State University, Augustus led the Tigers to three Final Four appearances and was the national player of the year following her junior and senior seasons. She was the top pick in the WNBA Draft in 2006 by the Minnesota Lynx, and would win four titles, and has earned three gold medals as a member of Team USA.
Her latest honor comes in July when she is inducted into the NFHS National High School Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Indianapolis when the NFHS celebrates its 100th anniversary. Augustus, sneaking in a visit home to Louisiana before beginning her 14th season with the Lynx, took a break from preparations to visit with High School Today.
HST: Let’s go back to that 8-foot hoop. How much fun was that for you and your friends?
Augustus: My first memory is that my dad wanted us to go down to the park and play on the regulation-height baskets. He didn’t want us to wreck that poor old hoop with all that we were doing. It was stuck at eight feet and that was a good thing. We had all sorts of fun, creating different moves and imagining all kind of scenarios where we would win games and please the crowds. Kids from all over came to play on that hoop. It holds special memories. By the time we got to high school, that hoop had to be replaced with a new one at 10 feet, one that was cemented in.
HST: Was it a challenge to play games on a gravel court?
Augustus: We didn’t have much money, so we just played with what we had. Playing on that gravel actually helped me with my skills. When you play on an uneven surface, it forced me to take care of the ball and use a light touch while dribbling. It ended up advancing me.
HST: What was it like to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated?
Augustus: I was a freshman in high school and had just finished a great run at a camp. I had no idea people were watching me. I was just out there hooping. I ended up winning the 1-on-1 competition against some older, well-known players. That kind of pushed me into the spotlight. People kept asking, “Who is this little girl?” I just remember them asking that question all the time.
HST: How did you like the attention?
Augustus: I had no choice but to roll with it. In Louisiana, it became a big thing, it brought attention to our state for basketball, and that is a good thing. It also created some pressure and expectations. The target was on our backs. I remember my freshman year we got beat in the semifinals and a coach from the other team, said “Now, maybe we should be on the cover.” It helped me to be on that cover. It was a reminder to always be on my A-game.
HST: How excited were you to play at the high school level?
Augustus: You have no idea how excited I was. There are many reasons, not just basketball. My dad’s entire side of the family went to Capitol High School. I was going to be the next generation to attend. My grandmother worked in the cafeteria for more than 30 years and she wanted to see at least one grandchild attend there. We made a lot of sacrifices to make it happen. We had to make a bona fide move. We left a two- or three-bedroom house for a smaller one so that I could attend Capitol. Being there carried some expectations. My dad played football and was on the track team. I had that on my shoulders. I really wanted to keep the family expectations alive.
HST: What kinds of goals and aspirations did you have at the high school level?
Augustus: I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be Miss Louisiana Basketball, I wanted to be an All-American, and I wanted to win championships for my school. I had all of my goals written down on a notebook sheet of paper that I taped on the wall. I looked at that sheet of paper every day. I accomplished every last one of them.
HST: Did you play other sports in high school?
Augustus: Yes, I played volleyball, too. It was something to do prior to basketball, and it was a lot of fun. I was voted All-District. A lot of the things we did in volleyball transferred over to basketball.
HST: What kind of memories do you hold special about your high school days?
Augustus: It’s a little bit of everything. It’s the pep fests, the Friday Night Lights, the state tournament trips. It’s all about the journey. We had lots of fun, but there was pressure, too. We grew and matured, and, helped each other. We embraced the high school experience. They say it takes a village; I believe that.
HST: When you moved onto LSU and then the WNBA, what kind of lessons learned at the high school level did you take with you?
Augustus: The toughness. I had to face the fact that every night I was going to face something different on a court. I’ve had people come after me, knock me down and try to seriously hurt me. High school helped me deal with that in a positive way.
HST: As you reflect on your high school career, what is the first thing you think of?
Augustus (laughing): That I could eat as much pizza or soul food as I wanted.
HST: And now, you will be a NFHS Hall of Fame inductee, how special is that?
Augustus: It makes me go back in time and smile. My mom (Kim) has found my clippings. It is amazing, really. To be mentioned in the same breath as (Baylor women’s basketball coach and 1986 inductee) Kim Mulkey and be the 10th person from Louisiana, is really a special, humbling thing. I am really looking forward to it.
Tim Leighton is communications director of the Minnesota State High School League, and he is member of the High School Today Publications Committee.