@16: All eyes have been on Minnesota Lynx star Seimone Augustus from an early age

As one of the WNBA’s highest profile players, Seimone Augustus understands her responsibility as a role model while excelling for the Minnesota Lynx.
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There’s a lot of debate on accepting, and I feel like I can be a positive role model for kids having trouble accepting who they are. The people who accept you, love them dearly. And the people who don’t, keep them away.

Editor’s note: This marks the fourth installment of ThreeSixty’s “@16” series, where our teen writers interview Minnesota newsmakers and difference makers about life as a 16-year-old high school student.

Number 33 kept working hard: Zipping across the court, crisply passing the ball to teammates and shooting it with calm confidence. Sweat was streaming from her forehead, but as practice ended and she began to stretch on the floor, a small smile lit up her face as she joked with a teammate.

This is Seimone Augustus, the versatile guard/forward for the 2011 WNBA champions, the Minnesota Lynx.

Augustus did not rise to a high level of basketball easily. With hard work, dedication and family support, she excelled at the high school and collegiate levels while in Louisiana, finally making it to the professional ranks as the No. 1 pick in the 2006 WNBA draft.

She’s never looked back.

Personal and team success has followed in the form of two Olympic gold medals, four All-Star game appearances and a WNBA Finals MVP honor.

Considered one of the most recognizable faces in the WNBA, Augustus took time after a two-hour Lynx practice to talk with Amolak Singh about the pressure of being a high-profile basketball player in high school, her sexuality as an open lesbian, and why she enjoys living in the Twin Cities.

What were your high school years like?

My high school years were fun. I made many friends in high school, mainly in athletics and I think I was probably one of the more popular kids at school. Overall it was fun.

You were on the cover of Sports Illustrated For Women (“Is she the next Michael Jordan?”) before your freshman year of high school. How did you handle the pressure of being so good at basketball at such a young age?

It was tough. From that point on, I kinda had a target on my back in the sense that everybody wanted to meet the girl on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and I always had to prove to myself and to others that I was worthy of being on the cover. I think it has made me a better player, and a better person in a sense, because that’s when I first started to sign autographs, gain fans and meet new people.

Did you have any backup career plans when you were in high school if you didn’t become such a successful basketball player?

I probably would have done law enforcement or something like that. A job where I could still be active, and do some good and help the community

How did your high school years prepare you for your current years as a pro?

It prepared me well. I feel like every person and every competitor and teammate that I had helped prepare me. And all the coaches helped me by focusing me on what I really needed to do. I’m from Baton Rouge, and the New Orleans area is high on crime and they wanted to do the best to keep me away from that.

How have you changed since you were 16?

I don’t know. I’m still the same height, and people say I look the same. But just maturity-wise, I wish I knew then what I know now as far as being patient and things like that.

In terms of your sexuality, as an open lesbian, how does it feel to be a role model?

It feels great, especially at this point of time. There’s a lot of debate on accepting, and I feel like I can be a positive role model for kids having trouble accepting who they are. The people who accept you, love them dearly. And the people who don’t, keep them away.

What were your goals in high school?

Make it to college. I’m the first college graduate in my family, so I just wanted to do that. And I also wanted to take it easy on my parents financially and get the scholarship.

Do you have anything in mind that you want to accomplish after retiring? Any goals?

Hopefully, I want to be able to help the younger girls understand how basketball works. You see, a lot of kids focus on the “AND1” (streetball) stuff and want to do the crossover and such. Maybe I can be that mentor that helps kids get to the fundamentals of the game.

You’re openly lesbian now. Were you as a teenager?

Well, I never denied who I was. I mean, I never went on ESPN and let it out to the whole world, but everyone that knew me well knew about that and who I was.

What advice do you have for teens that struggle with their sexuality?

It’s tough, because some people’s parents aren’t as open. My parents were great. They were warm and welcoming. But, for the kids who have parents who are a little more against it, stay true to who you are but be respectful.

You grew up in Baton Rouge. How is that different than the Twin Cities?

It’s hotter, most definitely. The humidity. The food was one thing I struggled with when I got here. The seasoning part is weird here. It’s kind of bland, without the spices and all that. Even portion sizes here are much smaller. In Baton Rouge, a portion size is two or three plates, but here it’s much smaller, like a little bit of mashed potatoes.

What do you like best about the Twin Cities?

The fact that it’s one big melting pot. You see many different races, ethnicities and people here, and they are very accepting of the gay and lesbian community. I love the parade and the week of festivities we have specifically for the gays. Just looking around, everybody’s more laid back here and people are much more healthy. Down south, we tend to see a lot of obesity, but I like how up here there’s much more healthiness.

Do you do a lot of work in the community?

Yeah, we volunteer with whatever the Lynx set up, mostly in the inner city. This year, we went up to a school in Minneapolis, and talked to at-risk kids who were struggling with peer pressure. (Fellow Lynx player) Monica Wright and I went over and talked to them, and then we had a little Q&A and they had an awesome time.

What does being allowed to legally marry in Minnesota as a lesbian mean to you?

It means a lot. I (took) a picture with three or four couples that married on the Target Center floor (in August) … actually (was) able to go to one of the first weddings.

But, it means a lot to me. I was a part of this movement, part of the fight and everybody thanks me for it, but many other people really stood up and made this possible.

— This is an edited transcript of ThreeSixty’s interview

THE AUGUSTUS FILE

  • Profession: Minnesota Lynx basketball player in the WNBA
  • Age: 29
  • High school: Capitol High School, Baton Rouge
  • College: Louisiana State University (LSU)
  • Find ‘em: On Twitter @seimoneaugustus
  • Personal hero: “My parents. They sacrificed a lot for me to be here. My dad worked a lot, and so my mom was able to travel with me a lot to basketball camps. He missed out on a lot of experiences, basketball related, with me. In the same way, my mom had to take work off for me, and I have to tip my hat off to them.”
  • Best advice for teenagers: “If you have a dream or goal, stay focused on it. Don’t let anybody distract you from it. Whether it be athletics, your personal careers or paths, just stay focused on it.”
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