February 10, 2023
How BYU’s Lauren Gustin became the nation’s leading rebounder
"I would say her motor, like motor is not a thing you can teach. And she has it, she just never stops. She's 110% all the time."
If you were to survey 100 basketball coaches, you probably would get a pretty even split on whether rebounding is a skill. However, all of them would agree that rebounding requires a lot of energy, effort, and desire. Players who have those qualities and take pride in them are the ones who become elite rebounders. All three of those describe BYU junior forward Lauren Gustin, the nation’s leading rebounder. However, the path for Gustin to become the nation’s leading rebounder wasn’t straightforward.
Gustin was born in Boise, Idaho, where she lived until she was 13 years old. At that time, she and her family moved to Utah. Gustin committed her sophomore year of high school to play basketball at the University of Idaho. Almost immediately after arriving on campus, she realized it wasn’t a good fit for her. After one semester, she decided to transfer. At the time, the transfer portal wasn’t as big as it is now so she decided to go the junior college route, transferring to Salt Lake Community College.
During her one year at SLCC, Gustin was a dominant force. She averaged 19.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per game and was honored as an NJCAA All-America Honorable Mention. She had three 20+ rebound performances and even had a 40-point, 22-rebound double-double. The time she spent at SLCC humbled her, and it helped to build her grit and grind mentality. When it came time to pick where to go next, there was only one school she had in mind.
“I remember I actually went to BYU camp. I think it was my sophomore year of high school because I was interested in them, you know, being a local kid. And obviously, BYU was a good program, and it was close to home,” Gustin told the Next. “As soon as I got to SLCC, I think it was even before our first game, BYU offered. And I felt like it was gonna be a great fit, it was closer to home. My mom had played there. I had heard great things about BYU, and you know what fit my values and everything. And obviously, the coaching staff was great. I knew right away that it was the right fit.”
Upon arriving at BYU, Gustin redshirted a year to better learn the system and her teammates at BYU. Once she got on the floor, Gustin made an immediate impact. In the first game of her career, against LSU, Gustin scored just six points but grabbed 14 rebounds. In fact, that first season she had just two single-digit rebounding games. She had her first 20-rebound game against Pepperdine, scoring 27 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. In the Cougars’ upset win of sixth-seeded Rutgers in the NCAA tournament, Gustin had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. She finished the season with 15 double-doubles in 24 games.
Her sophomore season saw her numbers decrease a little, but she played a part in the most successful season in BYU history. The Cougars had the best season in program history by winning percentage. They lost two games total in the regular season and won their second WCC regular season title in program history. All their success garnered them a six seed in the NCAA tournament, the highest seed in program history. Their postseason was cut short when they lost in the first round to Villanova.
“I feel like rebounding is a little bit of a skill … but having a nose for the ball and … rebounding is a lot of just energy and effort and she goes after any ball that’s loose up there out like anything,” BYU head coach Amber Whiting told the Next. “She’s like 110% in every drill every time she steps on the court. I mean, if we’re having a scrimmage and she doesn’t feel like she’s gotten enough sweat … she’s always asking me for more, and more, and more. It’s just that intangible that you can’t coach. It’s just innate.”
During her first three seasons, Gustin played with two of the best to ever don the Cougar uniform, Paisley Johnson Harding and Shaylee Gonzales. Harding finished her career with 1,915 points, the sixth most in program history. Gonzales finished tenth all-time in scoring despite only playing three seasons for the Cougars. Gustin feels she learned so much from those two and it helped make her a better leader for this year’s group.
“From a leadership standpoint … I had such great examples of leaders. They really taught me the importance of being vocal and being a good example and really being able to not only say what needs to be done but do what needs to be done,” Gustin said. “I feel like I grew a good relationship with Paisley over the years I was here but she was very passionate about the game. She really cared about her teammates, on and off the court, which I thought was really important because it made you want to play hard for her and with her. They definitely taught me, you know, to work hard and to be about your talk for sure.”
Heading into the 2022-23 season, BYU had a very different look. Gone were Johnson Harding and Gonzales. Gone was the all-time winningest head coach in BYU history, Jeff Judkins. In fact, BYU only returned three players who played over 250 total minutes last season with Gustin being the only returner to play over 305 minutes last season. With a brand new coach with no college coaching experience in Whiting, a lot was going to be asked of Gustin if BYU wanted to continue the success it’d had during Judkins’ tenure.
Out of the gate, the Cougars struggled, losing eight of their first 12 games. However, around Christmas, they found their rhythm, stringing together eight wins in a row, seven of which came against WCC opponents. That winning streak has the Cougars currently in fourth place in the WCC. Despite the early struggles, Gustin has been a consistent force for the Cougars.
Through 24 games, Gustin has 22 double-doubles which lead the WCC by a wide margin and is second in the country to only Angel Reese of LSU. She has posted double-digit rebounds in every game this year, averaging 16.4 rebounds per game to lead the nation.
She is also one of 10 players this season with at least one game of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. Gustin has three such games, tied with Angel Reese for the most in Division I. During her three seasons at BYU, she has nine games with at least 20 rebounds against Division I opponents, five more than any other player in the country during that stretch.
On top of all her success on the boards, Gustin has increased her scoring output by a good margin. She is averaging 16.2 points per game, which is a career-high for her and good for sixth in the WCC. On Thursday, she put up a career-high 30 points against Pepperdine. She also has a career-high in blocks, 3-pointers made, and free throws made. Last week, she was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Katrina McClain award, given to the best power forward in the country.
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“I would just say really it’s just all about the effort and the grit. Obviously, I’m a little undersized, but I feel like that’s kind of an advantage sometimes because the bigger girls think that you know since they’re taller, they can just grab it but I really felt like it just comes down to just going for every board hard, rather that’s on offense or defense whenever the ball goes up. I’m gonna do whatever it takes to try to get that ball,” Gustin said of her rebounding prowess.
Gustin has made her mark on the boards her entire career. However, rebounding isn’t a skill you can really practice. It is something that requires a lot of energy and a nose for the basketball. These are things that Coach Whiting says Gustin has in spades. On top of that, Gustin this season, due to the lack of experience BYU has around her, has had to play a lot more. She leads the WCC and is fourth in the county in minutes played, averaging 38 minutes per game. Playing this much would make most players tired but not Gustin.
“I would say her motor, motor is not a thing you can teach. And she has it, she just never stops,” Whiting said. “It’s incredible to me because there’s a lot of times like I watched the girls like when they’re playing and you can tell they’re getting tired and they start making mistakes but Lauren is just like, she’s a freak of nature. Like, she just never stops. She’s strong as crap and she doesn’t like anybody outdoing her so it makes her even go harder. I just love that she has that in her and like I don’t have to motivate her it’s already happening.”
Gustin credits a lot of her success and drive to her family. Both her parents were college athletes. Her dad was a college quarterback at Wyoming while her mom was a basketball star at BYU as well, joining the 1,000-point club in just two seasons with the Cougars. Her brother Porter played football at USC and spent this past season on the Miami Dolphins practice squad.
Being raised in such an athletic family has helped pushed Gustin in her career. Her parents raised her and her siblings to be competitive and fight for what they wanted. Gustin’s family has also been in her corner throughout her career and helped her through the tough times she’s faced. She also feels having siblings who have been through similar situations that she can go to for support and advice has been nice. She says that through the ups and downs, her family has been her number one supporter.
“My family has played a huge, huge role. I think it started with my parents, both being college athletes and having successful careers in their sports and then just raising all of us to be really competitive and, you know, to fight for what we want. I think they’ve also really taught us from a young age that you know, just be the hardest working person in the room,” Gustin said. “They’re always, always there in the corner, which is so huge for me, because that’s always been a big blessing to be able to have them at the end of the day. I’m trying to put into words how impactful they are just because they’ve been there since day one. Even through my whole journey of Idaho, SLCC, BYU, they’ve always been my number one supporters.”
By the time the season finishes, she will likely be one of the top four rebounders all-time in the WCC. Gustin has one more year of eligibility remaining, but the Cougars move to the Big 12 next year. Her impact at BYU can’t be understated. Anyone you ask will tell you, Gustin is the most caring person who makes sure to make time for everyone.
“Lauren is one of the most genuine, caring people that I know. Little girls that look up to her, she always takes time with. She’s mentored a lot of our new freshmen coming in. They love her and the love comes because she loves them. She’s the leading rebounder nation, she could be very much full of herself, but you wouldn’t know that she’s just so humble, and she’s just always looking out for other people, and you don’t see that from her on the court at all.” Whiting said.
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.