SALEM HILLS — Rather than see the massive media attention her older brother received as a spotlight that relegated her to the shadows, Lauren Gustin found comfort in the accomplishments and accolades of USC linebacker Porter Gustin.
“He’s the role model I look up to,” said the Salem Hills senior forward of her 20-year-old brother. “Especially with how dedicated he is to the weight room, and outside of the sport, to see how dedicated he is to work in the offseason, it’s very motivating. Whenever he’s in town, I love to go lift with him.” Maybe it’s because the 6-foot-1 Lauren Gustin is a gifted athlete with her own accomplishment, but she feels no pressure in following in her brother’s very high-profile footsteps. Porter Gustin was one of the state’s top football recruits, earning Army All-American honors, as well as All-State and MVP awards. He started as a freshman for the Trojans, and despite missing most of this season with a toe injury, analysts expect him to have a notable senior year with possible NFL opportunities after that.
But for Lauren, her brother doesn’t just provide a high standard to live up to, he is real-life support and inspiration.
“Whenever he comes to town, he’s always very supportive of me,” she said. “After all games, especially my big games, he congratulates me. Last year during state playoffs, I texted him and asked for advice on how not to be so nervous. … He definitely has good advice.”
A starter since she entered high school, Lauren Gustin leads the state’s girls basketball players in scoring, averaging 29 points per game. She’s also a relentless rebounder, earning an average of 16 per game this season.
“Everything,” said head coach Kyle Francom when asked to describe what skills set her apart from her peers. “She is just a beast. The thing that separates her is her work ethic. She outworks everybody. She is constantly in the gym, and her work ethic is just unparalleled.”
Having a star player who is also the hardest working athlete is something that elevates everyone on the team.
“When you get the combination of the two — work ethic and talent — the results are 29 and 16 per game,” Francom said. “Some kids are naturally gifted, but they don’t work that hard. Other kids work really hard, but they just don’t have natural talent. She has both, and it just makes her a leader.”
Gustin led Salem Hills to the state playoffs both her freshman and sophomore year before moving to Arizona for a year. There she and her teammates won a state title, but her family moved back to Salem Hills in time for her senior year.
“I love my team,” she said. “All the girls. They’re all super good teammates. I love our coach, too, and we work well together. Everyone is always working hard and encouraging each other. We just have a great team and a great coach. He understands players individually, and I think that’s really important.”
Gustin said her experience playing in Arizona made her a better basketball player, but she’s grateful to finish her prep career where she started it.
“We definitely have the possibility of making it all the way (to a state championship), if we just keep working hard like we are,” she said. “We can’t take anything for granted, but we definitely have a good chance.” Francom said Gustin, who signed with the University of Idaho, is an effective leader because of how she works and how she treats her teammates.
“She’s very compassionate,” he said. “She’s always doing things to try and help other people. If there’s somebody new, she’ll go over and make sure they feel welcome. She’s great that way.” Francom said he never senses Lauren felt any added pressure because of her brother’s success and the attention it attracted.
“I wouldn’t say pressure,” Francom said, “I think there was more scrutiny. But in terms of pressure, I don’t think it’s affected her in any way. … If anything, it’s been the kind of pressure that’s motivating.”
One of four children, Lauren comes by her athletic gifts genetically. Her mom played basketball for BYU and her father was a quarterback at Wyoming. She was born in Idaho, living there for the first decade of her life. So for her, Idaho was more than an interesting new adventure.
“It felt like home,” she said. “I loved the coaches, and they were there from the beginning. I love the program, the location of the campus. … It's a small college town near Washington State, and I liked that. And it has beautiful mountains.”
Gustin isn’t sure where basketball will take her, but she’s grateful that her senior season has been so memorable and successful. The team has just one loss this season — to region rival Mountain View.
Her favorite game was a one-point win over Westlake, but the game has taught her a lot more than how to box out or post up.
“I would say leadership,” she said of what she takes from her time on the basketball court. “And how to work hard. Definitely how to work hard.”