Lauren Gustin entered the transfer portal, took a good look around, and decided that BYU and the Big 12 was the best place to play her final year of college basketball.

Gustin, the nation’s leading rebounder, announced Friday that she was returning to lead the Cougars into their new conference. The move bolsters second-year head coach Amber Whiting’s roster, which already boasts the highest rated group of newcomers in program history.

The decision also solidifies Gustin’s place among the all-time greats at BYU. She broke two-time All-American Tina Gunn’s 43-year single-season rebounding record last season and has a chance to unseat her overall rebounding record before she is through.

In addition, Gustin carried the Cougars through Whiting’s debut season with a 16-point scoring average to go along with 16.7 rebounds. Twice she scored 30 points and 10 times, Gustin had 20 or more rebounds. During the WCC tournament game against San Francisco, on a night when she was just 2 of 14 from the field, Gustin grabbed a career-best 27 rebounds to lead BYU to victory.

Gustin also led the Cougars’ defense, earning co-Defensive Player of the Year in the WCC.

Her time in the portal lasted just five days and there was no shortage of interest, including locally. At the same time, it brought distress to Whiting, who was planning on Gustin anchoring BYU’s first year in the Big 12.

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Gustin confirmed Sunday that she was entering the portal, but added, “It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily leaving. Just exploring some options.”

Whiting appeared on “BYU Sports Nation” on Tuesday, refusing to concede.

“I hope she remembers what we are building here, and she remembers the relationships that we have and that she remembers how much she means to us here,” Whiting said. “I really want her back. I want her with us.” 

In the end, both player and coach got what they wanted. Gustin, a grad student, wanted to look around — and she did (while also strengthening her NIL value). Whiting wanted her best overall player back — and she is getting her wish.

The idea of playing in the Big 12 has been on Gustin’s mind since the initial announcement on Sept. 9, 2021, but it really picked up steam after former teammate Shaylee Gonzales transferred to Texas after BYU’s 2021-22 season.

“I’m excited for it. The idea of playing against Shaylee will get me more motivated in the offseason,” Gustin said on the “Y’s Guys” on Jan. 31. “She’s killing it over there. I’m happy for her, but I’m excited to have her back here and hopefully put up a good challenge against them.”

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Gustin’s presence is crucial for BYU’s move to the Big 12. She will provide physical presence down low while the team breaks in its recruiting haul of young playmakers — something the Cougars lacked during last year’s 16-17 season.

In addition to All-WCC first-team returner Nani Falatea, BYU’s attack will include a pair of four-star freshman signees — Amari Whiting and Jannah Isai. They will also have, among others, freshman Kailey Woolston, the Deseret News’ 6A Player of the Year, who averaged 19.7 points at Lone Peak High.

With all of the newness, Gustin will be the needed glue to hold it all together and she immediately moved to the top of the list of Whiting’s most prized recruits. The 6-foot-1 Salem Hills High star was already here when Whiting took over for legendary coach Jeff Judkins, but she and her staff had to rerecruit her, and quickly, to make sure Gustin would stay here for one more year.

Mission accomplished.

BYU forward Lauren Gustin looks to shoot against Rice during a NIT game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Friday, March 17, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News