The thing that separates her is her work ethic. —Salem Hills head coach Kyle Francom
SALT LAKE CITY — Lauren Gustin is something special.
That’s not news to anybody who has seen the Salem Hills senior play basketball. But what might surprise some is that the same young woman who scored more points in a single high school season (733) than any other female player is also the first one to point out the contributions of her teammates.
She is, without a doubt, one of the most dominating post players to suit up for a Utah high school, but her jaw-dropping ability to hunt down rebounds (428) is eclipsed by her commitment to preparation and hard work.
What makes the 6-foot forward so impressive isn’t just her athletic ability, which is evident in her 29.3 points and 17.2 rebounds she averaged in her senior campaign, but it’s that it has come with incredible mental toughness and compassionate leadership ability.
Salem Hills' Lauren Gustin pushes up a shot with Mountain View's Danja Stafford defending as they play a high school basketball game in Salem on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
“She is amazing,” said Mountain View head coach Alexis Kaufusi, whose Bruins were the only team to beat Gustin and the Skyhawks this season. “She’s hard to prepare for because you can’t stop her. All you can do is try to slow her down. If you can hold her to under 20 points, you’re doing good. She’s just a beast inside the paint. She rebounds; she has a great mid-range game; you can double team her, and she’s still going to score. I was a post player, and she is that post player that every post player wants to coach. She is really fun to watch.”
When Kaufusi was preparing her players to compete against Gustin, she made sure to point out the senior’s focus.
“I told them, ‘She plays a full 32-minute game. Her level never changes, she stays at the top,'” Kaufusi said of her advice to the Bruins. “She’s just disciplined, and she never lets down.”
The man who coached Gustin in her sophomore and senior seasons, Salem Hills head coach Kyle Francom, said Gustin’s focus only intensified as the 4A Tournament approached.
“It wasn’t necessarily different because she’s always focused,” Francom said. “You just saw her hone in with that intensity of focus. The way she prepared, she was just dialed in.”
Gustin’s work ethic allowed her to capitalize on natural athletic ability.
Salem Hills' Lauren Gustin is named Ms. Basketball | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
“The thing that separates her is her work ethic,” Francom said. “She just outworks everybody. She is constantly in the gym, and he work ethic is unparalleled. When you get the combination of the two — work ethic and talent — the results are 29 and (17) per game.”
In fact, Gustin is such a complete player, it was difficult for Francom to say what her greatest athletic strengths are.
“Everything,” he said. “She is just a beast.”
Add to the mix her leadership ability, and it’s easy to see how she led two different teams to state titles — one in Arizona as a junior and Salem Hills this winter as a senior.
“She was the leader from day one,” Francom said. “But this group, they didn’t need a whole lot of guidance. The group really understood the team dynamic, and there was absolutely no selfishness in the team at all. She led and they followed. It was really almost perfect symmetry.”
Salem Hills' Lauren Gustin celebrates as her team closed in on the 4A girls basketball championship UCCU Center in Orem on Saturday, March 3, 2018. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Francom realizes that some may look at her stats and assume she’s something of a ball hog or spotlight seeker. But that, he said, couldn’t be further from the truth.
“She’s so unselfish,” he said. “She does a great job of finding people. She just wants the team to be successful.” Gustin, who was also named Gatorade Player of the Year for Utah, is headed to the University of Idaho, a place where she has roots. Both her parents played basketball, and they advised her to just enjoy every moment of her senior season’s playoff run. “We both told her, ‘Just make it a positive experience,'” said John Gustin. “We told her, ‘You’ll remember this week for the rest of your life.’ Just get in and do the best she could, do her part to help the girls succeed.”
Like his daughter did, he rattled off the names of the other players like Sydney Sorensen, Dixie Lainhart and Hailey Johnson who made it possible for Salem Hills’ playoff run to include that fairy-tale ending.
“The whole team just worked so hard,” said John Gustin, who also credited the coaches with the team’s dominating run. “I think teams couldn’t just focus on Lauren because everyone just elevated their games. It was just really nice to see the whole team come together and play so efficiently and effectively together at the right time.”