Sylvia Fowles admits when she’s with long-time teammate and close friend Seimone Augustus she likes to “work on her nerves.”
Saturday, as Fowles was honored on the field in Tiger Stadium during the LSU-Arkansas game, Augustus had to tease her back, probably knowing how self-conscious “Big Syl” was feeling at the moment.
“The football team was ready to come out and start the next quarter and they were still rattling off accolades that she had accomplished,” Augustus said.
The accolades are indeed numerous: three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA titles, WNBA regular-season and Finals MVP awards this season, and Final Four appearances in all four of her seasons at LSU from 2005-08.
It’s primarily for the latter reason that Fowles was honored Sunday before the LSU-Southeastern Louisiana game with the retirement of her No. 34 jersey.
Augustus, who also has won three gold medals with Fowles and was a two-time national player of the year at LSU, already has her No. 33 jersey hanging from the catwalk in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Now Fowles’ No. 34, the number she still wears in the WNBA, will go alongside hers.
“She deserves to be hanging in those rafters,” Augustus said.
Considering all the greats who have come through LSU in a variety of sports, it’s an incredible honor to have a jersey retired. Fowles is the second Lady Tiger to be so honored, and she’s just the 12th LSU athlete in any sport, joining the likes of Pete Maravich, Billy Cannon, Shaquille O’Neal and Ben McDonald.
Though she was a highly recruited high school player out of her native Miami, Fowles never imagined when she came to LSU that she would be recognized as one of the school’s all-time greats.
“It means a lot,” said Fowles, who returned to LSU for the first time since graduating in 2009. “I’m still sort of in disbelief that I’m going to have my name hanging in the PMAC. I remember my freshman year and coming here and having a little chance to talk to coach (Sue) Gunter when she did make it to practice, and we would look at Shaquille O’Neal and Pete Maravich’s jerseys hanging up.
“Maybe one day I can bring my kids back and it would be like, ‘Your mom was good at some point.’
“I’m very happy.”
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With her imposing 6-foot-5 physique, Fowles, a 2015 inductee into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame, was the Shaq of LSU women’s basketball’s golden age. She set school records for rebounds (1,570), blocked shots (321) and free throws made (494) and attempted (822). She was a first-round draft pick in 2008 by the WNBA’s Chicago Sky before joining Augustus and the Minnesota Lynx in 2015.
Now 32, an age when many players are winding down their careers, Fowles said she may have just completed her best year in basketball. After going to Rio de Janeiro to win her third Olympic gold medal with the U.S. team, Fowles earned MVP honors with the Lynx, averaging 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. She was then the MVP of Minnesota’s WNBA Finals victory against the Los Angeles Sparks, setting a Finals record with 20 rebounds in the decisive Game 5. Fowles was the first player to win the regular season and Finals MVP awards since 2010.
“It’s her maturity, her growth,” Augustus said. "Every year she comes back with another aspect of her game that’s better, whether it’s rebounding or defense. This year it was offense. She went from a player who just uses her size and her ability to score over smaller players to actually making moves and being more aggressive on the offensive end.”
“I feel like I’m just hitting my prime in my 10th year,” Fowles said, “which is kind of weird, because a lot of people are starting to wind down. I’m starting to wonder how long I can go.”
Fowles heads next month to Beijing where she spends the winter playing in a Chinese league. Though the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still nearly 2½ years off, Fowles said she’d like to make a run at gold medal No. 4.
“I want to do another one,” Fowles said of the Olympics. “If my health plays out, I think I’ll be on the team. I just have to make sure I’m healthy so I can keep up with this younger generation.”
More than keeping up, Fowles is thriving. The next time she’s honored at LSU, it may be after being inducted into the Women’s or Naismith basketball halls of fame.