Seimone Augustus' love affair began far from the fancy hardwood courts she dominates today. Rather, it was on a small gravel patch her father constructed in their front yard that she fell for the game of basketball.
"I learned to dribble on gravel rocks," said the Minnesota Lynx All-Star. "The ball never went where you wanted it to go, so I guess it was another way to learn ballhandling."
Seimone bonded with her father, Seymore, during their many hours of practice. She still laughs about his unconventional approach to teaching.
"There was the lawn chair he used to help me work on dribbling, bowling gloves to help me with my shot and trash cans set up as defenders," she said. "He would use just about anything to help me with fundamentals."
The creative training tools made the game more appealing to Augustus, who will try to lead the Lynx to their second WNBA title in three years starting Friday against Seattle.
"My dad was always really good at mixing in fun with hard work," she said.
By the age of 5, the 2011 Finals MVP was playing on a bitty ball league at a city park in her hometown of Baton Rouge, La. They made it a coed league to accommodate her, and she was soon outplaying the older boys.
"As soon as I started competing, I fell in love with the game," she said. "I just loved the constant action and the adrenaline rush."
While the WNBA wasn't formed until 1996, when Augustus was 12, she remembers paying close attention to the USA women's basketball team before that.
"I would watch Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards and all those wonderful women, and that's what made me start dreaming about the future," Augustus said. "I wanted to wear that red, white and blue."
With the birth of the WNBA, Augustus' future in the game was sealed.
"Once there was the WNBA, I began to dream about playing professionally and set that as a goal for myself," she said.
Further solidifying the path she hoped to follow, she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Women as a high school freshman. While plenty of pressure came along with such an honor, it helped her learn to navigate the media and hype that would one day be a part of her everyday life.
"At 14, I didn't even feel like I was that good," she said. "I figured, if things like this can happen now, imagine what can happen if I work harder and get better."
Get better she did. The three-time All-American for LSU led her team to three straight Final Four appearances. After graduation, she was taken No. 1 overall by the Lynx in the 2006 WNBA draft.
Now with two Olympic gold medals and a WNBA title under her belt, she says she still often thinks of her early days in the game.
"From time to time, I go home and my mom has an old treasure chest with VHS tapes going all the way back to when I played bitty ball," she said. "I start tearing up when I see that progression from when I was 5 years old, to college, to now."
While many things have changed, she says she's having just as much fun as she did when she was weaving around metal garbage cans on that gravel court in Baton Rouge.
"They say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life, and I really feel like I've never worked," she said. "I am happy getting up in the morning every day because I'm doing something I love."