(Eds: Updates with Lynx breaking the WNBA record for best start. Also moved in advance. With AP Photos.)By JON KRAWCZYNSKIAP Sports Writer
Seimone Augustus used to show up at the WNBA All-Star game and get pep talks from the other stars at the event.
”Keep grinding,” they would tell her, patting her on the back. ”It’ll get better.”
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One of the league’s most gifted players, Augustus was toiling away on the Minnesota Lynx, a downtrodden franchise that missed the playoffs in 10 of its first 12 seasons. Augustus appreciated the encouragement from her peers, but she also had to bite her tongue and resist the urge to view it as patronizing.
Most of those stars from women’s basketball will be gathering again this summer in London to play for Team USA, and maybe this time Augustus will be returning the favor. The Lynx dominated the league last season to win their first championship and beat Phoenix on Friday night to improve to 10-0 this season, setting the mark for the best start in WNBA history.
Oh, and she’s bringing along two of her teammates – Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore – to make the Lynx the most well-represented franchise on Team USA. It’s been a startlingly fast turnaround from perennial doormat to budding dynasty, and Augustus is loving every minute of it.
Her Lynx have taken over the WNBA. Now they’re looking to conquer the world.
”It’s always fun when you have teammates with you,” said Augustus, who will be appearing in her second Olympics. ”The other years I was by myself. … It’s more important to share moments like this with your teammates and bond and really bring some of that winning energy back here.”
Coach Geno Auriemma will be getting three distinct skill sets and personalities in this pack. Whalen is the fiery point guard who doesn’t hesitate to let her voice be heard, Augustus is the soft-spoken scorer who prefers to let her game do the talking and Moore is the polished forward who was groomed in the UConn pressure cooker.
”It’s all about understanding personalities,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. ”Maybe if Seimone needs something, maybe Lindsay can identify it, or Maya, where they can help each other get through. They’ll recognize looks on faces and what they need in a moment.”
Whalen and Moore played on the team that won the gold medal at the world championships in Turkey in 2010, but have yet to play in an Olympics. They can look to Augustus for guidance if need be, but in many ways the Lynx have gotten a good taste of what they will be facing in London during the defense of their title here in the United States.
No team will be playing with a bigger target on its back in London than the heavily favored Americans, a squad bursting with the best players in the world, including Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings. The team is so deep that none of the three players from what is unquestionably the best team in the WNBA expect to start.
”You can probably project the starting five which will be,” Augustus said. ”Sue (Bird), Diana, Catchings, Sylvia (Fowles) and Candace. And then after that it’s just kind of a tossup of what we need at that particular point in time so I expect us to play a lot together.”
The Lynx trio won’t be surprised by the way teams from around the world come after them in the Olympics. They’ve been experiencing similar intensity each time they’ve hit the court this season as defending champions.
”It’s different playing with that than having the underdog role,” Whalen said. ”Playing with USA basketball and now we won here, just being able to play with that after having some success is different for a lot of us.”
Reeve said some of her players weren’t quite sure how to handle it in the early going.
”There’s a whole other responsibility,” she said.
They seemed to have figured out how to handle it in a hurry. The Lynx beat Seattle by 22 points last week and the Shock by 20 on Saturday to keep rolling toward the league record. The common denominator in every victory this season, and in their surge to the title last year, has been an unyielding belief in each other. That chemistry should serve Team USA well.
”It’ll be very comfortable for us just to be able to know each other, know where each other likes the ball, how we play, how we move,” Moore said. ”It definitely helps to be able to have that familiarity with them. It’s definitely going to be fun and a proud moment for the Twin Cities area.”
Before the games begin, the roster will meet for a training camp and the grueling practices that come with it. Tales of the ruthless competitions between Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson during the 1992 Dream Team’s practices are legendary, and Augustus says the women take pride in bringing a similar intensity to their workouts.
”The practices are definitely harder,” Augustus said. ”Just look at the competition that we face. The best players in the WNBA going at each other every day. You can’t get better than that. I’m not saying the game is easy. But if I’ve got to face Diana Taurasi, I’m not going to see another Diana Taurasi in Europe or France or Spain. It’s pretty tough.”
And if things get a little heated during a scrimmage, or even in a game, Augustus knows she can count on her pack to have her back.
”It’s always good to have some company with you,” Augustus said with a playful chuckle, ”in case something happens.”
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