by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Five years into her WNBA career, Seimone Augustus of the Minnesota Lynx has done some pretty remarkable things. She was Rookie of the Year in 2006, she won a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, she surpassed 3,000 career points earlier this season and has averaged over 20 points per game in three of her first five seasons. One of the few things she hasn’t done is make an appearance in the WNBA Playoffs.
“In the exit interview last year, one of the things we discussed was the first five years of her career,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “That’s a wrap. It’s over with. How did she want to be defined? I thought the next five years—this being the first of the five—would define her legacy. I think she understood it, I think she understood what I meant and she certainly was tired of the way it had been. I just thought she was a person filled with pride and some things were taken away from her from injury and there were some residual things like losing a spot on the World Championship team. Things like that and she probably had to hear a lot that she wasn’t going to be the player that she was because people are just foolish when they say things like that. Those are all motivations for someone like Seimone. She has a great support system in her family and inside she’s just filled with a lot of pride. I just think she’s impressive.”
Despite not winning enough to her liking throughout the early portions of her career, Augustus has other reasons as to why she wants to “redeem” herself, although most believe she has no reason to do so. She has gone through a lot and was ready to reclaim her position as one of the league’s true talents heading into the year.
“I think after the ACL injury and all that stuff, that’s what was key for me,” said Augustus. “Last year at the end of the season we had our exit meetings and coach basically talked about having a legacy. She said, ‘Those first five years were hard for you. You’ve been through everything, every adverse situation and it’s about to get better.’ She was like, ‘These next five years, we’re going to build on your legacy.’ It’s something that I do focus in on.”
Through the first stage of her WNBA career, Augustus was rightfully pegged as the player the Minnesota Lynx were going to build around. Slowly, but surely, they did just that and created the league tormenting team which finished the 2011 regular season with a league-best 27-7 record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The success of this season started way back in 2006 when the Minnesota Lynx drafted Augustus and made her their cornerstone.
“Clearly, Seimone is one of the all-time great scorers in our league,” said Reeve. “There’s no question and it’s not even close. Her ability to get her shot off and you can tell a player, ‘Seimone’s going to make this crossover on you and you have to guard it.’ It doesn’t matter. You’re not going to be able to guard it. She’s just incredibly gifted in that regard. I coached Deanna Nolan who was so gifted athletically. Seimone is not so much gifted like Tweet was athletically, but if you look at her hands on the ball, it’s just very natural. Feel is very natural and she has a swag about her offense.”
“I’m trying to think of players who were better,” continued Reeve. “Obviously, Cynthia Cooper is one of the best guards of all time, if not the best scoring guard. You have to put Seimone in the top five after fifteen years. I have to put her in the top five guards scoring-wise.”
At the All-Star game this summer, the league announced the top fifteen players in league history. Seimone Augustus was not one of those fifteen, although one could make a case based on talent alone. While Augustus may have the individual talent to be considered for the exclusive list, she knows why and agrees with the decision.
“Of course, anybody would want to be on the top fifteen, but at the same time, you have to win championships, you have to accomplish some things as a team before you get those kinds of awards,” said Augustus. “I understand that to the fullest, so that’s why I’m not angry about not being on there.”
Reeve likes that one of her star players—an MVP candidate—isn’t satisfied and remains hungry to achieve team goals. After only knowing Augustus through last season—which may very well have been the most personally challenging in her career—Reeve saw a healthy and intensely motivated player show up for training camp, ready to put the demons of the past two years behind her and begin to claim her spot as one of the all-time greats.
“Well, that’s a great recognition on her part and, quite simply, that would be what would keep her off,” said Reeve. “That’s a very smart player to say, ‘Look at the players in front of me. What didn’t I do?’ That really is what it’s all about and, like I said, her first five years, not a single playoff appearance. As gifted as she is, she’s an All-Star, she can get player of the week and all that good stuff, but as we told the team in the beginning, the individual accolades come when the team wins. Unfortunately for Seimone, the first five years it just didn’t happen.”
Augustus also had another external force motivate her for the 2011 season and beyond, one from her past. Only true friends, those who know you deeply can say things that need to be said at a crucial moment of your career and life. Thankfully for Augustus and those who follow her, she has just that.
“This past year I had the opportunity to play with an old teammate that I played with in college, Doneeka Hodges-Lewis,” said Augustus. “I was going through some things over there, just trying to get myself in shape and stuff like that. She sat me down one day and just told me, ‘Mone, you’ve been playing good, but not as good as I know you can play. You can take it to another level like you did at LSU or like I saw you do in high school.’ We’ve known each other since we were little, so she knows my capabilities and what I can do. It just kind of broke me down in tears because she was telling the truth and I cried. I cried like a baby when she said some of the things that she said, but it helped me.”
“Now I’m playing some of my best basketball and people are starting to realize it,” continued Augustus. “I’m getting fans from college and high school saying, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen you like this before,’ so that’s a good testament to the way I work and the fact that I have good people in my corner like Doneeka, who was able to tell me the truth.”
Her coach has seen a change in her this year as well. One of the most un-talked about aspects of Augustus’ game in 2011 is her commitment to the defensive side of the ball, which is a testament to both the player and her coach. In order for the team to play Minnesota Lynx basketball as Reeve envisioned it when hired, all players had to fully commit and Augustus has done just that.
“The hard thing for me is that my measuring stick is last year and that was one of the roughest years of her career,” said Reeve. “I don’t know if there’s anything new I’ve learned about her this year, but I just think she’s doing everything better. I’m impressed that some of the things we’ve asked of her on the defensive end, she really has taken it to heart and hasn’t fought me on it. She hasn’t said, ‘Coach, my job is to get buckets,’ or ‘Let somebody else do the dirty work.’ She’s somebody who wants to be a part of that and I wasn’t sure. Last year wasn’t a good year to gauge that, so maybe that’s what I’ve learned. She’s willing to be a part of doing the little things that it takes to be successful.”
The road to the championship running through Augustus’ turf in Minnesota, as the Lynx have home court advantage throughout the playoffs due to their league-best record of 27-7. With WNBA fans watching her debut performance in the playoffs this year, Augustus is ready to show fans a side of her they haven’t seen to this point: that same commitment to both ends of the floor as she has possessed all season, only now, it is crunch time, winning time, playoff time and, if all goes as planned, championship time.
“Clutch situations because I’ve never been there before,” said Augustus. “People haven’t seen me play in those. I played in them in college, but that didn’t end the way I wanted it to end, but they saw glimpses. I joked this morning with Taj (McWilliams-Franklin) and coach that we talk about defense all the time here and I never thought about having to play defense because I’m a scorer. That’s something that now I’m keying in on. I want to be one of those defensive players. I want to be the one at the end of the game that Coach Reeve says, ‘Look, get on Diana Taurasi’ or ‘Get on Cappie Pondexter.’ Ten seconds left to go, you have to make that play. I have to be able to do that, as well as score.”
The 2011 WNBA playoffs are about to tip-off and Seimone Augustus is ready to lead her Minnesota Lynx to the title. Yet, with her name coming up in the discussions for individual awards again, which would she find most meaningful? After all, her new commitment to the defensive end of the court has been rather impressive. While it is likely others will win the awards, Augustus’ eyes light up when the question is posed to her: So, MVP or Defensive Player of the Year?
“MVP because it’s a well-rounded award,” said Augustus after a long pause to think it over. “It’s team success and individual success all in one and that can actually add in your defense, as well as scoring. If you look at who on the men’s side, you have LeBron (James) and all these guys that are well-rounded players. They play both sides of the ball. I’d have to pick MVP, but if I got the Defensive Player of the Year, I wouldn’t be mad either, you know? I turned another corner in my career.”
The first season of “the next five” for Seimone Augustus has gone well in both individual and team success. Now, adding a championship ring to her finger may finally give her the recognition she truly deserves as one of the all-time greats in the WNBA.
“If this first year is part of her five year to define her legacy, I think she’s off to a pretty good start,” said Reeve.
Augustus puts it in a simple way as well.
“I’d go through all of it all over again to end up with this team,” said Augustus.
From Day One of the 2011 WNBA season, Seimone Augustus has made sacrifices on the offensive end of the court for her Minnesota Lynx, committed to being a force on the defensive end of the court and had an MVP-type season. That is a special accomplishment and it would not be a surprise to see the special feeling around this Minnesota Lynx team continue until they hoist the championship trophy into the air in October.
It all starts Friday night for Seimone Augustus and her Minnesota Lynx.