At the end of their end-of-season interview last fall, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve thanked Seimone Augustus for the work she had put in to recover from two surgeries. With those days behind her, Reeve said, she couldn't wait to coach a healthy Augustus in 2011 -- which left the Lynx guard pondering just what that meant.
After two seasons interrupted by injury and illness, Augustus could barely recall how it felt to play in peak condition, to inhabit a body that would allow her to use every drop of her talent.
"I thought, 'Who is this healthy Seimone she's talking about?' " Augustus recalled last week. "What is she supposed to look like? What is she supposed to be? I wanted to do everything I needed to do to be that person Coach was talking about."
Reeve's statement launched Augustus on a journey of self-rediscovery that continues this week with her first appearance in the WNBA playoffs. Two long years of recovering from a torn knee ligament and abdominal surgery ended last winter, when she lost 30 pounds and returned to her team determined to shed the disappointment of the past.
Augustus has fully embraced the defensive side of the game, finding new thrills in locking down some of the league's best players. She has also maintained her scoring touch, leading the Lynx in points (16.2 per game), free-throw percentage (.865) and three-point percentage (.417) while playing a team-high 29 minutes per game. Her performance is exactly what Reeve envisioned last fall, and it is having exactly the effect she hoped for on a team enjoying the best season in franchise history.
"It warms my heart to see her smiling all the time," Reeve said. "Coming off those injuries, Seimone had to hear a lot about how she wasn't the player she used to be. I knew she would be back better than ever, and it's been great to see what she's done."
Always an optimist, Augustus said she never lost faith that the Lynx -- who had not reached the playoffs since making her the No. 1 pick in the 2006 WNBA draft -- would change their fortunes. Nor did she lose hope that she could regain her edge after two trying summers.
Augustus tore a knee ligament six games into the 2009 season, leading to a long and grueling rehabilitation. At the same time, her father, Seymore, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Because of her injury, she wasn't allowed to fly home to Baton Rouge, La., to see him, a tough thing for a devoted daughter to accept.
Augustus persevered through several frustrating, dispiriting months as her knee healed. She expected to return at the start of the 2010 WNBA season, but that was derailed when severe pain from uterine fibroids required an unexpected surgery. After nearly a year away from competition, Augustus played the final 25 games of the season, finishing with career lows in scoring and field-goal percentage.
Still, she put up 16.9 points per game, eighth best in the WNBA. Prompted by her postseason discussion with Reeve, Augustus changed her diet, cutting out beef and pork and cutting down on her beloved soul food. During a winter playing in Turkey, she put in extra practice time with teammates Sylvia Fowles and Doneeka Lewis -- both fellow Louisiana State alumnae -- and tapped another teammate, Tamika Catchings, for advice on improving her defense.
When the Lynx began training camp this year, her teammates were awed by her fitness.
"She made up her mind that she wanted to lead us, that she wanted to put this team on her shoulders and carry us," said forward Charde Houston. "To see how she got herself back into the shape she was before the ACL injury, that shows how dedicated she is to this team. It brought tears to my eyes."
In addition to her scoring role, Augustus has been defending her opponent's best player this season, to great effect. She studies game film and tailors her approach to each individual, using her quickness or size or strength as needed. As part of a Lynx defense that is among the best in the WNBA, Augustus proved her mettle when she held San Antonio's Becky Hammon -- the league's ninth-leading scorer -- to a single basket on 20 attempts in the teams' past two meetings.
All that has refreshed Augustus's memory of what it's like to be at the top of her game, with her playoff debut offering the chance to do even more.
"It feels great to be healthy, just enjoying basketball and having fun," Augustus said. "I hadn't done that in years because of the health issues. To be part of this team and have a season like this, it means a lot to me."
Rachel Blount • firstname.lastname@example.org