Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore were back in Target Center after a five-week absence on Wednesday. The first duty was to go through a practice session with Lynx teammates, and the second was to show off some precious metal to the hometown media and several score of hardcore fans at a news conference.
Augustus, 28, claimed a second gold medal last weekend. Whalen, 30, and Moore, 23, players on opposite ends of pro basketball's experience meter, gained their first.
These were the rewards for being important contributors to another overwhelming effort for the American women: a fifth basketball gold in a row, a 34-point average margin of victory and the continuation of what now is a 41-game winning streak in the Olympics.
And yet here they were, less than four days and a long return flight removed from that emotional high, back at it -- preparing to play the 15 remaining regular-season games between Friday and Sept. 23, and then start the playoffs that are anticipated to bring a second consecutive WNBA title to Minnesota.
Any concerns that the giddiness of a gold medal could cause the rest of the WNBA schedule to seem anticlimactic?
Moore responded with an "uh uh," getting robust laughter from the fans who were tickled to be there, and then she said:
"You can't really compare anything to the Olympics. It's a once-in-the-lifetime chance to be on a team with the best players in the world. But the WNBA is the most competitive league in the world.
"There's nothing more satisfying than a WNBA championship. We'll be mentally ready, for sure. We realize what we have ... what a special group of players. And we enjoy that every day."
Augustus was the MVP of the league finals a year ago. Whalen is better than ever as a pro at 30. And Moore, the youngest player on this year's Olympic team, might get a couple more gold medals before she is through.
That's the nucleus, and there are several outstanding players around these golden gals, and it basically tells you that only out-of-nowhere injuries or the Lynx themselves could prevent another WNBA title.
The Lynx started the pre-Olympic schedule at 13-1, then seemed to get bored and lost three in a row from July 1-7. They came back with two victories -- both over futile Tulsa -- before the break. They lead the West at 15-4 and Connecticut leads the East at 15-4 as WNBA play resumes.
Augustus was asked about the weeks ahead, when this Lynx trio starts competing against the same players with whom the gold medal experience was shared.
"We got our game faces back on already," she said. "It's back to competition. No more joking. It's time for playing."
There's an element to being a top-flight pro in women's basketball that doesn't get much attention: The length of her season rivals that of a world-class soccer player in Europe.
"We were talking about our long seasons at the Olympics," Augustus said. "We're making the quick transition all the time. That puts more pressure on us and on our bodies."
It's not the number of games but the lack of downtime. The WNBA has a 34-game schedule, with salaries that are modest. And that means most of the players -- Augustus included -- go immediately from the United States to Europe or Asia to play a longer season and make more money.
Augustus played a full schedule with Moscow Spartak starting last fall. Moore delayed her departure and played the end of the European season in Valencia, Spain. Whalen played in Prague; now, she has signed for this winter with a team in Istanbul.
How many days off from basketball in the past 18 months? "These two, after the Olympics, and then I had an ACL problem, but that's it," Augustus said. "We play year-round. It's the life of a women's basketball player."
Whalen was asked about the wraps and ice packs she was featuring after Wednesday's practice.
"It's where we're at in our season," Whalen said. "You have to take care of your body. We all understand what you have to do to be ready to compete."
To be ready for the next two months ... when these three Lynx plan to add another WNBA title to the London gold.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • firstname.lastname@example.org