Lynx, Dream set for a gold rush

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 1:44 PM

As soon as the WNBA Finals are over, many players from the Lynx and Dream will start preparing for the world stage of the 2012 Olympics.

The WNBA Finals has an Olympic flavor.

As many as 10 players who are candidates for the 2012 London Games could be involved when the Lynx meet Atlanta on Wednesday night at Target Center.

"That is why you are going to see such high- quality basketball and such great games," said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, whose team has a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series. "Olympians have something just a little special about them."

Five Lynx -- Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Candice Wiggins -- are in the 24-player U.S. pool for London.

Atlanta has two American candidates in Angel McCoughtry and Lindsey Harding. Erika de Souza and Iziane Castro Marques are on Brazil's national team, and Sancho Lyttle is on Spain's.

De Souza, in fact, missed the Dream's past three playoff games because she was playing for her native country last week in the Americas Championships in Colombia. She was the tournament MVP as Brazil finished first and received an automatic Olympic berth.

Augustus, who won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said it had to be a tough decision for de Souza to leave the Dream in the middle of the playoffs.

"Either way, people are going to look at you in a different light, whether it be good or bad," Augustus said. "The WNBA Finals -- this is what we play for. We want to win a championship.

"But at the same time, you want to represent your country as well. It was a great opportunity for her country to make it to the Olympics, which is probably the biggest event for any athlete."

Augustus still gets chills recalling Beijing. And when the national anthem is played before WNBA games, Augustus always puts one hand on her heart.

"I thought everybody is supposed to do that," she said.

She learned the proper stance from her grade school teachers and USA Basketball reinforced it.

Augustus was coming off stomach surgery last fall and wasn't picked for the U.S. team in the 2010 World Championships. She was disappointed but understood.

"I wasn't in the best shape, I wasn't where I am now," Augustus said. "Other people were playing better."

Whalen and Moore of the Lynx and McCoughtry of the Dream all were on that gold-medal-winning team. Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors was an assistant coach.

"It was awesome, something you always think and dream about," Whalen said, but don't ask her about the Summer Olympics yet. "That's a long ways away. We have a game [Wednesday]."

For Moore, the Olympics seem around the corner.

"Of course, I want to be an Olympian," she said. "And it is coming up closer and closer every second. I can't believe it is already the end of the [WNBA] season."

Moore said the Lynx's high number of candidates for the U.S. teams shows what a special team it is.

"It makes the environment really competitive and that is part of the reason we have been able to be so successful."

At Atlanta, the approaching Olympics has caused problems for the Dream.

Lyttle left the team in June to play for Spain in the European Women's Championships, another Olympic qualifying tournament. While there she injured her back. So, instead of missing six games, she was out six weeks.

De Souza didn't want to leave the Dream.

"But I knew that Brazil needed me so bad," she said through an interpreter. "Without me it could be a really different team [in Colombia]. I know my importance here, too. I am going to give it my best, and my best is rebounding and defending."

Meadors backed de Souza's decision to play for Brazil.

"I don't know how you can refuse to give a player support. That is the main thing they want to do, they all want to play for their Olympics teams."

Her issue is with the scheduling of international tournaments.

"I don't think USA Basketball would ever try to have a training camp or whatever" during the WNBA season, she said. "They will fill [their team] in with other players to keep the championships whole."

That's what the U.S. women's team is doing now on its tour in Italy.

Without de Souza, Atlanta was outrebounded by 12 in its Sunday loss to the Lynx. But as of 11 p.m. Monday, the Dream are whole again, too. Meadors and a few of her players waited up in a hotel for de Souza. Her trip from Neiva, Colombia, took two days, including a six-hour layover in Miami.

When the 6-5 center finally arrived, Meadors approached her and said, "I need to hug you."

"We were all happy to see her," Meadors said. "She is a huge part of our team."

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