USA May Hail Augustus at FIBA Americas
After the USA's third-place finish in the 2006 World Championships, the remaining players on the team feel they have something to prove in this week's FIBA Americas tournament in Chile. Despite being just a second-year pro, Seimone Augustus can't wait to get back out on the court with the "USA" across her chest.
The former LSU standout and two-time WNBA All-Star will be a vital part of the American squad as it attempts to qualify for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Augustus spoke with WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield at a recent practice in Connecticut about her role on the National Team and her high hopes for the upcoming games.
Q. After a long WNBA season, especially one during which you carried much of the scoring load for your team, is it difficult taking off and coming right over to the National Team? Are you exhausted or is this something you really get up for?
A. "Oh, it's definitely something you get up for. I had a couple of weeks after the regular season ended to go home and rest, so I got some rest before I came here. Anytime you get to come play with some of the best athletes in the world, though, it's always a pleasure."
Q. With the Lynx this season, you were clearly the go-to scorer. Is your role any different with the USA?
A. "The coaches and players on this team know what I can do offensively, but I think my job here is a lot easier. I've been scoring a bit, but I've really been focusing on defense. Before I left to join the team here, Coach (Teresa) Edwards (a veteran of USA Basketball) took me aside and said that this team will need more from me on the defensive side of the ball. They'll probably have me guarding the smaller, quicker guards, so that's what I've been working on lately. Coach Donovan knows I can score points, but we have a lot of players who can put points on the board, so I need to contribute in another way, too."
Q. The National Team is obviously made up of a bunch of players from different WNBA teams. How is the team's chemistry right now heading into the FIBA Americas tournament in Chile?
A. "Our personalities as players really help our chemistry. Everybody gets along. Tina (Thompson) joined us late Swin (Cash) joined us late but you'd never know it. It feels like they've been here all along. We have a ton of players with international experience at this level, so they make it pretty easy for us younger players who don't have all of that experience. It's easy for us to come in and feel good about being here."
Q. You mention the more experienced players helping out the younger ones. You just finished your second season in the WNBA, but you have a lot more experience than a handful of players on your team. Do you find yourself mentoring Candice Wiggins or any of the other newbies?
A. "Not really. We have plenty of veterans who have been around a lot longer than I have, so they're the ones taking the college kids under the wings. Those players, like Tina and Sue (Bird), are really the ones they should be talking to. I'm still learning from them, myself, so that makes more sense.
"It works the other way, too. I'm learning things from the college kids! I see them make mistakes, and that helps me to analyze my game a little more closely."
Q. How has the training been so far?
A. "Woo! It's been tough especially for me! Early on, we were really short on guards because of the playoffs. So it's been intense. But intense in a good way.
"Coach Donovan keeps coming back to the fact that we aren't the reigning World Champions any more. We finished third last fall. So we need to prepare hard and be ready to reclaim our throne when we have the chance to do it."
Q. Do you feel any added pressure to come out and dominate on the world stage after the disappointing finish in the World Championships last year?
A. "Yeah, everyone seems a little skeptical of what we can do now. Some people are saying the USA isn't as tough as it used to be, maybe because Lisa (Leslie) is not here or because we're missing some of the top stars from previous years. But we're going to go to Chile to try to make a statement.
"But I don't think it's pressure that we're feeling. It's more excitement to go down to Chile and get started with the process of qualifying for the Olympics. I've never felt that pressure is a part of it the players on this team are too good to feel pressure."
Q. What would it mean to help the USA qualify for the Olympics?
A. "It would mean a lot. It would give me an opportunity to pursue my dream of being an Olympian someday. To qualify would mean that opportunity's at hand."
Q. Have you thought about putting that gold medal around your neck next summer in Beijing?
A. "Well, not specifically that, but to win a gold medal would be the top for me. You want to win a national championship in college and a WNBA championship as a pro, but the Olympics is the elite of the elite, so a gold medal would be the highlight of my trophy case. That would seal the deal."