By Brian Martin, WNBA.com
When the U.S. Women's National Team headed to the Czech Republic for the 2010 FIBA World Championship, Seimone Augustus headed home. Just two years after helping the US win Olympic gold in Beijing, the player who'd go on to win WNBA Finals MVP in 2011 was cut from the National squad.
"A couple of years ago in the World Championships, she wasn't in great shape because of her knee surgery, she was not physically healthy," said U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma . "I thought 'you know what, she could be done.'"
Augustus suffered a torn ACL in her left knee in June 2009 that required surgery and nearly a year of rehabilitation. She came back in time to take the floor at a National Team training camp in Hartford and Storrs, Conn. in April 2010, but only as a shell of the player she had been.
"My first bit of basketball getting back on the court was USA training camp in Connecticut and I just felt all out of sorts, out of whack, wasn't in good shape," she said. "I just didn't feel like I was capable of playing at an elite level and it messed with me mentally and physically."
Following the camp, Augustus continued to prepare for the upcoming 2010 WNBA season. But that, too, was derailed by another medical issue. Just a day before the opening of training camp, Augustus had surgery to remove three non-cancerous fibroid tumors from her abdomen.
She had hoped to postpone the surgery until after the season, but was urged to address the condition immediately. After suffering through intense workouts with pain that Augustus' doctors described as "equivalent to a woman having contractions during birth" postponement was not an option.
Less than two months later, she was back on the court for the Minnesota Lynx, and while she played in 25 games, she averaged a career-low 16.9 points and shot a career-worst 42.9 percent from the floor. Her fifth WNBA season ended the way each of her first four had -- with the Lynx out of the playoffs.
She then joined the National Team training camp in September, looking to represent her country once again in international competition, but was one of the final cuts from the team that would go on to win gold in the Czech Republic.
Augustus admits to questioning herself and her abilities during this ordeal. Suddenly, a player that had been named to three-All America teams and won two National Player of the Year awards in college, was named Rookie of the Year in the WNBA and had been named to two All-Star teams and two All-WNBA teams found herself falling behind.
But, she said, there was no question that she was going to do everything in her power to once again become the player she'd been.
"Even though I thought it was a long shot and maybe a lot of other people thought it was a long shot for me to make this team, I just kept my focus," she said. "Coach Auriemma and his coaching staff did a great job of finding great motivating words to help me push forward."
"I think over the last two years she's worked herself back into the team and has overcome more than any other player that we have," said Auriemma. "I feel a strong sense of commitment and obligation to her to kind of reward her for how hard she has worked. I'm really, really proud of her."
The knee got stronger and stronger, her conditioning improved, the speed returned. And with that, so did the explosive first step and killer crossover move. Seimone Augustus was back.
The summer of 2011 was a special one for the Minnesota Lynx as the return of Augustus, the arrival of Maya Moore and the play of Lindsay Whalen led the Lynx to their first-ever WNBA title. As the team hoisted the championship trophy, it was Augustus who was named the Finals MVP after averaging over 24 points per game in the three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream.
"She came back and had an unbelievable summer last summer winning the WNBA championship and when she showed up at training camp in Las Vegas, it was like a different person," said Auriemma. "How could we not take her?"
The 2012 WNBA season got off to a great start for Augustus and the Lynx as well, as they finished the first half of the season tied for the best record in the league at 15-4. It doesn't hurt that she has two fellow Olympians on her team, in Moore and Whalen, making the Lynx the most-represented WNBA team in the Olympics.
Both the Lynx and Team USA offer Augustus the ability to share the load with elite talent, something she did not always have early in her WNBA career, when she was looked upon to carry the scoring load for the Lynx.
"Everybody on this team can score. If you couldn't score you wouldn't be on this team, but Seimone does it in such a way that doesn't take any energy," said Auriemma. "She gets the ball and she can almost tell the player guarding her and go 'look I'm going to take two dribbles right over there and then I'm going to shoot it and there's nothing you can do about it.' And she does."
With the National Team, Augustus is coming off the bench for Auriemma, being looked upon to provide an offensive spark.
"Going into the Olympics, she’s going to be that designated hitter," said Auriemma. "You are going to bring her off the bench, and you are going to get instant offense from her."
During the National Team's four-game exhibition schedule over the past week, Augustus has averaged 12 points on 51 percent shooting, as the team's finalized its preparation for the Olympic Games in London, which begin Saturday vs. Croatia.
Once in London, the U.S. squad will be favored to win its fifth straight Olympic gold medal, which would be the second for Augustus. And while she has worn the gold medal around her neck once before, she says she may be overwhelmed by the moment if the U.S. wins gold once again.
"Once I'm holding that gold medal, tears of joy may run down my face because it has been a journey for me to get back here," she said. "It's something that I definitely appreciate, and I'm not going to take for granted."