Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 8/7/12
MINNEAPOLIS Four years ago, no one would have predicted this. Even four months ago, it seemed a long shot. At the time of the last summer Olympics in 2008 in Beijing, Minnesota boasted two losing basketball teams with little hope for national prominence. The Lynx were in the middle of a 16-18 season, and the Timberwolves were coming of a 22-60 2007-08. One player, Seimone Augustus, competed in the Beijing Olympics. She was the lone Minnesota representative among the leagues' best. Now, one WNBA championship and one Spanish phenom point guard later, and basketball is on the map in Minneapolis. The days of one Olympian are long gone for the inhabitants of the Target Center, and Minneapolis' teams are now some of the best represented in London thanks to the Lynx's dominance and the Timberwolves' offseason moves. Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Augustus are all representing Minnesota at the Olympics this year, and with six basketball players at the Games, Minneapolis ties San Antonio for the city that sent the most. The Spurs have long been known for their recruiting presence overseas, and that's true again in 2012. The team boasts six Olympians -- all men -- competing for four different countries. They're perennial playoff contenders and four-time NBA champions under Gregg Popovich, so their Olympic presence seems nothing if not natural. What seems less than natural is that San Antonio's Olympic dominance is threatened by none other than Minneapolis, a city that four years ago fielded two losing teams, largely devoid of the superstars necessary to be associated with the Olympics. Minneapolis' basketball players represent two countries, the United States and Russia, to San Antonio's six, and two professional leagues to San Antonio's one. But the Timberwolves and Lynx represent a different kind of presence, largely domestic -- only two of the six players do not compete for the United States -- and composed of players having real impacts on their successful teams. On the hardwood this Olympics, Minnesota rules. Augustus, Whalen and Moore have all played instrumental roles for the 5-0 women. Love has stepped up his play for the 5-0 U.S. men after criticism from Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo during pre-Olympics matches, becoming a solid force off the bench. Shved and Kirilenko have been the most entertaining players to watch for 4-1 Russia, and Minnesota has had much to cheer for in the past week. The women In their five games, all wins, the Lynx players have been a part of the team's core of players, the nine women who have played more than 80 minutes. They have largely come off the bench, with Whalen leading the team in minutes with 93. Augustus has logged 92, Moore 88. Whalen was probably the least-celebrated Lynx player chosen for the Olympic team. Her Olympic debut at age 30 was a dream come true, she said, but as one of the team's older and less experienced players, Whalen's role on the team seemed uncertain. However, in these first five games, she's emerged as the Lynx's most successful player in London. Through Sunday, Whalen is fourth on the team in scoring, with 50 points, and her 66.7 percent shooting is tied with Sylvia Fowles' for second-best on the team after Angel McCoughtry. Whalen is second on the team in assists, with 14, and has 19 rebounds. Augustus, the only Lynx Olympian this year with prior experience in the Games, has 37 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. She's shooting 45.5 percent from the field, one of the lower marks on the team, but she's attempted more field goals than everyone but Candace Parker and Tina Charles. Moore, who started in the team's game Sunday against the Czech Republic, has 46 points, fifth-most on the team. She's shooting an impressive 61.5 percent from the field and has 30 rebounds and 12 assists, and her role seems likely to increase as the games progress. The women, who are heavily favored to win gold, will play next on Tuesday against Canada in the quarterfinals. If they win, they'll face the winner of the matchup between Australia and China. The men The Russian national team features more Timberwolves than the U.S. squad, and with its 4-1 record, Russia has the best mark in Group B. Kirilenko leads the team in scoring, with 91 points in five games. He is also tied for the team lead in rebounding, with 31, and he's played 164 minutes, 32 more than any other players on the team. Kirilenko is the outright star of the Russian squad, its player with the most NBA experience who's coming off a more rested season in Russia than his NBA counterparts. However, Shved has posted a cadre of statistics that's nearly as important as his older teammate's. He's second on the team in scoring, with 90 points, and he too has contributed in terms of playing time, with 113 total minutes. He leads the team in assists, with 27, and his 17 rebounds are good for fifth-best on the team. Russia, whose success has been a bit of a surprise, will face Lithuania on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. If it wins -- which might be tough against the team that gave the U.S. its biggest scare -- Russia will face the winner of the matchup between Spain and France. Love has quietly become Team USA's third-leading scorer in spite of coming off the bench in each game. His 65 points are fewer than just Kevin Durant's 93 and Carmelo Anthony's 87, and Love leads the team with 32 rebounds. He is also shooting 47.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc, which is good for fourth-best on the team, and his 84.2 percent field goal shooting is second only to Andre Iguodala. Love is making the most of his limited minutes, and the team has performed best with its bigger lineups that feature him or Tyson Chandler. The lack of big men on the team was a void for Love to fill, and he's beginning to make the most of that opportunity. The U.S. men, who are gold-medal favorites, will face Australia on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. If they win, they'll go on to face the winner of the matchup between Brazil and Argentina. Because of the structure of the bracket, the three Timberwolves players could not meet until the gold medal game -- if both Russia and the U.S. make it that far. The same is true for Team USA's chances of meeting Lithuania, so Love and his teammates have a while before they must rehash their too-close 99-94 win on Saturday. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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