In 2012 basketball never stops, even when it stops. For the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA, they just finished the first half of their season and enter the Olympic Break. Diana Taurasi’s break is over as and her 11 other Olympian teammates begin their journey for gold.
The team will first scrimmage against the Brazilian National Team before crossing the "pond" for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
This season to date has been a prolonged treatment for Taurasi after she injured her knee before the season opener back in May. The team took extreme precautions for their all-star keeping her out of games until she felt she was 100%, but as it got closer to the Olympic time they shut her down.
That was of course by design as the Mercury struggled early minus their other all-star Penny Taylor.
"Yeah, I will be ready to go," said Taurasi about her injury. As a leader on this incarnation of the Olympic basketball team, she will be an important cog in winning gold. In 2004, she was the young gun getting the veterans' coffee and was awestruck with the atmosphere in Athens. The process was a little different in 2008. As a starter with the ball in her hands, she was a leader by default.
"You have a better perspective," was Taurasi’s take on her approach this year. "Perspective for when you get there of the program, the scheduling, how things go, how to prepare, and step-by-step of what to do. In Athens we carried the balls around and got Lisa (Leslie) and Dawn (Staley) cupcakes when they wanted them."
Flash forward to today in 2012 and Taurasi is the team leader. This is a roster mixed with veterans as well as young talents. The younger players that will be like Taurasi back in 2004 are great in their own right, with the likes of Maya Moore (Minnesota), Candace Parker (Los Angeles), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta), and Tina Charles (Connecticut). Of that group, only Parker has Olympic experience.
The rest of the roster is rounded out by Seimone Augustus (Minnesota), Sue Bird (Seattle), Swin Cash (Chicago), Tamika Catchings (Indiana), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago), Asjha Jones (Connecticut), and Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota).
There should be amazing continuity on this roster despite having little time to prepare. With three players coming from the defending WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx and six having played for head coach Geno Auriemma at the University of Connecticut.
Putting on the red, white, and the blue is really what it is all about. "Even though they are made in China," joked Taurasi, "we will still put them on." This opportunity to win a third gold medal is even more special than the first two because of the ability to win it with coach Auriemma.
Playing for Auriemma is a "dream come true" for Taurasi and Bird as they reunite with the coach with whom they won National Championships. He was the coach that "made us in a lot of ways," according to Taurasi and "raised us basketball wise," according to Bird.
This is a journey for Taurasi that comes full circle 10 years in the making. She is arguably the best player in the WNBA today and she teams up with her college coach with whom she was arguably the best college player of her era. She has not been able to wear the purple, orange, and the white for the Mercury this year, but she will don the red, white, and blue while representing her country in London starting July 16th on ESPN2 in a scrimmage against the Brazilian National Team.
Before they can do that there is just one question to answer: Can this 2012 U.S.A. Team beat the 1992 Dream Team?
"Oh yeah," said Taurasi with a humorous confidence. As to who guards Michael Jordan? "Sheryl Swoopes!" Bird said that she can guard Stockton on the wing and Taurasi will guard Mullin, "We can just shoot jumpers on the wing."
All joking aside, look for Taurasi and Bird to have instant chemistry while leading Team U.S.A. to gold for the fourth straight time at the 2012 Olympic Games before returning for the second half of the WNBA season.