Taurasi, Bird, Auriemma to reunite in London
PHOENIX — Together again.
The jersey reads USA, not UConn, but Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird cannot wait for their upcoming reunion tour with once and future coach Geno Auriemma, aka the Summer Olympics.
"To play for him is a dream come true," said Tarausi, who won three NCAA championships with Auriemma at Connecticut before moving to the WNBA as the first choice of the Phoenix Mercury in 2004.
"When I graduated, he probably thought I’d never play for him again. Eight years later, it’s actually kind of nice to get an opportunity to play for him again. After that much time, Sue’s changed, I’ve changed, coach Auriemma’s changed. It is nice to be on the same team again."
Taurasi and Bird are going for a Olympic three-peat. Both won gold medals in 2004 and 2008, and both were starters when the team went 8-0 in Beijing. Auriemma will make his debut as the Olympic head coach, although he previously served as an assistant.
"We obviously played on many teams together and have had success. To do it again would be a lot of fun," said Bird, who left UConn two years before Taurasi and plays for the WNBA Seattle Storm.
"In a way, we’ll get to do it with someone who kind of raised us in a way, basketball-wise. Got us at a young age and really helped groom us. We hope to give him something that he hasn’t accomplished yet. Hopefully we’ll bring him a gold medal as well."
As veteran players, Taurasi and Bird understand that leadership is as much a part of their roles as their on-court play.
"I think in Athens (in 2004), we did a good job of carrying the balls around and getting Lisa (Leslie) and Dawn (Staley) cupcakes when they wanted them," Taurasi said, drawing laughs with her reference to duties of young team members.
"Now, we are responsible to make sure every time the team hits the floor to be ready to go and to not let any moment go without being 100 percent focused. You have a better perspective of when you get there, the program the scheduling, how things go, how to prepare, how to take it step by step."
Team USA will take a 32-game, four-Olympiad winning streak into London, having not lost a game in since 1992, when it came away with the bronze medal. It is 50-3 since the women’s game was introduced in 1956.
Taurasi and Bird are aware of magnitude of the undertaking.
"I think every time you put on that USA jersey, there is a certain expectation there, not just in the Olympics. Every time we take the court ... the expectation is to win. Most times to win big," Bird said.
"There is definitely some pressure, but no more than we put on ourselves. We want to win that gold medal as much as anybody. And actually, both of us we part of the team in Brazil in 2006 that came up short. We ended up with a bronze medal. We know how that felt, and it wasn’t fun to be a part of a team that didn’t win gold. The pressure is what we put on ourselves.
"We just want to win gold medals and don’t want to be the team not to."
Taurasi has missed the Mercury’s final 17 games before the Olympic break with a hip flexor and ankle injury, but she said health will not be an issue when the team begins training its short training camp in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
"I’ll be ready to go," said Taurasi, who was voted one of the top 15 players in WNBA history last season.
Team USA will play an exhibition game Brazil on Monday, and from will head to Manchester for a game against Britain before a five-day training session in Istanbul
"Whenever anything happens every four years, you forget about it, and then all of a sudden it is right around the corner and you get really excited about it," Taurasi said.
"You can feel the energy of the Olympics being around the corner."
While Taurasi expects to compete in London, it is unclear if she will play again for the Mercury this season. The team was 4-15 entering the break, and it might enhance the team’s draft position if she does not return. Health, of course, is always a factor.
"I think we are going to get together with management and coaching and try to get a good plan together," Taurasi said of her plans for the rest of the WNBA season.
Will she play?
"I really don’t know. I don’t know where we are going to do with that, "she said.
“Probably health ... and for the future of the team," she said.
For the record, Taurasi echoed Kobe Bryant’s comments about beating the 1992 Dream Team.
"Oh, yeah,” she said when asked about the 2012 women’s teams chances.
Who would guard Michael Jordan?
"Not us," Bird said.
"Sheryl Swoopes," Taurasi said, adding, "I got (John) Stockton."
Added Bird: "That would be mine. You take (Chris) Mullen."
Said Taurasi: "I got Mullen. We can just shoot jumpers back and forth."