Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi open door to still playing for USA
NEW YORK (AP) The Rio Olympics seemed to be a fitting closure to the USA Basketball careers of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.
The pair won their fourth straight Olympic gold medals and had one final run with their former UConn coach Geno Auriemma. While neither said in Rio that they were officially retiring from the American team, it sure felt like they had put on those U.S. jerseys for the final time.
Now, nearly a year later, the duo has left the door open to continuing their U.S. careers.
''If we're both playing at a high level and feeling good and we're asked to represent our country it would be tough to say no,'' Bird said on Sunday before scoring a season-best 21 points against New York. ''It's something as a young player you work your whole life for. To have that opportunity would be amazing, but a lot can happen between now and then. It will be fun to joke about between now and then.''
That seemingly straight forward answer came after Taurasi joked last week that all those questions about the 2020 Games should be deferred to Bird.
''As long as I'm playing at a high level, and I deserve to be out there, then I'll always put that USA jersey on,'' Taurasi said when Phoenix visited New York on June 4. ''There's nothing better than that, no matter how many times you've done it.''
Both are playing extremely well this season. Bird is leading the league with 8.1 assists a game - the best in her career. Taurasi is seventh in the league in scoring at 18.6 points
They might both get a chance to put on a U.S. jersey before that when the FIBA world cup is played next year in Spain.
''It's just year-to-year. The reason I'm so hesitant is because my last four years have been unique in that I was on a little bit of a downward spiral,'' Bird said. ''Through a variety of different things I was able to turn it around. You don't necessarily hear a 35-year-old doing that. I'm hesitant because I know what could be. The best way to achieve any goal is to think long term and go back to the short term. I'm really in the short term. I had that knee surgery and I'm just focused to getting back to being myself.''
While the U.S. has a lot of really talented young guards, none have any Olympic experience. The U.S. only had three primary guards on its roster in 2016 with Taurasi, Bird and Lindsay Whalen. All of whom will be approaching 40 by the Tokyo Games.
''If it comes down to it and the team needs me in whatever capacity I'd oblige,'' Bird said. ''I don't think if you're asked to represent your country you say no to them.''
Both Bird and Taurasi have talked to national team director Carol Callan about the future of the program. They plan to have more conversations with her and coach Dawn Staley. Taurasi and Bird both played with Staley on the 2004 Olympic team.
Taurasi said she wants to see what direction USA Basketball wants to take.
''A lot of things can change. A lot of things can come up,'' she said. ''I take it day by day. And when it's time to make a commitment, then I will. That's going to be a big decision in how they go forward with the worlds and Tokyo.''
Bird said while they definitely enjoy joking about it being a joint decision between them, they may have one without the other.
''I think it's easy to group us in a lot of ways,'' Seattle's point guard said. I'm sure the decision will kind of, sort of be together, but at the same time, separate.''
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