Sunday, September 17, 2006 Updated: September 18, 2:19 PM ET
Whether in WNBA or for Team USA, Taurasi stars
By Mechelle Voepel Special to ESPN.com
It's kind of funny that Diana Taurasi is just 24 but already is looked at as one of the old hands on Team USA and as a proven superstar of the WNBA. We'll talk about her WNBA future here -- and that of the Phoenix Mercury -- but first, let's discuss Taurasi's impact at the ongoing World Championship in Brazil.
Through five games, she's shooting 59 percent overall from the field and 52.2 percent from 3-point range. She's averaging 12.0 points -- second on the team to Tina Thompson's 14.2 points per game -- and 3.8 rebounds. Taurasi's 14 assists are second on the team to point guard Sue Bird's 23.
In the 76-41 dismissal of France on Sunday, Taurasi led the Americans with 15 points, making 6 of 8 shots. She had five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. She did this in 18 minutes on court. I wonder what it's like being that efficient. It seems as though it takes me about 18 minutes just to get my computer turned on.
Diana Taurasi has carried over her success from the WNBA to the FIBA World Championship.
Taurasi picked up two early fouls, so she was on the bench a lot in the first half.
"The beauty of this team is that you have so many great players that you really can put anyone in there," she said. "But it is always nicer to be on the court."
It's not just "nicer" for her but for the whole team. She's right, of course, about there being so much talent on this team. However, when you're talking about the very best of the very best -- especially in terms of overall offensive productivity and versatility -- there might not be anyone nicer to have on court than Taurasi.
It's not just that she can score from anywhere but that she will, guaranteed, score from anywhere. She'll drive, she'll pull up, she'll hit 3s. We'll go back to efficiency: Taurasi excels at picking the best option at the moment. Most great scorers don't just have physical skills and high confidence but also process the percentages in less than the blink of an eye. They probably would tell you it's all instinct, but that might just be the word used to describe something an athlete can't quite explain.
It's a stretch to say the U.S. team was struggling at any point in Sunday's game, but the offense wasn't up to par in the second quarter. The Americans scored only 12 points in that period and had just a nine-point lead at halftime.
Then Taurasi scored 10 of her points in the third quarter, and Team USA left France far behind. Incidentally, I never expected to see this twice in less than two weeks' time: a team scoring just two points in a quarter. The Sacramento Monarchs suffered through that in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals on Sept. 6, and Team France did that Sunday. In both cases, it was the fourth quarter.
Yet even if France could have found the basket more than once in the final 10 minutes, there was no way it was going to catch the Taurasi-led American squad. Taurasi is just continuing in the World Championship what she did all summer.
Taurasi was a first-team All-WNBA pick this season, leading the league in scoring at 25.3 points per game and adjusting just as expected to coach Paul Westhead's system. The Mercury won their last seven games in a row, finishing 18-16 but being edged out of the final playoff spot by Seattle.
Phoenix hasn't made the playoffs since 2000. It's frustrating for women's basketball fans to have had three years of Taurasi in the WNBA but no chance to watch her in the postseason.
Seth Sulka recently stepped down as Phoenix's general manager, and Ann Meyers took that position. This is Meyers' chance to prove something about her basketball talent evaluating acumen that she hasn't necessarily had to prove in three decades of broadcasting.
I don't work in the TV biz, so I can't say for sure how often decisions are made in hiring commentators based largely on people having a name in their sport. But a lifetime of watching sports on TV makes me guess it's a lot -- in every sport.
Meyers is one of a very, very, very small group of players from the 1970s who has worked hard to maintain name recognition into the current era of women's basketball. These players had to self-promote. Their careers were largely unseen even by the majority of women's hoops fans. Televised video of them in their prime is only slightly less rare than footage of Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster.
Contrast that with someone like Taurasi, who -- thankfully -- is the other extreme in women's basketball. There are probably DT fans out there who have a triple-digit number of her games on tape or DVD.
At any rate, Meyers' name is only part of why Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver hired her. He's also impressed with her contacts throughout the basketball world, both women's and men's. She is a vice president of the Suns along with her Mercury GM job.
Some Mercury fans are quite skeptical because they don't rate Meyers very well as a broadcaster. But commentators are evaluated by different standards than front-office personnel, obviously. Now, she will be judged on whether the Mercury get back to the playoffs soon.
Meyers has an absolutely rock-solid cornerstone in fellow Californian Taurasi. And Cappie Pondexter had a terrific rookie year. But the Mercury need more help to get where this franchise wants to go.
"I've known her for a long time," Taurasi said of Meyers. "I think she's going to bring that wisdom she has to our club. I'm sad to see Seth leave; he's a great person and has helped our team a lot. But Ann hopefully will do a really good job, too.
"[The end of the season] was a good sign. We actually got our team together and got in a good rhythm and showed we could play with anyone in the league. I think we're on the brink of something special."
Meyers and the Mercury need to make sure Taurasi's views on everything about this franchise are known and considered. Some star players don't have much to offer in that regard; that is, trying to help figure out a successful path for the organization. But as she again is proving with Team USA, Taurasi stands out even among her fellow stars.
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.