Diana Taurasi stuck in drive
When you have won everything there is to win in your sport -- three NCAA titles, three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA titles -- what's left to accomplish?
Diana Taurasi doesn't have to spend a long time thinking about the answer.
"I go to sleep every single night thinking I'm not good enough," Taurasi said. "I really do. I don't know if that's healthy or not. But I really do have a fear of not being good, and I don't like that."
Taurasi is one of the greatest players ever to take the court in the women's game. With a long stretch before the end of her career still in front of her, her name already belongs in the annals of the game, her status as a Hall of Famer all but assured.
But beyond that, she is a singular figure in women's sports, sporting her trademark bun, with relentless swagger and one-of-a-kind charisma.
"Ask the other players who they want to play with, who they want to watch, and they say Diana," said Ann Meyers-Drysdale, the Phoenix Mercury vice president who is also a legend in the women's game.
Taurasi grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Chino, Calif., the youngest daughter of Mario and Liliana Taurasi. Her father was born in Italy and moved to Argentina as a young child. Her mother is a native Argentinian. Diana Taurasi was voted the third-most influential Hispanic female athlete of all time in a poll conducted by espnW and ESPN Deportes.
"In house, it was always Spanish, in the family. I probably spoke Spanish growing up about 95 percent of the time," Taurasi said. "It was totally different than everyone I grew up with. From the food we ate, to the TV shows we watched. We ate dinner at 8 at night. Most families ate dinner at 4:30."
Taurasi remembers those dinners well, her family gathering to sit around the table every night, regardless of the circumstances.
"No matter if my dad had to work, or my sister was gone until 7, or I had basketball practice until 8, we always ate together,' Taurasi said. "I think that's a big part of the Hispanic family, the culture. That is key to our existence, really."
The other key to Taurasi's existence has always been basketball.
It has been her first love since she was a little girl, and that never wavered. She was named the 2000 Gatorade California High School Player of the Year and committed to the University of Connecticut as one of the nation's most heralded recruits.
She arrived in Connecticut already a star. All she did there was fulfill enormous expectations.
"There was something about her in high school that no matter what court she was on, or where, or who she was playing against, she was the best player on the floor," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "That even included playing pickup with guys."
Taurasi and her fearless game took the Connecticut program to a different level.
"Rebecca Lobo came to Connecticut and made us a national program from being a regional program," Auriemma said. "And then Diana came and made us a household name."
Taurasi would win three straight NCAA titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004, leading some of the greatest women's teams in college basketball history.
After moving on to the WNBA, where she was the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, Tauarsi quickly became one of the league's cornerstone players.
She's won two titles in Phoenix, and led the Mercury to the playoffs five times. She's been the league's most valuable player (2009), and its leading scorer five times.
And she is one of its most committed teammates, a superstar who always wants to foster a winning group dynamic. She is a mentor and a leader and, sometimes, just another player in the locker room.
"She's the best teammate I've ever had," said Mercury guard and close friend Penny Taylor. "She's demanding, she expects a lot from our team, but she brings out the best in everybody."
Taurasi never wanted anyone to be able to say anything different about her.
"You don't want people to say, 'She was such a pain in the ass.' No one wants to be remembered like that," Taurasi said. "It's not only about what you do here [on the court], but can you go to dinner with someone, interact with them, ask them how their life is going, the stuff beyond basketball? If you can be great teammates, you have a chance to be a great team."
Meyers-Drysdale has seen Taurasi give plenty of credit to teammates through the years.
"Diana is so humble and she always gives credit to her teammates," Meyers-Drysdale said. "But the thing that sets her apart from the other great players, is that she makes other players better. She makes people to play to her level."
Taurasi is among the game's most intense, passionate players. There is no halfway in her game.
"When she walks across these lines, she locks in," Meyers-Drysdale said. "It's all about playing at the highest level."
Amber Cox, the Mercury's general manager, has been with the Phoenix team for nine of the 10 years that Taurasi has been with the franchise.
"I think she hates to lose more than she loves to win," Cox said. "It's what drives her to get better. I've watched her all these years and her work ethic is like none other. And she works harder and harder every year."
At 31 years old, Taurasi is, by all rights, at the back end of her legendary career. But her game is in top form. She had one of the best statistical seasons of her career in 2013, averaging 20.3 points, 6.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game.
Her passion for the game has not waned, even as she's achieved almost every goal it has to offer.
"The one thing I've learned from other great players is that you are what you do every single day," Taurasi said. "For the last 18 years, the one thing I did every single day was play basketball, think about basketball, think about how to get better.
"People say, 'I don't want to be known as just a basketball player.' Well, shoot, I do. I want to be known as the only basketball player."