KNOXVILLE, Tennesse — Diana Taurasi is settling into a brand new position with USA Basketball.
She is attempting to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic roster for the 2024 Paris Video games, which might be her sixth. However this one looks like her first.
Ignore that she turns 42 earlier than the Paris Video games even begin subsequent July. Or that the veteran guard is chasing an opportunity at Olympic historical past, looking for to turn out to be the primary to win six straight gold medals in basketball.
“I’m in a distinct place the place within the final couple of them I did it with my friends, and now I’m doing it with B (Betnijah Laney) and , gamers that I’m not that accustomed to,” Taurasi mentioned Sunday night time after a 95-59 exhibition win over No. 11 Tennessee.
This time round, there’s no Sue Chook as they made historical past on the 2021 Tokyo Video games successful a fifth straight gold. That hit Taurasi on Tuesday morning when she awakened in Atlanta for the primary day of a three-day coaching camp, reaching for her cellphone to textual content Chook to go get espresso.
“It was a stark realization that it’s simply me right here now,” Taurasi mentioned. “I miss her dearly. We’ve clearly gone by this for a very long time collectively. On the flip facet, it’s been actually enjoyable to get to know a few of these younger guys I haven’t spent plenty of time with.”
Sure, Taurasi gained gold with Brittney Griner in 2021 and 2016. Her WNBA teammate with the Phoenix Mercury is within the group for this coaching interval.
Taurasi is constructing chemistry that merely existed beforehand. This group that caps this coaching stint Sunday with an exhibition at Duke contains solely Ariel Atkins (2021) and Angel McCoughtry (2012 and 2016) together with Griner as teammates Taurasi celebrated Olympic gold with earlier than.
A’ja Wilson, who simply led the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA title, at the moment has her left wrist in a forged. Breanna Stewart is awaiting the delivery of her second little one along with her spouse. Chelsea Grey is recovering from an injured foot that can maintain her from a return to her school residence at Duke.
Which means attending to know a bunch of recent teammates off the court docket.
“That at all times helps you if you’re within the recreation,” Taurasi mentioned.
She understands how main an element that may be when enjoying on massive phases, having performed her finest when the stakes are on the highest. Taurasi is certainly one of solely 12 gamers ever to win a World Cup gold medal, Olympic gold, an NCAA championship (three) and WNBA championship (sure, three extra).
Taurasi is simply as feisty, sarcastic and relentless as ever. As soon as the ball ideas, that’s when the 6-foot Taurasi turns into the targeted competitor that makes her so worthwhile.
Tennessee coach Kellie Harper mentioned Taurasi’s “unbelievable” nonetheless enjoying as she enters her fifth 12 months teaching her alma mater. Harper, 46, mentioned she was doing the maths and realized she’s not a lot older than Taurasi. Not that Harper might do now what Taurasi does nonetheless.
“She’s savvy, she will get it, she’s an awesome chief,” Harper mentioned.
Taurasi spoke to Harper’s Woman Vols earlier than Sunday night time’s exhibition, and Harper mentioned she was impressed with how Taurasi carries herself. Not a straightforward factor to say contemplating how bitter the UConn-Tennessee rivalry as soon as was and stays to followers with lengthy recollections.
Harper mentioned Taurasi was cordial, gave her a hug and had an awesome go to along with her crew. Then Harper went onto the court docket earlier than warmups and noticed a distinct Taurasi.
“I locked in on her with my eyes, and you possibly can simply see she was on go,” Harper mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘Oh, this may very well be fascinating’ as a result of she simply flipped that change, and he or she was nice at observe, cordial at observe, and I believed she was going to tear us aside in warmups. However that’s how aggressive she is.”
Taurasi knocked down three 3-pointers within the first quarter and a pair of free throws, scoring all of her 11 factors in 7:44. As Tennessee adjusted the way it defended Taurasi, she switched up and handed out three assists.
“Like Coach (Cheryl Reeve) mentioned, if you put on the USA jersey, it’s no matter it’s a must to do to make the crew higher,” Taurasi mentioned. “Completely different moments name for various issues.”
Enjoying in opposition to Taurasi can nonetheless be intimidating for an opponent, notably the primary time.
Tennessee ahead Rickea Jackson, who has some USA Basketball expertise, mentioned she knew the Woman Vols could be enjoying Workforce USA in an exhibition. Then Harper began handing out the precise matchups.
“Then she goes, ‘Jewel (Spear), you’re guarding Diana Taurasi.’ My coronary heart dropped,” Jackson mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘Oh, that is actual.’ We’re actually enjoying in opposition to one of the best gamers on the planet.”
Make no mistake. If USA Basketball calls asking Taurasi to play in Paris, the reply would be the identical as 2004 to play in Athens, Beijing in 2008, London in 2012, 2016 Rio and the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Video games.
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“It’s at all times an honor if you get the decision,” Taurasi mentioned. “I’ve at all times taken it. And if I’m prepared, , I get that chance, it’ll be good.”