Diana Taurasi wants to keep playing for Team USA, with Sue Bird
Diana Taurasi jokes that she “signed a tombstone” with a Phoenix Mercury contract extension through 2020, when she will turn 38 years old.
“Puts me to my graveyard,” she quipped before Sunday’s loss at the New York Liberty.
Hold the eulogy. Taurasi is still one of the world’s best players and could suit up at a fifth Olympics three years.
She scored 37 points in a game last week -- her most in the WNBA since 2010.
Including Sunday, she committed zero turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in her career (420 WNBA games, including regular season and playoffs).
She’s shooting 56 percent from the field in her last three games after a 1-for-11 clunker in the opener May 14.
All that has to impress USA Basketball, which next year will try to three-peat at worlds for the first time.
Taurasi said in Rio that she had likely played her final Olympic game, ending her career in that sense 32-0 with four gold medals.
But now she’s sounding optimistic. Not only for the 2018 World Cup, but also the for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“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 Sunday. “There’s nothing better than that, no matter how many times you’ve done it.”
It would have been fitting for Taurasi to bow out of the Olympics after Rio at the same time as her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma.
“He picked golfing over us,” Taurasi joked Sunday of Auriemma handing over the national-team reins to Dawn Staley.
But Taurasi praised the hiring of Staley. Both guards, Taurasi and Staley were teammates at the 2004 Olympics, where Taurasi made her Olympic debut off the bench and Staley started every game in her Olympic farewell.
Taurasi recently talked with U.S. national-team director Carol Callan about her future with the program. She plans to have more conversations with Staley, Callan and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.
“See what direction they want to go in,” Taurasi said. “A lot of things can change. A lot of things can come up. I take it day by day. And when it’s time to make a commitment, then I will.”
Taurasi’s value to USA Basketball is enhanced by a lack of depth at guard. The U.S. team of 12 in Rio included just three primary guards -- Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, all 34 years and older.
Come 2020, all three of them will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player -- men or women. Two years ago, Kobe Bryant was talked about potentially being placed on the U.S. men’s team in Rio at age 37 for his leadership and experience.
The women’s national team selection committee may face a similar situation.
“That’s going to be a big decision in how they go forward with the worlds and Tokyo,” Taurasi said when asked about “a Kobe-like role.”
Throughout her career, Taurasi has been most linked with Bird. Backcourt mates at UConn and at four Olympics.
Last year, Auriemma said he wouldn’t have coached the U.S. unless Taurasi and Bird had been there. Now, Taurasi is taking a page from her old coach’s book.
Her return to USA Basketball is not only dependent on her own play and a selection committee, but also at least somewhat on the undecided Bird’s plans.
“That would be a weird feeling to go out on the court without Sue, especially with USA Basketball,” Taurasi said. “So, no, I probably wouldn’t see that happening.”
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