At 24 years of age, Mercury guard Diana
Taurasi is as veteran as they come in the WNBA.
Now in her third season,
Taurasi is leading the league in scoring and will be playing in her second All-Star
Game on Wednesday, July 12, at Madison Square Garden. She is comfortable with
her fans, jokes around with the media and always seems to be enjoying herself,
flashing that omnipresent, if slightly toothy, smile. And why shouldn't she be
comfortable? She is playing back at her natural position after a two-year experiment
at point guard and now working in a system that favors her style of play.Even
though she has yet to play in a WNBA playoff game in two previous seasons, she
does have an Olympic gold medal and three NCAA titles to her credit.
|Taurasi is enjoying life these days.|
also has something else that has made her feel more comfortable with her role
as veteran leader of the Phoenix Mercury: a new teammate capable of taking over
a game or electrifying a game just like she can. With the second pick in the 2006
WNBA Draft, the Mercury selected another alpha dog scorer, Rutgers guard Cappie
Pondexter. The move definitely raised some eyebrows and even more questions.
Could they share the ball? Would one of them play point guard? Could they win
with two young stars leading the way? Would these two even get along?
questions have been emphatically answered.
"From the minute we got on the
court together, we knew this would work," Taurasi said. "People were talking about
trades on Draft day, and I was like 'there will be no trades.' Cappie and I knew
each other from USA Basketball when we were much younger, but we never got along
that well. We were all hotshots from around the country... California, Chicago...
which bring players together and we really didn't know how to interact with each
other. But we've put a lot of time into it and have really grown to enjoy each
other's company and become really good friends."
Taurasi claimes she was
never worried. She admits that she thought Pondexter was capable of scoring 18
points per game before the season started. That might have seemed high at the
time. Now that prediction does not seem high enough.
While Taurasi leads
the league in scoring, Pondexter is just behind her with 21.5 points per game.
The two are on track to being the highest scoring teammates over the course of
a season in WNBA history. Each has put forth back-to-back 30-point games to this
season (something that has only been done three times before in WNBA history).
Either Pondexter or Taurasi has led the team in scoring in every game this season
(Each has done it nine times). Pondexter is in a tight race with Minnesota's rookie
sensation and fellow All-Star Seimone Augustus, but Augustus is not playing with
anyone as talented as Taurasi.
"You can't have it every night, and it's
nice to be able to look over your shoulder and know that Cappie will pick it up
for me and get my back," Taurasi said. "When we both have it that night, you might
as well just go home, I guess. This really is a match made in heaven, I guess."
will be one of three rookies in the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game.|
Except if you are opposing teams. Who
do you double-team? Either is capable of beating you in a number of ways. Taurasi
has 12 games in which she has scored 20 or more points. Pondexter has accomplished
the feat 13 times already. Pondexter broke the WNBA rookie scoring record with
35 points in a game against Detroit last Thursday. Taurasi then topped that 35-point
output with a career-high 36 of her own in Madison Square Garden on Sunday evening,
an overtime victory over the Liberty.
"I was excited to be able to play
with Diana. I watched her play in college for four years," Pondexter said. "She
is great both on and off the court. There's enough basketball for both of us to
succeed. If Diana gets tired in the fourth quarter, I'll take over."
the veteran of the pair who had to deal with some lofty expectations of her own
as a rookie, Taurasi knows just what Pondexter is going through.
is probably going to be the longest year of her life," Taurasi said. "But she's
a smart kid. She's learned. She had a great mentor in (Rutgers Coach) Vivian Stinger,
so she just needs to stay healthy, work hard and the rest will come for her. Everything
I've told her is just to stay who you are. With all the changes in your life and
new people around you, you can lose focus. So I've told her to continue to be
the humble, grounded, hard-working person that she is."
Both were named
as WNBA All-Star reserves for the Western Conference over the weekend. Both are
very excited and cannot wait for the festivities to begin.
"We have a little
something planned for Wednesday," Taurasi joked with New York reporters in the
lockerrom after Sunday's game. "Cappie and I might get some matching socks here
in New York or something like that."
Pondexter, who was sitting next to
Diana during her time with reporters as well, caught wind of Taurasi's promise,
looked over at her and the two high-five each other.
"We're coming off the
bench, baby," Diana said as the two work out a handshake they're obviously done
"Isn't she crazy," Cappie asks the crowd, referring to Diana? "I
knew Diana was always an outgoing, fun person always being herself. That's the
attribute that I love most about her. She has a big heart. Most of the time, she
is joking. You can't take her too seriously."
The two obviously get along.
But it also helps that the Mercury are winning. Their 8-10 record might not jump
out at you, but they started the season 0-4 without veteran guard Kelly Miller
(out with injury) and forward Penny Taylor (late signing). Phoenix did not win
its first game until June 6. It took 30-point efforts from both of their All-Star
guards to propel the Mercury to their win. The Mercury are just two games out
of a playoff spot.
But the Mercury are a lowly 3-7 against Western Conference
opponents. As an up-tempo team that relies on quick shots and a lot of points,
this team relies on Pondexter and Taurasi to make shots. A lot of them. The Mercury
are 6-1 when the team shoots 45% or better from the field. It takes pressure off
of their undersized lineup to get rebounds and play transition defense, two areas
in which they are still improving.
No matter what happens this season,
the future is bright for the All-Star tandem and for the Mercury. But Taurasi
is hopeful that the two will be teammates on yet another team in the not too distant
future. The United States is looking to defend its title at the World Championships
in Brazil in October.
"There are some spots open on the Senior National
Team, and the way (Cappie) is playing, I don't know how you can leave her off."