Aug. 12, 2004
By Brent Johnson
Special to CollegeSports.com NEW YORK - Lofty expectations are as common as national titles to the Connecticut women's basketball team - and few players know this better than Diana Taurasi. As the program's poster child for the past few years, Taurasi helped establish the Huskies as a virtually indestructible force, leading them to three consecutive NCAA crowns and a countless number of victories in between. With all the hype surrounding her talent, success always seemed like a given for the six-foot guard - but Taurasi herself has never set the bar too high. "I don't really put expectations on myself or write goals," the two-time Naismith Player of the Year said. "I just go out there and play. That's all I can do. As long as I'm out there and doing as much as I can, that's all I can expect." Even so, living up to the expectations of others has never been a problem for Taurasi - especially now that her UConn days are over. As a rookie with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury this season, Taurasi is averaging 16.5 points and 3.5 assists per game, topping all first-year players in the league. She'll take an even greater step this week, when she heads to Athens, Greece, as the youngest member of a U.S. National team searching for its third consecutive Olympic gold medal. "It's just a great honor," the 22-year-old said after helping the United States to victory over a team of WNBA all-stars at Radio City Music Hall in New York last week. "It's one thing to play for a WNBA team or a college team, " Taurasi said. "But [here], you're playing for a country. And to be selected to be on this team is just an honor. There are so many great players, and only 12 got to be on this team." The always-energetic Taurasi has basically seen nothing but basketball since beginning her senior season at UConn last October. Less than two days after pacing the Huskies to another national championship, she joined Team USA for a single practice before averaging nine points and four rebounds in the team's final three spring exhibition games. Just a few weeks later, Taurasi reported to her first Mercury training camp, and went on to score 22 points in her WNBA debut. "Things have just been piling up, piling up," said Taurasi, who was selected by Phoenix as the No. 1 pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft. "It's been a whirlwind, but I'm just enjoying every moment of it." The Olympics will likely add another successful chapter to Taurasi's legacy, given that the United States is easily the team to beat in Athens this summer. "As a team, we're excited - we're looking forward to going out there and getting a gold medal," the Chino, Calif., native said. "But we know it's going to take a lot of practice and a lot of hard work." It should help that Taurasi spent four years at UConn being targeted by practically every opponent she faced - the U.S. is almost certain to find a similar predicament in Athens. Playing under fire is something that comes almost comes naturally to Taurasi, who led the Huskies to a remarkable record of 139-8 during her collegiate career. "That makes me play great," she said frankly. "Pressure either makes or breaks people. The USA's been able to thrive off that in past years, and you look at some of the players on this team, and that carries us." One look at Taurasi, and you'll quickly understand.
UConn's ex-star will be helping Team USA women's basketball in Athens.