Mercury Rising

The best baller in Phoenix doesn't play for the Suns. Can Diana Taurasi take the Mercury all the way?

"Diana's different. She's a cut above," Lieberman says. "Everything about Diana is how a dude would play the game — she's strong, she's physical, she has confidence. And a winner's mentality. And you have to remember, she's only 25. She hasn't even hit the peak of her career yet."

Taurasi's always taken the whole "you play like a guy" analogy as a compliment, but she didn't hesitate in an ESPN The Magazine article to scoff at a Dan Patrick question about whether she would consider playing in the NBA: "I'd be playing against 6-foot-8, 250-pound men. These guys are freaks of nature. I'm realistic."

Besides, the women's game is changing, she believes. And so, hopefully, is the perception of what makes a great basketball player. Playing like "a chick" isn't considered inferior, she contends. It's just different, just as women's tennis is different from men's tennis.

Taurasi clowns around with one of the students at her basketball camp.
Tony Blei
Taurasi clowns around with one of the students at her basketball camp.
Coach Paul Westhead gives pointers during a high-octane practice.
Tony Blei
Coach Paul Westhead gives pointers during a high-octane practice.


The Phoenix Mercury plays the San Antonio Silver Stars in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday, September 1. Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster and at the U.S. Airways Center box office.
U.S. Airways Center

"I think the game has revolutionized into all these great players," she says. Now, people can mean it as a compliment when they say, "'You know, you play like a chick.' Whereas, five or six years ago, maybe longer, playing like a guy was the only true compliment to being a real basketball player."

Author Patti Blackwell's watched the WNBA change and agrees that the bar's been raised — that it's not the same league it was 10 years ago. "The big trend now is rookies coming out of college. When [the league] started, they assigned older, veteran players to the teams to get it started, and so you had a lot of legendary players, like Jennifer Gillom and Michele Timms, and Cheryl Miller coaching. Things like that," Blackwell says. "And now the big names, like Taurasi, are coming out of the colleges."

The rules of the game have changed, too. "They went to a 24-second shot clock from a 30-second shot clock last season, and they went to four 10-minute quarters instead of two 20-minute halves. I think it makes for a more exciting game," Blackwell says. "The shorter shot clock allows for a lot more scoring by both teams, so you see a lot of 100-point games now, where that was really, really rare before."

The Mercury cracked the 100-point mark in seven games this season, and other teams have been hitting triple-digit scores, too. "The [high scoring] is great for the game," ASU's Turner Thorne says. "When Westhead came into the league, he couldn't believe how low the scores were, including his own team's. I think it was a problem. It was very much a half-court, rounded-out league, and the players were older.

"The style is becoming more aggressive, more up-and-down, and the scores are going up," Turner Thorne continues. "It's great for the game. I've never had a fan tell me, 'I love a 40-point game.'"

As for above-the-rim play, "It's not about the dunk," Lieberman says. "We're getting there. In men's basketball, the dunk is an exclamation point, a finisher. It will evolve in our game down the road as a force and a factor, rather than a novelty. But our game is played with execution, teamwork, and concentration."

Taurasi's wary of the topic: "We will never dunk [that much]. If you wanna watch dunk, you can go to the men's game. You know what I mean?"

Of course, this doesn't stop Taurasi from asking her teammates, "Think I could jump up and touch the boards?" during a break in practice. When nobody answers, she jogs a couple steps, jumps and slaps the backboard with her hand.

Just to show that she can do it.

"I'm gonna knock you over! I'm gonna knock you over!"

Diana Taurasi's walking down a line of kids who're all bent over, dribbling basketballs, and she's gently pushing on each one's back to see if she can throw them off balance.

This is one of many exercises 20 kids (including two boys), ages 8 to 14, are doing as part of the Diana Taurasi Basketball Camp. She conducts camps several times a year, and all the proceeds from tonight's camp go to the Diana Taurasi Foundation, for the purpose of remodeling the learning center at the Boys & Girls Club of Guadalupe.

Taurasi's teaching style is firm but encouraging. "Okay, when you do a left-hand lay-up, we're gonna start on the right foot," she tells the kids, demonstrating the shot for the umpteenth time. "Unh, unh, unh — come here. Get over here. Which is your right foot? Start on that foot. Okay, that's good! You're getting better."

She high-fives every child after every effort, and continually clowns around with them. During one exercise, the kids are divided into teams. Each has to run the ball the length of the court, make a basket, run the ball back to the other end, make another basket, and then pass the ball off to the next teammate. After one of the boys recounts the instructions for the exercise, Taurasi jokingly tells him, "Right. And you have to do 200 push-ups, and then you're done."

The kids are itching to go by the time Taurasi's ready to start the exercise. "On your mark. Get set. One . . . two . . . go!"

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Did you see the game last night against San Antonio? Way to sweep the playoffs, Mercury! The finals are going to be outstanding, but I doubt it will be Phoenix vs. Detroit. Look for the Indiana Fever to shut down the Shock today.


the sonics already hired a coach. i doubt westhead would rumored for a coaching position that's already been filled. p.j. carlesimo took the job earlier in the summer.

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