Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WNBA Feature: Winning Is The Exclamation Point That Matters Most in Diana Taurasi's Storied Career


 Belonging to the game’s greatest scoring assassin, Diana Taurasi’s bun is the most iconic image in all of women’s basketball.

The bun rests atop the head of a cold-blooded and ruthless competitor who consistently gets buckets while playing with growling ferocity, fierce determination, and burning passion.

A three-time WNBA Champion, four-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time WNBA scoring champion, the Phoenix Mercury guard became the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer inside the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Sparks after converting a right-handed layup with 45.3 seconds remaining in the second quarter last Sunday during a 90-59 setback.

Playing in her 377th career game, all with the Mercury, Taurasi surpassed now Texas women’s basketball assistant Tina Thompson’s previous mark (7,488 points), which was set in 496 career games.

“I’ve been the luckiest basketball player of all time,” Taurasi said Wednesday during a conference call with national media members before the Mercury’s practice. “I’ve been lucky to stay healthy and be around really good people. I am proud at being able to be persistent at the game of basketball. Playing overseas to make a living is tough and sometimes the summer is a grind.”

Of course moments before her historic hoop, Taurasi was assessed a technical foul.

Seems about right.

Taurasi makes no apologies for how she has played during her distinguished career in which she added another awesome accomplishment to her packed portfolio.

“My passion comes from really loving the game,” Taurasi. “Sometimes my passion to win gets the best of me. When you do something out of character, it’s blown up to the point of no return. I’ve always been that way ever since I started playing basketball and it comes from my family.”

The moment was made special, despite the loss, by the presence of Taurasi’s family, friends and former coaches.

The Chino (Calif.) native also got slightly emotional when reminiscing on the significance of breaking the record at the Staples Center, former home of Kobe Bryant, the ultimate merciless slayer, who bestowed the classic nickname of the “White Mamba” on Taurasi.

“I used to watch Kobe play every single week when I was younger,” Taurasi said. “There were lots of special things going on that day. I’ve always admired and respected Kobe. He was unapologetic about getting in your face and I liked that. His talent, attitude and work ethic is one of a kind. My family being there along with my friends and coaches that I hadn’t seen in years, meant a lot.”

Taurasi’s fire still burns bright. She could start a fight in an empty house.

It’s already been an eventful two months for Taurasi, who married Penny Taylor before the season started and signed a multi-year contract extension on May 16.

She was suspended for a game earlier this season after hitting San Antonio Stars forward Dearica Hamby in the back of the head with a forearm. A few weeks later in Chicago, Taurasi became the all-time leading three-point sniper in WNBA history.

Regarded as perhaps the greatest women’s basketball player of all time, Taurasi has been one of the league’s premier scorers in her 13 seasons.  Now the record-holder for career points, she already owns the top two single-season scoring marks in league history (2006, 2008), the league record for 20-point and 30-point games, and has led the league in scoring a WNBA-record five times (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011).

Taurasi, who celebrated her 35th birthday on June 11, owns the third-highest career scoring average in league history, and currently ranks seventh in the league in scoring at 18.2 points in 2017, her highest scoring average since 2013 (20.3).

“Diana Taurasi is one of the fiercest competitors to ever play the game of basketball,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said. “During her 13 seasons with the Mercury, she has shown everyone the kind of heart, determination and talent it takes to be a champion.  Congratulations on becoming the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history.”

Despite Taurasi’s place as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, the veteran Phoenix Mercury guard continues to treat each possession like a rookie battling for the final roster spot.

The conversation ended on a light note with Taurasi being asked about the merits of playing three-on-three instead of the traditional five-on-five. She was also asked to pick her teammates for a three-on-three game. Leave it to Taurasi to request a fourth player.

“I love three-on-three basketball,” Taurasi said “It almost makes more sense than five-on-five. I grew up playing three-on-three. To me, it should be in the Olympics and would be great for basketball. If we played three-on-three, some players would have better careers than playing five-on-five.

“I would chose a certain center in Brittney Griner, who is pretty good. Then I would choose Maya Moore because she can light it up. Then finally, I would take Penny Taylor because if not she would have me sleep on the couch.”

No matter where Taurasi sleeps, she’ll continue to haunt the dreams of her opponents like Freddy Krueger even when she retires.

“I want to be remembered for being a good teammate,” Taurasi said. “That goes beyond the court, playing hard and making sure you’re ready to play.

“I learned from playing at UConn and coach (Geno) Auriemma to get the best out of yourself is when you get the best out of other people. That’s helped me become a better person and teammate.”