10:20 PM EDT, June 29, 2013
UNCASVILLE — If Diana Taurasi, who'll never be anybody's second banana, resents the idea of not being one of the "3 To See," No. 3 sure didn't show it Saturday night.
"It feels good, it means I don't get to talk to any of you guys, right?" Taurasi said, laughing, before the Phoenix Mercury dropped the Sun, 89-70, at Mohegan Sun Arena. "[Brittney Griner] is phenomenal. I'm not even talking about on the court, where she has gotten better every game, every week. She's an aswesome person. She wants to learn. She wants to make sure she does everything she can for the team to win."
Let's be honest. Even if you have been mainlining Stanley Cup hockey and LeBron James, you know three things about the WNBA this season.
Brittney Griner is in the WNBA.
Skylar Diggins is in the WNBA.
Elena Delle Donne is in the WNBA.
And if you don't know Griner's sexual orientation, well, you just haven't been paying attention.
The league and ESPN is riding the interest in the three rookies for all they're worth. And while there have been some whispers that a number of veterans are wondering why they haven't been pushed nearly as hard as those three, you certainly weren't going to hear it from Taurasi.
"They should [get the attention]," Taurasi said. "When they were in college, they were huge stories. They were cool stories to follow. They should be told even through the WNBA. My story is old. No one gives a crap anymore.
"All three of them just bring, I think more than anything, talent to the league. I think in the next three or four years it's going to be their league, without a doubt."
When asked by reporters Friday about going against the 6-8 Griner, Tina Charles, the 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player was slightly less ebullient.
"I'm looking forward to playing the Phoenix Mercury," Charles said after asked the first question about Griner. "You guys don't ask me about Erika De Souza, Sylvia Fowles or the other great posts in this league. I'm looking forward to playing the Phoenix Mercury."
Charles, who set a franchise record Saturday night with a 19-for-24 performance from the foul line, tying the WNBA record for attempts, clearly was fired up to play Griner.
"I would say that's the first team that posted us up this year," Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. "I was on the sidelines saying Bron Bron doesn't even get calls like that. Has LeBron ever shot 24 free throws in a game before? [The last time was his incredible Game 6 against the Celtics in 2012]. And he goes to the hole hard. I told Brittney it's a learning experience. Now you know. You've got to start throwing your body into people and get a foul."
Charles, who shot 3-for-18 from the field, had 25 points and 13 rebounds. Griner, in foul trouble all night, fouled out with 2:33 left with nine points, five rebounds and two blocks. Averaging 16 points, 6.2 rebounds and a WNBA-high three blocks, Griner failed to score in double digits for the first time in her pro career. She also drew the Sun's biggest crowd of the year [9,110].
"Everywhere we go, it has been sold out," Taurasi said. "She draws a lot of attention. She has handled it great. I just tell her to enjoy every game. Sometimes the pressure and the stress of being something everyone wants you to be can wear you down a little bit. She has done a great job of just being who she is.
"She has unbelievable hands. She finishes around the basketball so well. You can say she's 6-8. The way she gets hit and still finishes. It's pretty unbelievable."
Griner is like everyone else in one regard. Ask her a question about Diana Taurasi and she breaks into a big smile.
"She has won at every level," Griner said. "She has seen and done it all. It makes it easier as a rookie when you come in and have a leader like that on the floor. She makes it easier for me. It's incredible how she locks in. It pushes me to do better every time."
Gaines said the Sun, now 2-7, were due for a win. He said Taurasi felt it, too, and counted on her leadership. Taurasi, who's averaging 24 points in a MVP-caliber start, had 19 for a team that is going to be scary for any opponent this season, much less one like the Sun battered by injuries.
"Diana, she was holding them up, showing them the whip, then she taps them with the whip and kept them going," Gaines said.
"Diana is great to be around," Griner said. "She has a different personality."
Griner is also nine years younger than Taurasi, although it's hard really to assign an age to Taurasi. She's at once 31 and 13. On this night when asked about the record 119-degree heat in the Phoenix area, she smiled and "But it's dry heat. I feel good about that."
She's like Magic Johnson in that regard, full of joy, full of jam.
"Grizzled," Taurasi said. "I'm feeling grizzled. Penny Taylor and I were talking the other day. It's her 11th year pro and my 10th. That's a long time. We're only 31. I still think it is as your prime. I love basketball. I'm addicted to it. It's the only thing I know. It's the only thing I've done since I was a little kid. I'll probably do it to the day I die in some form or another.
"As I get closer [to the end of her playing days], I would definitely consider coaching."
Oh, I want to be there for that. It'll be part Robin Williams and part Tommy Heinsohn. She'd figure to any league in laughs and technical fouls. With 6:41 left in this game and Griner picking up her fifth call, for instance, she stood next to referee Byron Jarrett and urged him to look at the big video screen to reassess his call. Jarrett stood there pretending not to hear.
"I love coming back to Connecticut," Taurasi said. "We landed last night coming in from D.C. It felt good. When we come back for All-Star, hopefully I get a chance to go back to Storrs. I haven't been there in a while. I want to get back on campus."
Taurasi said she followed UConn start to finish last season and rejoiced in the battle to the Huskies' eighth national title.
"It's not supposed to be easy," Taurasi said. "They had a hard time with Notre Dame, but they found a way. That's what championship teams do. Breanna [Stewart] found herself in the Final Four. That's what she needed. Now you're going to see a different person for the next three years.
"It's a catch-22 when you're a freshman. Either you play great because you don't know what's going on our you play like crazy because you don't know what's going on. She played great. I played like crap [shooting 1-for-15 in the Final Four loss to Notre Dame in 2001]."
Some of Taurasi's playfulness fits in well with Griner. Asked what she liked best being a pro afterward, Griner said, "The money, duh." She broke into a laugh before teasing Taurasi for having all the reporters around her. Taurasi returned the favor, saying it would have been nice "if BG showed up tonight."
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