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Taurasi Only Rookie on First or Second Team
Diana Taurasi Named to All-WNBA First Team 

The WNBA announced today that Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi has been named to the All-WNBA First Team, presented by Bud Light. The No. 1 pick of the Mercury in the 2004 WNBA Draft, Taurasi led the Mercury in scoring and was fourth overall in the WNBA, posting an average of 17.0 points per game. In her debut season, Taurasi helped turn the Mercury from a league worst 8-26 in 2003 to a 17-17 record in 2004.

Taurasi leads the way for the 2004 All-WNBA First Team that also includes Sue Bird (Seattle), Lauren Jackson (Seattle), Tina Thompson (Houston), and Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles). The 2004 All-WNBA Second Team includes Nikki Teasley (Los Angeles), Nykesha Sales (Connecticut), Tamika Catchings (Indiana), Swin Cash (Detroit) and Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento). As a member of the All-WNBA First Team, presented by Bud Light, Taurasi will

"Diana has not only made an impact on the Mercury but her presence can be felt throughout the entire WNBA," said Mercury General Manager Seth Sulka. "For her to be named to a First Team that includes Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie is really saying something about the caliber of player she truly is. As an organization, we couldn't be happier for her to be recognized in this way."

Taurasi is only the second player in Mercury history to be recognized among the league's elite for First Team honors. Jennifer Gillom - the first player assigned to the Mercury on January 22, 1997 - was named to the All-WNBA First Team in 1998 and earned Second Team honors in the league's inaugural season, 1997.

The 22-year old Taurasi averaged 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in 34 games for the Mercury. The Chino, CA native averaged .416 shooting from the field (209-503) and connected on 62 of 188 shots (.330) from long range. Among league leaders, Taurasi finished in the league's top 20 in several statistical categories: scoring (17.0 ppg - 4th overall), rebounding (4.4 rpg - 18th overall), assists (3.9 apg - 10th overall), three-point field goal percentage (.330 - 19th overall), steals (1.26 spg - 18th overall), blocks (0.74 - 17th overall) and minutes (33.2 mpg - 14th overall). In addition to her individual accomplishments, Taurasi helped the Mercury post 17 victories on the season, nine more than in 2003. That improvement ties the fifth best turnaround in WNBA history. The Mercury's 17-17 record was the first time since the 2000 (20-12) season that the team finished at or above the .500 mark.

(Courtesy of The Official Site of The Phoenix Mercury)

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Taurasi Named Rookie of the Year
 
The WNBA announced today that Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi has been named the 2004 WNBA Rookie of the Year. The No. 1 pick of the Mercury in the 2004 WNBA Draft, Taurasi led the Mercury to a 17-17 record in her debut season, averaging 17.0 points per game, fourth best in the league.

Taurasi received 42 of 48 possible points – from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States – to be named the league’s top rookie. Washington’s Alana Beard finished second with four points and Minnesota’s Nicole Ohlde finished third with two points. As the WNBA Rookie of the Year, Taurasi will receive a Tiffany-designed trophy and $5,000.

“Diana came out of college with a lot of expectations placed on her and she definitely delivered,” said Mercury General Manager Seth Sulka. “She has brought real star presence both on and off the court and we are very excited for her to be recognized as the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year.”

The most decorated college player coming into the 2004 WNBA season, Taurasi was a two-time Naismith Player of the Year (2003, 2004) and three-time NCAA champion at the University of Connecticut. When the Mercury made her the No. 1 pick, the rookie made an immediate splash, scoring 20+ in her first three games as a pro. Interrupting her rookie season was a trip to Athens, Greece in August where she joined forces with Team USA in bringing home a third consecutive gold medal.

The 22-year old Taurasi averaged 17.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game for the Mercury. Starting all 34 games, the Chino, CA native averaged .416 shooting from the field (209-503) and connected on 62 of 188 shots (.330) from long range. Among league leaders, Taurasi finished in the league’s top 20 in several statistical categories: scoring (17.0 ppg – 4th overall), rebounding (4.4 rpg – 18th overall), assists (3.9 apg – 10th overall), three-point field goal percentage (.330 – 19th overall), steals (1.26 spg – 18th overall), blocks (0.74 – 17th overall) and minutes (33.2 mpg – 14th overall).

Among all rookies, Taurasi ranked first in scoring, first in three-point field-goal percentage, first in free throw percentage, first in minutes, second in rebounding, second in assists, third in field-goal percentage, third in steals and fourth in blocks. She is the first player in Mercury history to be named Rookie of the Year.

In addition to her individual accomplishments, Taurasi helped the Mercury post 17 victories on the season, nine more than in 2003. That improvement ties the fifth best turnaround in WNBA history. The Mercury’s 17-17 record was the first time since the 2000 (20-12) season that the team finished at or above the .500 mark.

Below are the complete results of the 2004 WNBA Rookie of the Year voting, followed by a list of previous winners:

2004 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR RESULTS
42 Diana Taurasi Phoenix Mercury
4 Alana Beard Washington Mystics
2 Nicole Ohlde Minnesota Lynx

PREVIOUS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR WINNERS
2003 Cheryl Ford Detroit Shock
2002 Tamika Catchings Indiana Fever
2001 Jackie Stiles Portland Fire
2000 Betty Lennox Minnesota Lynx
1999 Chamique Holdsclaw Washington Mystics
1998 Tracy Reid Charlotte Sting

One-on-One with Diana Taurasi (Chat)

PhoenixMercury.com: Congratulations. How does it feel to add another honor to your impressive resumé?

WNBA 2004 Rookie-of-the-Year Diana Taurasi: Whenever you get an award, it’s cool. Rookie of the Year, especially in the WNBA where there are so many good players, it means a lot, it really does.

PhoenixMercury.com: What were the biggest surprises in your first season as a pro?

Taurasi: Nothing was really surprising, but everything was a learning experience. Everything was new. The games, practicing, traveling, every single day was something new, which was new.

PhoenixMercury.com: With all the attention you received this season, did you use playing as a release?

Taurasi: You have to because there was so much going on. Every single day there was something new coming up. “Go here, go there.” The basketball side of it was definitely an escape. I take it in stride. I really don’t focus on (the attention) because I know that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to play basketball and that’s what was important to me. I wasn’t worried about all the other stuff.

PhoenixMercury.com: How would you evaluate your play this season?

Taurasi: I think I did pretty well. I know I could have done a lot better, done a lot more. I just take that as being my first year and now I know what I need to do for my team next year.

PhoenixMercury.com: What are the areas you feel you need to work on?

Taurasi: Just little things that as a first-year player you really don’t always develop right away. Be a leader and be more vocal, and I think I can do that because I’ve done it with other teams, so I’ll definitely be looking to do it more next year.

PhoenixMercury.com: Were you concerned coming in that your high profile would effect how your teammates reacted to you?

Taurasi: No, I wasn’t worried about that because I usually get along with everybody. When someone comes in with that much attention and hasn’t ever played a (professional) game, people can get a little skeptical about it, but I just had to go out there and play. I wasn’t worried about that.

PhoenixMercury.com: What were your impressions about the city of Phoenix and the Mercury’s fans?

Taurasi: The fans were great this year. I think every game was great. You could feel the energy from the crowd and whenever you’re home, that’s what you want to feel. The city’s great, I enjoy the weather, so I’m happy.

When you win, people come. That’s the bottom line. When (the Mercury) won in the late ‘90s, America West Arena was filled. So, that’s what we have to do, get back on a winning track and I think this year we got back onto it a little bit, and it can only get better.

PhoenixMercury.com: Because of your success and comfort at Connecticut, did any part of you want to stay in college forever?

Taurasi: I was definitely comfortable in college with my coaching staff and my teammates. But, there comes a point where you have to go outside your comfort zone and try something different, and that’s definitely what the WNBA is.

PhoenixMercury.com: How disappointing was it to not make it to the postseason this year?

Taurasi: Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, you’ve got to see it the wrong way to do it the right way, that’s the way I look at it. Maybe it wasn’t our year to go to the playoffs. Maybe we needed to see ourselves play that last game knowing we didn’t have a chance to go to the playoffs. So, for next year we know when we’re in that position, when it comes down to the last five or six games, we’ll handle it a little different.

We focus on the last couple of games, but there were games throughout the season that we fell short. Then, we come back and are out of the playoffs by a game, game and a half. Those are the games that hurt you.

PhoenixMercury.com: Have you had any time to reflect on this past year and sock away some memories?

Taurasi: The whole year has been great. I’ve got to do a lot of great things, meet a lot of new people, which is a lot of fun. I’ve definitely had a great time. I’ve got great memories from the Olympics and all the way back to March, being in college.

PhoenixMercury.com: How do you evaluate the job Carrie Graf did this season?

Taurasi: Carrie did a great job. It was definitely a change when you’re so used to one person doing it one way. But, coming into the season from day one it felt comfortable with the whole coaching staff. There’s a certain atmosphere they created that made it fun to come to practice every day. That’s what you want from a coach.

PhoenixMercury.com: Finally, what are your offseason plans? Any vacation time planned?

Taurasi: I’ve got to wait for this hurricane to go away, but I’ve got some things I’m working on. In January, I go back to school. I’m looking at some places here to buy a home. I’ll spend some time in California with my family this offseason.

(Courtesy of The Official Site of The Phoenix Mercury)

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Taurasi’s Rookie Brilliance Seen as Just a Beginning

Jim Gintonio
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 22, 2004

Diana Taurasi was every bit as good as advertised in her rookie season with the Mercury, leading the team back to respectability in the WNBA and infusing the franchise with renewed hope.

But hang on, the 2004 U.S. Olympic team coach says, because you haven't seen anything yet.

"After she played three games in the spring with us, I said, 'Hey, she's going to set the WNBA on fire,' " said Team USA coach Van Chancellor, also coach of the Houston Comets. "The first time I saw her work out, I thought she was just special. I've never seen a player like her. She sees the court, shoots the ball, she runs, she's big and strong." "When her career is over and we look back onwomen's basketball, Taurasi will be one of the all-time greats."

Taurasi, who led the University of Connecticut to three consecutive NCAA championships, entered the league as its No. 1 draft choice, along with a ton of pressure on her shoulders. Nothing fazed her, and she was a perfect fit for a Mercury team looking to regain its focus.

The 6-foot guard, considered a slam dunk for Rookie of the Year honors, enjoyed the spotlight and performed at a high level. But it was the little things, such as handing out water cups at practice and being the first to congratulate teammates coming off the court, that helped forge the team's personality.

She's accustomed to winning championships and wanted more than a .500 season (17-17), but it was a big step for a team that won eight games in 2003.

"This was a great experience," Taurasi said. "It's easy when you go through it with people you like and care about. Progress is slow and we're here for the long haul, so one season isn't going to make or break you."

Teammate Penny Taylor, who played for the Australian Olympic team and opposed Taurasi in the gold medal game in Athens, said winning drives her, not personal honors.

"If we're not winning, she's not happy even if she does have 25 points," Taylor said. "It's great to play with someone like that."

Taurasi averaged 17 points per game, fourth best in the league, but her court presence more than statistics elevated her above most of the other players in the league.

"I'm not surprised at all," said the Mercury's Nikki McCray, a gold medal winner in the 2000 Olympics and a three-time All-Star Game starter. "Marquee rookies are expected to play that way. She's been through it all. Nothing is going to get to her."

Chancellor added: "She doesn't know what pressure is."

Taurasi had to handle a media blitz every time she went on the road, and she handled that with the same skill she showed on the court.

WNBA superstar and Olympic teammate Tina Thompson of the Comets was impressed with Taurasi's poise.

"She did things on her own terms," Thompson said. "And she can elevate her game. She's young, a good student of the game, and the sky's the limit for her. She's definitely a basketball junkie."

Even though she has earned a lengthy vacation after nearly 11 months of continuous play with Connecticut, the Mercury and Team USA, no one expects Taurasi to get complacent.

Mercury coach Carrie Graf said Taurasi needs to become a better defender and develop a way to get more favorable calls from officials. She expects that to happen quickly.

"The best word to sum her up is special, and she's special in so many ways," Graf said. "She's a consummate teammate. If you put 100 people in a room, it would be hard to go past her. She's classy, confident and a basketball phenom."

At times late in the season, Taurasi looked exhausted. Although she would rather be in the WNBA playoffs, it's time to rest and recharge.

Or is it?

"I probably should say I'm going to take four months off, but I know in two or three days I'll be back in the gym," she said.

"That's what I was born to do."

(Courtesy of azcentral.com)

Sharpshooter was special at age 11
 
By SCOTT CACCIOLA , Special to The Press 12/08/2003

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CHINO, Calif. -- Diana Taurasi has a favorite place, far from the top of the key at Gampel Pavilion or the left baseline at the Hartford Civic Center. She found it at age 12 and brought her father outside to show him.

The most prominent feature at the Taurasi home in Chino, Calif., a quiet, sun-drenched city about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, has always been the basketball hoop that hangs above the garage of the family’s tidy, one-story house. The white backboard has turned a sandy shade of gray from years of bank shots, and subtle streaks of red paint on the rim have worn away, exposing the iron beneath.
As Diana grew older, her shots struck the rim less and less. This became apparent to Mario Taurasi about 10 years ago, when he watched his daughter walk around the corner of the garage to a position where she was forced to flick teardrop jumpers over the roof, which blocked her view of the basket. One after another, the shots splashed through the net. This was the moment he realized his daughter was different.

"I never forget it," he said with his delicate accent. "They don’t touch the rim, nothing. I don’t believe it."

Sitting at his kitchen table last week, Mario Taurasi shook his head and shared a smile with his wife, Lily. They still cannot explain what happened to their youngest daughter, who grew into an icon 2,500 miles away.

"It’s something that she has inside," Lily Taurasi said.

The best women’s college basketball player in the country was raised here in Chino, far from the spotlight that today tracks her every move. She fell in love with the game at age 8, a basketball tethered to her hand ever since. And this weekend, she returned to her roots for a grand homecoming that will concluded Sunday when she and her teammates from top-ranked Connecticut played Southern California at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

In many ways, Taurasi is just like any other 21 year old. When at home, she lounges in her pajamas all day long. A framed poster of Michael Jordan rests against one of her bedroom walls. A prom photograph of her and her older sister, Jessika, sits on her nightstand. And a couple of copies of Sports Illustrated are stashed away in a drawer for safe keeping. They just happen to feature her face on the cover.

Taurasi, a 6-foot guard with a preternatural elegance on the court, never set out to be famous. She just wanted to be the best. But it all comes with the territory: the television cameras, the daily interviews with newspaper reporters, the writer from the New Yorker who is detailing the first half of her senior season, the little girls who wear their hair in tight buns, the hordes of fans.

But those who know her best say Diana Lurena Taurasi has changed little, if at all, since she left Chino. She remains the girl with the single-minded determination, the outsized dreams and the basketball cradled in her arm.

"When I close my eyes," Lily Taurasi said, "I can see Diana when she left for Connecticut. Now it’s almost done."

Last Shot

Diana Taurasi scored 3,047 points at Don Lugo High, a public school set on a sprawling campus less than a half-mile from her home. Outside the gymnasium, six courts lie side-by-side on a giant slab of concrete. Taurasi played lots of basketball here, often shooting past dusk, when the sky lit up the contours of the surrounding mountains in rich reds, the color of bricks.

Fame arrived in Chino when Tauarsi scored 56 points in the second game of her freshman year. Everyone who knows her has a catalogue of stories like this, exploits that became predictable by the end of her high school career.

She first met Michael Jordan, her idol, as a teenager at his summer basketball camp in Santa Barbara. When she finally got to the front of the line at an autograph session, he leaned in and said, "I hear you’re pretty good."

Taurasi did not hesitate to respond. "Let’s got out and play," she told him. "You’ll see."

Guy Haarlammert, who coached her in a youth program known as National Junior Basketball, is fond of a game she played her junior year, when she and Don Lugo met top-ranked Brea High in the championship of a local tournament. Taurasi scored 55 points to lead Don Lugo to the win -- and Haarlammert has the videotape to prove it.

Taurasi, clad in a bright yellow uniform, walked the ball upcourt every time in methodical fashion. It was the calm before the storm. She pulled up for 25-footers, backed her defender into the post, slung running one-handers and left the crowd in a frenzy. The opposing defender, completely embarrassed, faked a knee injury so she could get off the court.

At another tournament, Taurasi hit the game-winning shot in four consecutive games. "Five," said Larry Webster, her high school coach, "if you count the game we played before the tournament."

Her senior year, Morena Valley High was beating Don Lugo by 12 points with a quarter to go when the fans started chanting, "O-ver-ra-ted! O-ver-ra-ted!" In the bleachers, Haarlammert and his friends exchanged glances. They knew what would happen next.

Taurasi scored 18 points in the last eight minutes. Don Lugo won.

Haarlammert introduced Taurasi to the game, and her rare talent was evident even at age 11.

"She always had that feel," he said. "The energy was there, the drive was there. If anything, the biggest thing I had to teach her was to shoot the ball. She wouldn’t shoot. She’d try to get everyone in the game right away. Not much has changed."

By the time she reached eighth grade, she had joined the Southern California Women’s Basketball Club, a high-profile AAU program run by Steve Kavalovski and Lou Zylstra. Kavalovski remembers his first impression.

"I saw her go for a rebound, hook the other girl with her opposite hand and tap the ball in," he said. "I’m going, ‘She’s holding! She’s holding!’ And then I thought about it and said to myself, ‘That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever saw.’ I’d never seen anything like that out of an eighth-grader before. It was just unheard of."

Zylstra said he still sees Taurasi do that today, clutching an opponent’s shorts as she goes up for a rebound -- and getting away with it.

"Diana was so much more mature than the other kids, so much more advanced," he said. "I’ve always said, on a scale of one to 10 -- if one was an angel and 10 was a gangster -- Diana was about an eight, but at least she was looking at the angel."

Her life soon developed a predictable rhythm: school, homework, basketball. Mario Taurasi would come home from work in the early evening and his daughter would beckon him outside to the driveway. She needed someone to rebound her shots.

"Shooting and shooting and shooting," Mario Taurasi said. "Then she say, ‘Daddy, play defense.’ And I say, ‘No, Diana. I’m so tired. Shooting only.’"

She played deep into the night, and Lily Taurasi worried about the neighbors. Whenever she stuck her head out the door to tell Diana to wrap it up, she was met by one response -- the same response, every night.

"Last shot, Mommy," Diana would tell her. "I have to make my last shot."

Diana said the sport always came a lot easier to her than to the other girls. "I could always dribble pretty well," she said, "and I could always shoot the farthest, probably because I was a little bigger than everyone else. Little things like that. And then I just got better."

When it came time to choose a college, she whittled the decision to two schools: UConn and UCLA. Her parents were partial to nearby UCLA because they would be able to attend her games. The Taurasi family has always been tight-knit, and Lily had been skeptical of UConn ever since she and Diana visited Storrs for her official visit.

"It was so dark there," she said. "It was like a scary movie."

But on the plane ride home, Lily Taurasi looked at her daughter’s face and knew.

"You’re going to Connecticut, aren’t you?" she asked. Diana nodded. Her mother tried to hide her disappointment.

"It wasn’t a happy decision around the household," said Webster, her high school coach. "Her parents accepted it, but they didn’t accept it right away. There were some tense moments when we wondered whether they were going to sign the letter of intent."

UConn coach Geno Auriemma says Lily has not forgiven him for taking her daughter away.

"She doesn’t like me," he said, laughing. "She said I get to see her daughter more than she does. I said, ‘Lily, you got your daughter for 18 years. I only get her for four."

Big Opportunities

To understand Taurasi, her friends say, you need to know her parents. Mario and Lily Taurasi met as neighbors in Argentina, fell in love at age 15, and came to California in 1978 to "to look for that American dream," as Diana puts it. They are good-natured and humble, qualities they share with their two daughters. They are not wealthy, but they sacrificed to provide their children opportunities.

Diana never had a summer job growing up. "Just basketball," she explained.

But she learned about work ethic. Her mother waits tables at a local Sizzler. Her father puts in more than 10 hours a day as a machinist at a company in Fullerton. When UConn played Pepperdine on Friday night, Mario Taurasi gave himself the luxury of leaving work early - only an 8-hour day, he said.

"I always tell Jessika and Diana, ‘If you don’t study and don’t get a degree, you get nothing,’" Lily Taurasi said. "In this country, it’s about big opportunities. I tell them, ‘You want to work in a restaurant and get paid what Mommy gets? You’ve got to get a degree and get a good life for yourself.’"

Jessika Taurasi, 18 months older than Diana, works full-time and attends college in San Bernadino. Morgan Valley, one of Diana’s closest friends at UConn, came to understand the culture of the Taurasi household when she shook Mario’s hand for the first time and felt the calluses. "Working man’s hands," she said.

"You can tell how much respect D has for her parents."

Diana Taurasi gets a lot of her charisma from her mother, an affectionate woman who is always smiling. At the Final Four last year, Kavalovski, her AAU coach, felt someone come up from behind and try to pick his pocket. It was Lily Tauarsi, of course, aiming for a laugh.

But there is a different side to Diana, a shyness that she hides from the public, and she inherited this from her father, Webster said. Mario Taurasi speaks halting English - the family speaks Spanish at home - and may feel self-conscious about it, so he tends to let his wife do the talking.

"He’s very quiet," he said, "but also very competitive and focused. When you meet Mario, you really understand Diana."

Auriemma has said that despite all the charm Taurasi reveals in front of the camera, she is not always comfortable with the attention. Regardless, she has a knack for handling the media and the fans, an understanding of what to say and when to say it. But her body language is telling. Whenever she sits before a group of reporters - which is often - she bends at the waist, folds her arms across her chest and bounces one leg up and down with nervous energy.

"She is guarded," Zylstra said. "You don’t get real close. That outgoing personality, that’s definitely her. But she’s really sharp behind that personality, very calculating."

As much as she enjoys the benefits of being a public person - a two-hour wait for a table at an ESPN Zone this summer turned into two minutes, once the staff realized who she was - Taurasi yearns for those rare moments when she has some measure of privacy. When she visited Las Vegas this summer with a few friends for her 21st birthday, she was spotted by a group of boys at a casino.

"They were going, ‘That’s Tauarsi! That’s Taurasi!’" Valley said. "So she took off through the casino. We were like, ‘Where’d she go?’ We found her hiding behind a slot machine."

Rarely during her UConn career has she appeared as reluctant a superstar as she did at the Super Show at Gampel Pavilion in October. The loudest cheers at player introductions were reserved for Taurasi, who then took her place alongside her teammates for a layup drill. A pack of manic pre-adolescent girls crowded the sideline near midcourt, screaming wildly every time she moved within 5 feet of them.

Even Taurasi, accustomed as she is to the mechanisms of fame, seemed taken aback by the hysteria. She smiled and waved, but bowed her head slightly, looking genuinely overwhelmed. She had spent five months away from the spotlight, and maybe she had forgotten what it was like. If anything, her level of celebrity in Connecticut had only grown since the Huskies returned home with their second straight national title in April.

"I don’t think she’s as comfortable as she appears in all this," Auriemma said, before drawing some comparisons between himself and Taurasi. "I don’t know that we always say what we really think. I don’t think we’re as open and upfront as people think we are. We’re probably alike in that we’re not what we appear to be, deep down inside. We fake it pretty well, though. ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.’"

Either way, what Taurasi does on the court is authentic, and these are the performances that seem to matter most. Her legacy is assured.

As for the future, Zylstra said Taurasi has a plan for the next 10 years of her life, which -- barring the unforeseen -- will include a career in the WNBA. A marketer’s dream with her affability and cross-cultural appeal, she is virtually assured of being the No. 1 pick in the draft next spring.

But this was never her intent. All Diana Taurasi wanted to do was play basketball - to open her front door, head to the driveway and shoot baskets. She never stopped.

Courtesy of The Middle Town Press

DT puts the ill in SKillZ!!!!!