LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Poised.
For Team USA Women's Basketball Head Coach Geno Auriemma, his starting lineup for Monday night's first of three exhibition games, was of Olympic gold caliber with Tina Charles, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, and Diana Taurasi in the driver's seat.
STARTING X TRIVIA: The starting five combined for nine Olympic gold medals. All were drafted No. 1 overall in their respected draft classes, with the exception of Fowles, who was taken No. 2 overall back in 2008 to the Chicago Sky. And four out of the five have all played under Coach Auriemma at UCONN.
But it's not only Team USA's players that are some of the most decorated athletes in their sport, so is Coach Auriemma.
Auriemma has 31 years under his belt at the helm of UCONN Women's Basketball, leading the program to 11 NCAA titles. Equally impressive, is his pair of gold medals from the 2012 FIBA World Championships and 2012 Olympics, both evidence that his style of play works.
And no one knows this better than three-time Olympian, and Mercury guard, Diana Taurasi.
"I have been around Coach [Geno] for a long time now," said Taurasi, "and there is no person or coach that knows how to get the best out of a group [than him]. There is a certain way you do things to be successful, and no one has mastered that like Coach has."
Taurasi is no stranger to the whirlwind, quite literally, that comes with being a part of a national team. Less than 48- hours after winning the NCAA title with UCONN, she joined that year's Women's National Team, where she averaged nine points per game in all three exhibition games.
It was Taurasi's calm demeanor that eradicated from the floor of Galen Center Monday night, as the USA Women's National Team faced off against an equally qualified Select Team.
As Minnesota Lynx center, Fowles tipped the jump ball to Taurasi to open up the first quarter; the young squad wasted no time showcasing why they are also worthy candidates to represent the red, white, and blue in Rio this summer.
Dallas Wings guard Odyssey Sims, made the first bark, hitting her first three-point shot of the night to get the Select Team in a steady groove early, sparking a 9-2 run.
However, Taurasi understands the importance of timing, and she got to work of her own under the lights of Galen Center, draining a three-point shot off an assist from Lindsay Whalen, to bring the National Team within eight, 11-19, and more importantly establishing a rhythm.
"These games are there to prepare [us]." explained Taurasi, "To get [us] in a position that when we get to Rio, we know what we are going with. These are really good games for us."
If anyone understands the importance of preparation, it's Coach Auriemma.
"We need to found out before we get on that plan what do we have." explained Coach Auriemma, "I know who we have, I know what they look like, [and] what they're names are, but what do we have. What can we count on, what are the things that we can build on that can sustain us down [in Rio]? That's what these next three games are about."
The "who do we haves" are Olympic rookies like Chicago Sky guard Elena Delle Donne, Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner.
But, the "what do we haves" are the seasoned veterans like Taurasi. And like any mature player, is the awareness to make adjustments- when it's time to take the shot or hand the shot off.
And Taurasi demonstrated such selflessness in the closing minutes of the first half, when she found Delle Donne and Maya Moore on back-to-back assists to give the National Team their first lead all game at 39-34.
The reason for selfish play comes directly from Taurasi's respect for the women she gets to play next in this year's Summer Olympics.
"I looked around today in the locker room and [I] feel good," said Taurasi, "cause [we] have a lot of good people in that locker room, and [I] know everyone is moving towards the same goal."
And in tonight's game, both teams were most definitely looking for the win.
Most impressively, were the efforts of the Select Team in the fourth quarter. Sims hit her second three-point shot with less than two minutes to play to bring her team within one, 80-81.
Sims would put up 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 30 minutes of play, while her teammate Jewell Lloyd, made a strong first impression with 20 points, four rebounds, seven assists.
"The way the select team played was really cool," said Coach Auriemma. "They played as if they play against these guys all the time. And for the future of USA Women's Basketball, there were some unbelievably positive signs out there of what the next group could potentially look like. It was a good day all around."
Taurasi and the National Team would skid by in their first exhibition game with an 88-84 victory.
"We found a way to pull it together," said Taurasi, "and that is one of the characteristics this team has on day three, most teams don't get that on year three. Today was just the tip of the mountain; we are going to get a lot better in a lot of areas. We are excited to get going."
Taurasi has won gold in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Summer Olympics, but at 34-years old she's not taking anything for granted.
"I'm going to treat [this Olympics] like it's my first." said Taurasi, "I really am. I'm going to enjoy the whole experience."
As for her advice to the Olympic newbies like Delle Donne, Stewart, and Griner: "Enjoy the moment. Make sure wherever you are to be in the moment, it could be your first, but it could also be your last."
Like all Olympians, each one has their favorite.
"I always talk about my favorite memory of [my] Olympic experience, [and] it's coming down that tunnel with all the American athletes. I cannot wait to get back into that tunnel, ‘cause that is an amazing feeling to respect your country."
Taurasi will look to lead the Women's National Team and collect her fourth piece of Olympic hardware when Team USA opens the 2016 Summer Games against Senegal on August 7th.