With all eyes on the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks at the start of the WNBA season as the favorites to win the 2014 championship, the Phoenix Mercury were slightly overlooked.
Now the team currently has the best record in the WNBA (16-3) and is riding a 10-game winning streak.
The engine that makes the Mercury go is future Hall-of-Famer, Diana Taurasi. Known throughout her career as a potent scorer Taurasi recently passed Katie Smith to move into second place on the WNBA's all-time scoring list. The 11-year pro has 6528 points under her belt and trails the all-time scoring leader Tina Thompson by just 960 points.
Taurasi is fifth in the WNBA in scoring averaging 18 points per game, but it's her ability to pass the ball that's given Phoenix a new dimension on the court. The seven-time All-Star is second in the WNBA in assists per game with 6 per contest. Having weapons like Brittney Griner, Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner, and Penny Taylor has made life easy for the MVP candidate in Arizona.
Swish Appeal spoke to Diana Taurasi about her teams' hot start, the improvement of center Brittney Griner, and the chase for her third WNBA championship.
Swish Appeal: What's been the recipe for the 10-game winning streak?
Diana Taurasi: A lot of energy, a lot of focus, and making sure we're on both sides of the ball. Sometimes you only talk about sharing the basketball but at the same time you have to share defensive responsibilities, too and make it work as a team and we've been doing a pretty good job of that.
SA: What's it like playing for Coach Brondello?
DT: I love it. I've been under her for two years now. She's my coach in Russia so it's been an easy transition for me. She's just so focused. I've never really been around someone so detailed and prepared.
SA: Everyone knows you can score but you've been dishing the ball at a high rate. What's the difference in your game this year that made you more of a facilitator?
DT: I'm just pretty much a product of the environment. This team is just talented obviously with BG, Pree, DB, and you got Penny coming back this year who is a tremendous scorer. Our philosophy is the open hand is the hot hand so we're just trying to find the open man and free range.
SA: How is Brittney different this season compared to her rookie year?
DT: She's night and day. This year she's a lot more confident. She knows what she wants to do and she's a lot more aggressive. I think the time in China really helped her and Coach Sandy helped her develop mentally more than anything.
SA: Talk about the things that the new players like Erin, Shay, and Mistie bring to the team.
DT: Huge. You always say you're only as good as your eleventh man and this year one through eleven we have experienced people who've been in this league and been productive. Erin's won a championship with Indiana. Mistie is the consummate role player who comes in and does all the dirty work. Shay is going to get rolling pretty soon. They're huge additions for us.
SA: What's it mean to you to make your seventh All-Star Game?
DT: It's huge, especially being in Phoenix. It's my city. I love it there. They've embraced me since I got there in '04. I'm just happy it's there for the fans. They deserve it more than anyone.
SA: Chicago Sky Coach Pokey Chatman said you were the best and toughest player she's ever seen. What's it mean it mean to you to get that kind of praise from someone like Pokey?
DT: She's the toughest and best coach I've ever played under.
DT: Oh yeah! I think I played my best basketball under Pokey when I was in Russia, hands down. There is no one I respect more than Pokey. That's when I played for her and against her. She's the ultimate competitor and that's something I love more than anything in anyone.
SA: You just passed Katie Smith to move into second on the all-time scoring list. Is passing Tina Thompson and becoming the league's greatest scorer a goal of yours?
DT: I don't think it's a goal. I think those are things that just happen. If it's supposed to happen it will. If it doesn't, I won't lose any sleep over it. Tina is amazing. She is the epitome of being elite for 17 years. I don't know how many people can do that.
SA: You have three NCAA titles and three Olympic gold medals, is three WNBA championships next up for you?
DT: That's the goal. We're just taking baby steps. We have a long way to go. After every game win or lose we break down film and we have a long way to go.
SA: What's it going to take to win that next championship?
DT: You know it's going to take little steps and making sure we're focused every single day. Little things like that build character and build a team that hopefully will be there at the end.