Brittney Griner going to Phoenix as the No. 1 pick in 2013 meant pairing up with guard Diana Taurasi -- who was the perfect mixture of "I'll take care of you" and "I'll push you to do more" for a rookie needing veteran guidance.
Here we are five years -- and six WNBA seasons -- later, and the duo who have meant so much to the Mercury are trying to win another championship with USA Basketball. Tuesday, they helped the Americans cruise past Latvia 102-76 to finish 3-0 in Group D play at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Championship.
For several years, Team USA's games have been like episodes of TV procedural dramas: You know it will be wrapped up by the end, you just tune in to see how it gets there. In the Americans' three victories in Tenerife this week, the offensive post play has been dominant, the defense a bit less so.
But Tuesday was Griner's first game at this World Cup, as she missed the first two contests with an ankle injury. And she helped in all areas.
Griner's return was another security blanket for a team that already has a cartload of them. But that doesn't mean she's not appreciated, because at 6-foot-9, she's a really big blanket. As USA teammate Tina Charles said, "It just gives us that boost of confidence going into games."
With forward Elene Delle Donne and guard Sue Bird sitting out the game to rest/recover, Griner (15 points, 6 rebounds), Taurasi (16 points) and Charles (18 points) took over. Seven Americans scored in double figures, and they outrebounded the Latvians 56-39.
Coach Dawn Staley said the U.S. squad was considering keeping Griner on the bench for this game, too, and then having her ready to go for Friday's quarterfinals, when the United States will face the winner of Wednesday's Greece-Nigeria game.
But Griner, who turns 28 next month, insisted she was ready to play Tuesday, and then showed that on the court. Latvia is an attack-minded team, but Griner presented another major obstacle. Of the Latvians' 79 shots, 40 were 3-pointers, and they made 12 of them.
The Americans also took 79 shots, 18 from long range. With the interior play of the United States, there isn't that much need to overthink the game plan.
Taurasi and Griner have won just one WNBA title together in Phoenix, in 2014. But when you consider how good the league has been the last several years, even one championship is impressive.
Still, this past season will sting a bit. The Mercury lost forward Sancho Lyttle to a knee injury at the end of June, and that was one of the things that kept their regular season -- and playoff position -- from being as good as it might have been.
Then in the postseason, Phoenix had to face eventual champion Seattle in the semifinals, a thrilling five-game series that -- no offense to Delle Donne's Washington Mystics -- felt like the de facto finals. Had Seattle's Bird not gone all legend on the Mercury in the fourth quarter of Game 5, Phoenix likely would have prevailed and would have faced the Mystics.
Instead, the Mercury have to look to next year. Taurasi at times looks ageless on the court, but she turns 37 next summer. These next few years, the Mercury hope to have things come together as well as they did for Seattle this season.
But the relationship between Griner and Taurasi is one thing that has been consistent for the Mercury. That has been true in the WNBA, overseas and with USA Basketball. From the start, Taurasi worked to empower the young center, to push her to be better, to fill in any gaps in her confidence. And Griner always has been eager to soak up that wisdom, while also realizing she needed to shoulder more and more of the weight. It has been a neat thing to watch because it shows some of the best traits of both players.
Griner has said before that if she hadn't ended up on the same team as Taurasi via the draft, she would have had to find a way to do it. That's how much she thinks Taurasi has impacted her career. But there's no doubt it has been good for Taurasi, too. If she's to win another WNBA title, Griner will be a big part of it.
For now, though, they can focus on what they hope is another march to gold.