Nobody knows the dynamics of the U.S. women's basketball national team better than guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Between them, they have six Olympic gold medals and five world championships, and they're into their second decade with USA Basketball. They hope to make their fourth Olympic squad next year, playing for their former coach at UConn, Geno Auriemma.
After the Americans ended their three-day USA Basketball team training camp in Las Vegas this week, espnW asked Bird, 34, and Taurasi, 32, to break it down for us. The Seattle Storm's Bird played in the camp, while the Phoenix Mercury's Taurasi, who is recovering from a broken hand, was there observing.
Q: Your thoughts on the young guards, in particular, who are trying to establish themselves against players like you with so much experience?
Taurasi: We were all in that situation when we were young, when you're kind of on eggshells. You don't want to ruffle any feathers. You don't want to screw up too bad.
Bird: But you also are trying to be seen a bit . . . you want to stand out a little.
Taurasi: You're walking this fine line of maybe not being yourself on the court. In this camp, because we saw players like [Odyssey Sims and Skylar Diggins] before in USA Basketball, you could see now they have changed their mindset a little, their demeanor.
"When you look at the teams we will have to beat to win gold, they're the biggest in the world. There is a place for Syl, and this has been a good three days for her." Diana Taurasi on Sylvia Fowles
Bird: Yeah, they're a little more comfortable.
Taurasi: And it might be, as an example, like just dribbling the ball up the court and being confident enough to see something and call it. When maybe last year they would be . . .
Bird and Taurasi, simultaneously: Tentative.
Bird: Listen, it can be hard for everybody out here. You're getting thrown out there, in some cases you haven't played together before, you're trying to run these plays you just learned the day before.
From a guard's standpoint, Geno puts a huge emphasis on -- and he told all of us this -- that he wants us to make plays. So like Dee said, there's this fine line between being yourself and playing your game, but also getting in with the USA Basketball way and trying to get things flowing. You could see, for players who've been around and are back now, they're more comfortable with it.
Taurasi: The first time I was on the national team and on the court with Lisa [Leslie], Tina [Thompson], Sheryl [Swoopes] ... it's like, "Whoa." When you started, how many times would they have to say, "Sue, shoot the ball!"
Bird: I know.
Taurasi: And it would be, "No, no, you do it. I'm good." There's this inherent hesitance, until you get confident and know that you have to do it, too. And then you get it done. I think these young players will get there. You can tell they've already gotten over that mental hurdle to a degree.
Bird: That's the first step.
Q: Quick observations on the posts at this camp?
Taurasi: BG [Brittney Griner] and Tina [Charles] aren't here, and they started every game of the world championship last year. They are a huge part of what we do. But the one player I just love is Nneka [Ogwumike]. I love playing with her; I love watching her play. She gives you energy.
Bird: She's definitely gotten better.
Taurasi: And Sylvia [Fowles] had a good three days, which I'm sure felt good to her.
Bird: Yes, she hasn't been fully healthy for a while.
Taurasi: I was telling Coach that Syl was our best player in Beijing [the 2008 Olympics] when she was just out of college. And when you look at the teams we will have to beat to win gold, they're the biggest in the world. There is a place for Syl, and this has been a good three days for her to get back on that track.
Q: Among players of all ages in the national team pool, there's still the same team-first, cohesive manner. How has this national team been able to maintain that over so many years, no matter the personnel?
"I love playing with her; I love watching her play. She gives you energy." Diana Taurasi on Nneka Ogwumike
Bird: I think it's one of those things where, when we were younger, that's how the older players were. Now that's how we still are. So these younger players come in and see that. And do you want to be that player who comes in and starts jacking up shots and doing their own thing in that way that makes people go, "Really?"
Nobody wants to be that player. When you're surrounded by people who are selfless -- and have played USA Basketball and understand it takes that selflessness to win medals -- people just want to fit into that.
Taurasi: And when we were younger, I feel like the older guys had a certain level of respect for us already, which kind of made you feel good from the start. Just like when we see these young guys, we have respect for what they do. You have to acknowledge what they're good at now. Even if you have three gold medals and they've never gone to the Olympics. I feel that's what Lisa and Dawn [Staley] and those players did for us. It made everything easier.
Q: So there's not much teasing of the youngsters, right?
Bird: Actually, I think they might tease us more than we do them. Like with the "Hey, old lady" jokes.
Taurasi (deadpans): It keeps Sue up all night, dealing with these jokes.
Bird: Like, "With you older people, your bones are more brittle, right?"
Taurasi: Who said that?
Bird: I'm not even going to say.
Taurasi: Or it's "grizzled." We're the grizzled vets.