Diana Taurasi practicing with Team USA, hopeful for women's basketball Olympic opener

Diana Taurasi has been practicing with the U.S. women's basketball team since it arrived in Tokyo this week, and said she's still hopeful of being able to play in the Americans' Olympic opener July 27. Taurasi has been dealing with a hip injury and hasn't played since her Phoenix Mercury's July 3 game.

"I'm getting a little better every day," Taurasi said Thursday in a video call with media. "I've touched the court for the last few days, so that's definitely a good sign. When you haven't played for a while, there's a little bit of a protocol to get back on the court. I'm checking all the boxes and hopefully, I'll be ready for the first game against Nigeria."

Taurasi is appearing in her fifth Olympic Games. She dealt with a cracked sternum earlier this WNBA season, followed by the hip problem. She's played just seven of the Mercury's games.

Taurasi did not play in any of Team USA's exhibitions last week in Las Vegas: against Team WNBA in the league's All-Star Game, Australia and Nigeria. The American squad lost the first two games but played much better Sunday in winning the third. Getting Taurasi back would be another positive for a program that hasn't lost an Olympic game since 1992 -- when Taurasi was just 10 years old.

Now at 39, she is the second-oldest player on the team, behind longtime friend Sue Bird, 40, the Seattle guard who is also in her fifth Olympics. But Taurasi knows that she can still bring a little extra energy every time on court to help the team's chemistry.

"Especially when you're on USA Basketball, you don't have a lot of time together," Taurasi said. "So those little moments in practice can accelerate that. Just being one of the vets that knows what we're trying to get done, I think it kind of relaxes everyone a little bit. I come in full-go every time; it gives everyone a sense of relief, I think."

It should; Taurasi is the WNBA's all-time leading scorer (9,040 points), and she's led the U.S. team in scoring each of the last two Olympics, in 2012 and 2016. She sees this Olympic squad as likely getting more of its points from the post players, which include her Phoenix teammate Brittney Griner.

But Taurasi's experience in international play is a big part of why she's on this squad again as Team USA goes for its seventh consecutive gold medal.

"I don't think you could deny the level of talent that we have; it's a country that loves basketball," she said. "We play from a very early age and have a tremendous opportunity to keep playing and keep developing.

"But with talent, you still have to put it together. You still have to make people come in here and play selfless and make sure you put the team first. Kind of that culture that's been built over decades. Putting yourself aside for the betterment of the team. Having some main staples has really helped USA Basketball carry on the tradition of competing at the highest level."

Taurasi and Bird, teammates on UConn's 2002 NCAA title team, have been those staples, making their Olympic debuts in 2004. Wednesday at the start of practice, Taurasi got to announce to the team that Bird would be one of the American's flag-bearers at the opening ceremony on Friday.

"That's a big deal; we're just all really happy for Sue," Taurasi said. "Her getting it, I think the whole team felt like we got it. Her leadership skills are second to none."

Taurasi has been great in that department, too, which is why Team USA is eager to have her on the court again.

"I'm just trying to follow whatever Diana does," U.S. guard Jewell Loyd of Seattle said. "I'll just try to mimic that as much as a I can.

"It's her intensity and her calmness. When she steps on the floor, everyone is kind of like, 'OK, we're good.' Just because her track record speaks for itself, and she gives so much confidence to so many players."