Diana Taurasi leads Team USA

Diana Taurasi cites Brazil and its two WNBA players as one of the toughest teams in the Olympic tournament. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- It's about 2:30 on Sunday afternoon when Team USA coach Geno Auriemma wraps up practice at American University's Bender Arena. That's when members of the media disperse onto the court to grab players to interview or snap photographs.

Many are available, and point guard Diana Taurasi is, too -- but for only a moment. When a reporter calls her name, she says, "Gimme a second." Taurasi jogs over to an adjacent court to work on her shooting, and a couple of players follow her.

Taurasi is one of the last players to put in additional work. After two previous Olympics, she's now one of the veteran leaders of Team USA.

"The veteran used to be 36-year-olds; now it's 30?" Taurasi said, laughing. "I like to think of myself as a young veteran."

Eight years ago in Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympics, Taurasi was only 22 and a rookie on the gold-medal team. Then in 2008 in Beijing, she proved herself more in extended minutes, winning another gold. Now, she's the eyes and ears of the group.

"With D, everywhere she goes, everyone respects her game so much," Auriemma said. "She's an unbelievable teammate, she has the ability to get people to follow her, so she's a rare combination of someone that can do everything on the court and yet, at the same time, makes you a better player as well. If Diana asks a question, everyone's listening to what the answer is. If they have a question, they ask her. They know they're going to get led in the right way.

"Diana was the rookie on the 2004 team and she was one of the better players on the 2008 team, and now she's looked at as one of the leaders on this team. She's progressed through the whole thing. USA Basketball runs through her blood, and she plays with that kind of passion, and everybody kind of feeds off of that."

Taurasi, who recently returned from a strained left hip flexor that sidelined her for about a month, said she learned a lot from the veterans ahead of her during those two previous Olympics. She saw how they prepared and attacked each practice and drill, and the determination they had to get better and make sure their teammates were ready to compete. That's something she's talked about with former Connecticut teammate and fellow point guard Sue Bird.

"Now we're counted on to make sure this team is ready every time we step on the court," Taurasi said. "And that's a responsibility we take pretty serious."

What's also helped the team build chemistry faster is that Taurasi and Bird are joined by four other Huskies: Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones and Maya Moore. That's helped Auriemma, their former coach, translate his messages better to the team. In a way, he has more assistants than he could ever dream of, and that firepower on the bench will come in handy during Olympic competition.

Taurasi is the top assistant, and she probably has the most swag of anyone on the team. Although she comes across a little standoffish when you first try to get her attention, she's very cool and candid in person, as if she's never worked with a publicist. And that's a good thing. Her fun, offbeat yet very observant personality is contagious.

You want to ask her more and you want to hear her talk more, because you'll hear something real and honest. For example, when asked how Team USA can keep its edge being that its so talented, she responded, "When there's two countries playing basketball, there's an edge, especially with international basketball about how it's crossed over in the last five or six years. We know them very well; they know us. There's a lot of rivalries, and there's a lot of competition that sparks pretty quick."

Auriemma said the depth and versatility of Team USA is arguably the best it's ever been -- and it's highlighted by Taurasi, one of the top point guards and passers on the team who can put up 30 points on any given night.

Taurasi agreed.

"If you look down the line, we have the best center in the world in Sylvia [Fowles], and then everyone else is pretty much interchangeable, which is I think a pretty good asset for coach to have," she said.

Taurasi said that that depth and versatility will come in handy against Australia (whom she considers talented), Russia (with some former Euroleague champions), France ("incredible talent if they can put it together") and Brazil (with two WNBA players, Janeth Arcain and Iziane Castro Marques).

Remarkably, for the roughly six years she's played overseas in Russia and Turkey, Taurasi said she's never been to London. She said she's excited to check out a few pubs and try shepherd's pie.

But none of that will compare to the moment she leans down and has a gold medal placed around her neck.

"It's a feeling that if I were to describe it in words, it would probably leave a lot to be desired," she said. "It's just a very special feeling of putting a lot of hard work in, of representing your country. Everyone who loves basketball -- not necessarily if you play professionally; it's everyone who's a part of the basketball world -- I think gets a bit of satisfaction out of it, which is a good feeling for everyone."

It will be even a better feeling when it hits her that she led the team as a first-time veteran -- excuse me, young veteran.

Jared Zwerling is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.