Candice Dupree a smooth operator

A straight line.

That's how Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines describes his veteran forward Candice Dupree, and he means it as a compliment.

What is more consistent, more sturdy, more sure a thing than a straight line? No jagged edges, no unexpected dips, no changes of direction. Just the shortest distance between starting a game and winning it. That's Dupree.

Dupree embodies that steadiness, and Gaines and the Phoenix Mercury have come to rely on it.

Her frame is long, lithe and strong, her face typically stoic, her manner laid-back and her game, says Diana Taurasi, is "so smooth."

"She doesn't force anything," Taurasi said. "She's actually one of my favorite people to watch play because the game kind of flows through her."

WNBA fans who pay only peripheral attention may have heard Dupree's name and understand she is a very good player, a three-time All-Star. Those who are more invested understand Dupree's power on the floor and ability to take over a game, and maybe even take it over while people are paying attention to someone else.

"On some nights she's going to be the one to carry us and on other nights she's not, and then you look at the box score and she's got 18 [points] and 12 [rebounds] and you shake your head," Taurasi said. "She has amazing talent without even having to try."

Oh, but she tries. Perhaps not in that obvious, in-your-face way that people easily recognize, because she's not often emotional on the floor, not terribly demonstrative. A nice, quick fist pump might be the most you will see.

"I guess I've always been that calm, cool, collected person on the floor," Dupree said. "I think through the years, people took that as being lazy or not caring or not being interested. But my style has always worked for me and it's helped to get me where I am."

Dupree is doing an interview over lunch Tuesday, the day after the Mercury fell to the Chicago Sky in their WNBA season opener. The team has a few days off before embarking on a three-game road trip to Seattle, Minnesota and Indiana.

Dupree will spend her time away from the court as she does on it, low-key but purposefully. She walks her dog early in the day before it gets too hot. Checks the Internet. Watches some TV. Perhaps fixes herself something to eat and makes sure her apartment is picked up -- she admits that she's a little obsessive about keeping things clean.

The basketball life, which has taken her around the world and often from home and family, is not necessarily one that she would have envisioned when she was a high school athlete, playing multiple sports and trying to "keep busy."

Dupree was an active kid, raised by a military mom, along with her twin sister, Crystal, and younger sister Shayna. Born in Oklahoma City, she spent four years in Germany before moving to Cheyenne, Wyo., as a young girl and then to Tampa, Fla., just before she started high school. Dupree said she and her twin sister took on a lot while their single mother worked.

"We took care of each other and our younger sister," Dupree said. "We learned a lot about responsibility."

Fraternal twins, she and Crystal -- who each have tattoos bearing half a lion to represent their shared Leo astrological sign -- couldn't have been more different. Crystal was into hair and makeup, Candice wanted to play outside with the boys who lived nearby. They had different sets of friends growing up. Candice is taller, and her sister is not at all interested in sports.

"We were into totally different things," Candice said. "You wouldn't automatically think we were twins by looking at us."

If Candice went her own way, it was to sports. As a teen, she played softball, volleyball and basketball and participated in track and field as a jumper ("I hate running," she says).

She played only a year and a half of AAU club-level basketball. It wasn't until her junior year, when she thought she might like to play college volleyball, that her mother set her straight, telling her she would have more of a future in basketball.

So basketball it was.

Dupree played four years at Temple under coach Dawn Staley, who prepared her for the rigors of pro basketball. They even talked about life in the WNBA. But nothing quite prepared Dupree for the other part of life as an American basketball player -- spending half the year overseas in a foreign country, surrounded by unfamiliar languages, cultures and food. It was not an easy fit at first.

"You just have to experience it," Dupree said.

She went to Russia in her first overseas season and came home after two months.

Dupree found more comfort in Poland and Slovakia, and eventually returned to Russia, where she has played for the past two years under Chicago Sky head coach Pokey Chatman for Spartak Moscow and plans to return next season.

There is a lot of downtime overseas. Practice, workout, two games a week. The rest of the time -- particularly in a bitter-cold Moscow winter -- is spent largely holed up, watching TV and movies, logging on to Skype to talk with family and friends.

Dupree began her WNBA career in 2006, drafted by Chicago, where she played for four seasons before being traded to Phoenix in 2010.

Last season was the most difficult of her WNBA career. She missed 21 games because of a knee injury that required midseason surgery and she sat on the bench as Phoenix struggled to a 7-27 record. Before the injury, she had missed just one game in the WNBA.

"It was only the second time in my career that I was out with an injury," Dupree said. "It was hard. When you are in college and it happens, you feel like everything goes on without you. But last year, it was just hard not being able to be out there with my team. And we are struggling and you can't really say anything, because you can't do anything to help, you know?"

Chatman joined the Sky after Dupree had departed for Phoenix, but has coached her the past two years with Spartak.

"Candice Dupree is so smart and so good," Chatman said. "She is a post player who thinks like a guard. She sees everything. She is like a quarterback for posts out there. I keep teasing her that I need to get her back."

Gaines isn't liable to allow that to happen.

"She's a tough matchup," Gaines said. "She is never on a roller-coaster ride. I know what we are getting every night."

The straight line, as Gaines calls her, says she is a "goofball and sarcastic" around family and friends. Taurasi frequently calls her a "weirdo."

Mercury president Amber Cox says Dupree has a "dry sense of humor."

"But she's funny," Cox said. "She's probably one of my favorite people to ever play here."

But on the court, it all washes away. And you know exactly what you are going to get.

"She is our steadiness," Taurasi said. "She's just cool."