Mercury stars Taurasi and Griner relish shared Olympic experience

RIO DE JANEIRO — In talking about her dominant performance in Team USA’s victory over Serbia earlier this week, guard Diana Taurasi saw an opportunity to make a joke at her teammate Brittney Griner’s expense.

“I’ve just been the beneficiary of (Griner) not being able to score in the post,” Taurasi said with a sly grin as Griner snuck in beside her after practice Thursday. “So I’ve had to do a little bit more on the perimeter.”

But Griner was quick with a response of her own.

“Ask her who she wants, she’ll pick me though,” she said.

The two stars who usually spend their summers together playing for the Phoenix Mercury are teammates on Team USA at the Olympics for the first time. Each brings a different perspective to the experience – Taurasi, the veteran Olympian, and Griner, the rookie.

Griner lights up like a kid on Christmas in describing what the experience is like.

“I love it. It’s just different than playing in the WNBA. We’re playing on the biggest stage possible, you’re playing for your country,” Griner said. “And being around all these great players, it brings out the best in you, and I’m just happy to be here. I’m happy to be able to step out on the court.”

Griner also said she’s trying to take it all in as a first time Olympian, learning from the veterans in order to improve her all around game. But she’s not looking to change a lot.

“I didn’t want to get here and do something different and mess up, that’s not what got me here,” she said. “So I want to do things that I know I can do well.”

Aside from the thrill of playing with the best in the world, Griner said that what she has enjoyed the most is seeing another side of the women on her team, a side she does not usually get to see when they are opponents in the WNBA.

“It’s awesome. That’s my favorite part, being able to hang around, play some card games, and joke on the bus,” she said. “You get to see people in a different light, and everybody gets along. I found out a couple people are a bit funnier than what I thought, we got some real jokesters on this team.”

Taurasi is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Griner. While this is Griner’s first campaign for a gold, it is likely Taurasi’s last. She has been a staple for the USA women’s basketball team since 2004. She is a bit more reserved than Griner in talking about her Olympic experience, trying to absorb and enjoy the moment.

“It does mean a lot because I am a little bit older, it’s probably my last one,” she said. “When I look back on it, you don’t get many opportunities in this game.”

She won three gold medals in her previous three Olympics – Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, and London in 2012. She just broke her own U.S. Olympic record for three point shots made and attempted, and she talks about the international game with the kind of insight that comes with experience.

“The international game presents itself differently,” she said. “The way we look at basketball and the way we think about it is different than the way they call it, play it, live it. And when you watch the Olympics you can see that a little bit. There’s a lot more that goes into it.”

But even though she’s been here before, she still relishes the chance to represent the United States at the games and thinks her purpose for playing is bigger than herself.

“When that national anthem comes on there’s nothing better,” Taurasi said. “You’re playing for all the people that play basketball back in the U.S., which there’s nothing better than that.”

Though this is their first time sharing the Olympic stage, Taurasi and Griner have been teammates since 2013. They won a title together with the Mercury in 2014, setting a WNBA record with 29 regular season wins.

“There’s nothing I can tell BG that she doesn’t know already,” Taurasi said. “She knows what needs to be done to win, and that’s what I love about BG. I don’t have to tell her anything.”

Well, maybe just one thing.

“Except for her curfew every once in awhile,” said Taurasi.