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Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 at 12:48 pm  |  41 responses

Decade’s Best: Women’s Player

The Chips and the Salsa.

by Ben York

In an interview I conducted about Diana Taurasi for PhoenixMercury.com earlier this year, Geno Auriemma said something that made a lavish impression on me. “In terms of impact on the court, I don’t know that there is anyone I’ve ever seen that has done the things Diana has done, “ said Auriemma. “And I’ve been around the game for a long time. I’ve said when she was in college, there’s never been anyone I’ve seen that has all of the combined elements that Diana has. We’ve had our share of great players in the women’s game, but I don’t know if there’s ever been one with the skills Diana has — scoring, shooting, passing, leadership, making everyone better around her. When she’s finished, she’ll have every record that exists in women’s basketball; scoring, shooting, assists, rebounding, whatever.”

For Taurasi, her astonishing decade began with the decision to challenge herself. “The day I committed to UConn I knew my life would change,” Taurasi told SLAMonline. “It symbolized an acceptance to wanting to be pushed to the limits on and off the court. That started my decade.” From the moment she decided on UConn, Diana Taurasi started a career that has changed women’s basketball forever.

Lauren Jackson, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Tamika Catchings, Deanna Nolan, and several others undoubtedly deserve to be mentioned in the discussion and one could make a compelling case for each. But in terms of what a player has done on a global basis for the women’s game over the past 10 years, no one comes close to what Diana has accomplished.

And that’s exactly why there is no question she is the Women’s Player of the Decade.

Taurasi is a winner everywhere she goes; I’m not being facetious, she literally has won everywhere. Take this — Taurasi has either won a championship or a medal everywhere she’s played, in every single year this past decade except for 2005. I’ll say that again — she’s been a champion or a medal holder every year this past decade except for one. Unbelieveable. It’s certainly not a coincidence that those championships correlated with Diana Taurasi on the team.

She won a gold medal as part of 2000 USA Basketball Women’s Junior World Championship Qualifying team, a bronze medal in the 2001 USA Junior World Championships, the NCAA Championship at UConn in 2002, 2003, and 2004, a gold medal at the Olympic Games in 2004, a bronze medal at the FIBA World Championships in 2006, the WNBA title in 2007, the Euroleague title in 2007, another gold medal at the Olympic Games in 2008, the Euroleague Title in 2008 and 2009, and her second WNBA title in 2009.

If your mind hasn’t been blown yet, let’s talk about the individual accolades she’s attained over the past decade. She was the Big East Player of the Year twice (2003, 2004), the Naismith Award winner twice (2003, 2004), the Nancy Lieberman Award winner twice (2003, 2004), the NCAA Tournament MVP twice (2003, 2004), WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2004, she made the All-WNBA First Team five times (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), the All-Star game four times (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), she won the WNBA MVP in 2009, and WNBA Finals MVP in 2009.

Not a bad decade of basketball.

But more than the titles she’s won or the individual awards she’s earned, it’s Taurasi’s impact on the women’s game that propels her to the top. It’s her passion, her work ethic, her competitiveness, her fire — all unrivaled. It’s her consistent leadership and belief in her teammates. It sounds tired, but for Taurasi, there really isn’t an “I” in team; there is a clear effort every time you speak with her about basketball to deflect any individual praise back toward her teammates and coaches. For example, say Taurasi carried her team to a victory and no one could honestly make a coherent argument against that fact – she would simply credit her teammates for playing hard and never giving up. She’s never demanded a certain amount of shots, never made an emphasis of personal statistics, and never worried about how she’s viewed amongst the greats. Even in practice, there is a conscious effort to slap each teammates hand every time she walks by them. Every time. It’s part of being a leader. It’s part of keeping herself within the team. You see it when she’s on the bench, cheering on her teammates. She’s the first one to get up to congratulate and/or encourage whoever is coming off the floor, no matter if they’re up by 15 or down by 30.

When I asked Diana to describe the feeling she has when she looks back on what she’s been able to accomplish over the past 10 years, her response highlighted her humble and selfless nature. “It’s been an amazing 10 years of basketball,” Taurasi said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play for and with the best coaches and players basketball will ever see. Through those years, to have the success in every level has meant the most. College, Olympics, WNBA, and Europe — my main objective has been to win.”

Taurasi, like Geno Auriemma said, will probably eclipse the vast majority of WNBA records by the time she walks away from the game — that much is certain. But if you want to look at someone who personifies the best in basketball, both from a player and human being standpoint, look no further than Diana Taurasi. Heck, maybe her best is still yet to come…

“There is a fire in me that wants to be better and accomplish everything I thought would be impossible,” Taurasi said. “And through it, have the time of my life. No regrets.”

***

For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.

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  • Cheny

    thought it’d be Chris Bosh…

  • http://myspace.com/brandnew Bryan

    She started late but Candace Parker is the chosen one of the womens game. And Lauren Jackson has quietly been dominating since she was like 16. Good enough choice though.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Excellent choice. I actually had no idea Diana had titles in international play, which is a huge part of of the pro woman’s game. Fantastic player who deserves the distinction for sure!

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    100% cosign. Diana is amazing.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ben York

    Thanks Ben and Ryne – it’s really almost unreal what she’s accomplished this decade. She was also the fastest to the 4,000 point mark in 2009. Selfless player and person.

  • http://slamonline.com/ niQ

    @Cheny. I was going to say Mike Miller.

  • nicko

    i thought it would be kenrick perkins

  • R

    The endless superlatives and effusive adjectives in Ben’s writing get more and more ridiculous by the article. Everything’s ‘unrivalled’ or ‘irrefutable’. ‘Lavish impression’? Even as a fan of the women’s game it gets hard to read pretty damn quickly.

  • Hussman25

    Would have given it to either Lisa Leslie or Candace Parker… But u cant argue w/ this choice…

  • Hussman25

    Wow… also dont forget about Lauren Jackson… Great player who never gets the luv…

  • Duece76ers

    Seimone Augustus

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Diana is the woMAN! I don’t watch that much WNBA, but much respect to Taurasi, holding it down for the league.

  • http://twitter.com/MuneravenMN MuneravenMN

    Man, trading away all our young studs. First, Brian Bruney for Jamie Hoffman. Then, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson. Now, Mike Dunn and Melky Cabrera for Javier Vasquez. The return players are all nice players, but good god, I hope we’re not falling into the mid-2000s trap of ransoming our future for has-beens who can’t perform in New York. And I will really miss Coke and Cabrera.

  • LA Huey

    @MuneravenMN, i totally agree dude. (wtf?)

  • Christian

    She is supremely talented and I haven’t watched her enough to form an opinion but has she been known to be petulant if things don’t go her way? I thought I remembered a dust-up with Auriemma during her last couple of years at UConn. Also, does she play any defense? This I wasn’t sure of either.

  • Joe

    I like the quick love/shout out for Deanna Nolan!!!!

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    To me the decades best women player is Cappie Pondexter, she takes over games, and crosses people up like nobody in the NBA. She was the Finals MVP of the Phoneix first title. Taurasi is nice, but she takes the dumbest threes and gets away with them, by their coach and I watch the WNBA. She tries hard to be the hero everynight, trying to make silly shots, I like Cappie on that team. If you watch the games, Pondexter gets that ball for her one on one skills, when they need a big bucket. Taurasi, has the Tebow love going for her, but Pondexter is that girl. If Cappie played on a team, where she could take any shots she wants, she would have some MVP awards and scoring titles, She is the real beast.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ben York

    @The Seed – Thanks for reading. I feel you on Cappie – she’s the real deal. But she’s only played in the last 4 years (even though she already has 2 title’s in that time). Dee has the titles in college, Olympics, and overseas to boot. Believe me, I consider CP a friend and love her game; she could go down as one of the greatest 2′s ever. She’s clutch, has fantastic court vision, and sick handles. Had to give this one to Dee though, for the overall body of work.

  • http://atlantadreamblog.blogspot.com petrel

    @MuneravenMN: I’m more upset about us losing Hideki Matsui than Cabrera or Coke. Matsui signed with LA for only one year and $6.5 million. And we replace him with Nick Johnson for one year, $5.5 million? Seems like a huge downgrade for a $1 million saving. But good riddance to Johnny Damon. Diana Taurasi probably would have a better range and throwing arm if we put her out in left field. I will admit though that Damon earned every penny of his 4-year, $64 million contract, one of the few Yankees free agents signed during the mid-2000s we can say earned his contract.

  • hellyea

    rob-0: i have no words for you.

  • pilight

    rob-0 and hellyea: I agree with hellyea. Diana Taurasi is not attractive. I’ve seen her all femmed up, but her face is gross. Lauren Jackson, on the other hand…

  • Ace

    DT is def. a good choice for player of the Decade. Something tells me that if Candace Parker stays around she will break all the records. When DT was guarded by CP during the playoffs she couldn’t do much. That is saying something. Good article and I look forward to next weeks article of the W. Speaking of great female players Elena Delle Donne scored 39 points tonight for Delaware in a victory over Buffalo. Can’t wait till she gets to the WNBA.

  • T

    I can’t believe I am so late reading this… Just because you win makes you the best of the decade????? She scores points and plays on winning teams if she played at Oklahoma instead of UConn would she have won hell no! The WNBA set up PHX w/ Cappie and talent to back her up to win. She makes a lot of rookie mistakes at times and 5 players come to mind easy that are more deserving…SMH

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ben York

    @Ace – Thank you for reading and for your kind words. And I agree about Donne…

  • caune

    @petrel – Come on, now. Johnny Damon may not be that athletic anymore by MLB standards, but he’s still be able to cover much more ground and throw way better than Diana Taurasi. BTW, Taurasi was a great choice for player of the decade. Don’t forget her accomplishments at U-Conn and the Olympic teams, too.

  • http://twitter.com/MuneravenMN MuneravenMN

    @caune: Hence, that’s why I’m so upset about trading away Melky Cabrera.

  • http://www.chicagoskyblog.wordpress.com hoopla

    Great article and great choice. No one else has really come close to duplicating all that DT has done this decade. She has dominated at every level and in every elite league while maintaining a humble team-first attitude. Even though she plays at the highest level year-round, she seems to always have boundless energy and an ever-present positive attitude. She’s gonna dominated the next decade too, for sure…

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Nah it’s gotta be Lauren. She’s an absolute freak of nature.
    Won in Australia, the USA and Europe. MVP.
    Olympic Silver Medal winner, World Championship Gold-Medal winner.
    Lauren Jackson.

  • Q.

    DT3 easily wins this for the decade.. now, if she finds a way to get that D up to par, one could argue that she could go down as greatest ever.. Cheryl Miller still is up there for me.. Lisa has a great body of work, but will get hit w/ the Wilt comparison (meaning she abused ppl 1/2 her size).. Candace has a shot, but those that know the game, can see where she falls off.. still the best talent in the game, though.. in my opinion..

  • SuziQ

    Yeah, but can Diana Taurasi play left field at Yankee Stadium?

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  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/year-round-hoops/ Stephen Litel

    Diana is a good choice. Seems as if most of the other contenders have already been mentioned by other posters…

    I would have to throw Sue Bird into the mix though.

  • Nicole

    Diana was a great choice Ben! When someone talks about women’s basketball, the first person who comes to mind is Diana. She has accomplished more than any other female basketball player, and you’re right, her best is yet to come. Can wait to see what she has in store for the next decade.

  • http://none The Philosopher

    Candace Parker, period.

  • Aly

    I agree, where’s the love for Sue Bird? Undefeated National Championship season at UConn, a WNBA title, 2 olympic gold medals, and first team at like every all-star game. And considering she plays on the same Euro League team as Diana, she’d have those titles too.

  • pilight

    @Aly: Where’s the love for Johnny Damon?! He hit .364 in the World Series, and got on base 44% of the time, hitting in front of Tex and A-Rod and Godzilla. He scored 6 times, drove in 4 runs and stole 3 bases, included the historic double-steal in Game 4! Sure, he throws like a girl, but he did a lot of great things for the Yankees from 2006-09. Saying the Yankees are better off with Melky Cabrera (who’s gone now) than Damon in left is like saying the Lakers are better with Trevor Ariza at SF than Ron Artest.

  • DS44

    I HATE HER!!!!!!

  • ILovemesumu

    @ Deuce 76ers..yeah Seimone is SICK!!! If she would have been on a team that makes mainstream media and is surrounded by other good players, she would def get the recognition that she deserves. But I cant lie tho, DT3 is the BOMB!! I wouldnt have thought of noone else to get the title. Candace on the other hand is boring to watch if you ask me. Lauren Jackson is beast as well. Good Choice though!!! LOVE TAURASI!!!

  • aj4sc

    @ Bryan Posted: Dec.22 at 1:05 pm

    Diana is from my hometown and she’s definitely been dominating throughout her entire basketball career. Whether it be for the local leagues or at her high school, Don Antonio Lugo in Chino, CA. Anyway, having grown up seeing her on the front page of the sports section in our hometown’s paper, I’m quite sure she’s been dominating just as long, if not longer, than Lauren Jackson. She’s a one of a kind ball player!

  • guti

    lauren freaking jackson

  • joyce

    Totally agree–Taurasi is the decade’s best. But the women’s game is getting better all the time, as new athlete’s reap the rewards of Title 9 and the changes in women’s roles in society.

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