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.”

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For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.