June 13, 2024 

Trio of Phoenix Mercury Olympians brings unique perspectives to Team USA

Griner, Taurasi and Copper share what is means to make the coveted roster

Three years ago, after winning the gold medal with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi uttered the words “See you in Paris” as she walked away from her postgame interview.

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Now Taurasi is making good on her statement, being named to her sixth Olympic team, the most by any American man or woman in USA Basketball.

Taurasi won’t be the Mercury’s only representative in Paris. She’ll be joined by center Brittney Griner, who will play in her third Olympics, and wing Kahleah Copper, who is making her Olympic debut.

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Each of the three Phoenix Mercury Olympians arrives with different levels of experience on the U.S. national team, and they look ahead to Paris with different perspectives.

“Credit to the Phoenix Mercury. I mean, I guess we got something special here in the Valley, must be in the water,” Griner told reporters Tuesday. “But I’m just super happy I get to share this experience with two of my teammates, one for the first time and then one for the third time. It’s just a different beast when you put on that USA jersey and especially when you see two of your teammates with you to put on that jersey.”

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner plays defense in Team USA Women's National Team Mini Camp
Brittney Griner plays defense in Team USA Women’s National Team Mini Camp in Cleveland, Ohio on April 3, 2024 (Photo credit: USA Basketball)

Griner’s trip to Paris will be her first international competition since February 2022, when she was detained in Russia. That’s just one of the many factors highlighting Griner’s journey to the Olympic roster. She’s already had to overcome a toe fracture that forced her to miss the first 10 games of the WNBA season, all while preparing to welcome her first child with her wife Cherelle in July.

“A lot of exciting things happening [are] right now,” Griner said. “Got our first one on the way, [I’m] back on the court, just a lot of good things happening in my life right now, and I’m really happy. [I’m] playing for more than just Phoenix Mercury, for my hometown, playing for my little one on the way and trying to make him proud.”

In Tokyo, Griner led Team USA in scoring, alongside Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson, averaging 16.5. She also added 7.2 rebounds per game. 

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For Taurasi playing in her sixth Olympic games, there’s no doubt her wealth of experience will be a benefit to Team USA. At age 42, she’s still one of the WNBA’s top players and scoring threats despite being in year 20 of her pro career. Taurasi says she never expected to get this far, but is thankful to have the opportunity.

“To be honest, when I played my first one in ‘04, I honestly was like, wow, that was cool. Probably that’s it, right, like just one Olympics. That’s good,” Taurasi told reporters. “And now going into my sixth, you know, I’m just, I don’t have any words to really describe it. It’s humbling. It’s an honor, and I’m excited to go and, you know, get the journey started.”

Similar to Griner, Taurasi is looking forward to sharing the Olympic stage with two of her teammates. Although it is only Copper’s first year with the Mercury, Griner and Taurasi are excited to be at her side for her first Olympic games.

“It’s a special moment for Kah,” Taurasi said. “You know, her path and journey has been different than a lot of people’s. And the one thing that I admire the most about it is all she did was continue to get better at basketball by any means. Playing overseas, continuing to improve year by year, and then you look at her now and it’s just an incredible story. And she gets all the credit for that. And you know that first Olympics, there’s nothing like it.”

Kahleah Copper looks to pass while playing for Team USA against Belgium in 2022
Kahleah Copper plays for Team USA during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in a match against Belgium on Feb. 8, 2024, in Antwerp, Belgium. (Photo credit: USA Basketball)

Unlike Taurasi, who made her first Olympic roster as a rookie, or Griner, who was in year four when she went for the first time, Copper is making her Olympic debut as a nine-year WNBA veteran.

Her first Team USA experience came in 2022, when Copper helped clinch a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. In six games, she averaged 9.5 points on 55.5% shooting from the field and 41.7% from three. Copper also represented Team USA in February at the 2024 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Antwerp, Belgium.

“For me to get [WNBA] Finals MVP [in 2021], nobody in the beginning of the season would have said it would have been me, let alone winning the championship. So that was my number one [career moment] for a while,” Copper told reporters before getting emotional. “But just for my process … like y’all see this, y’all see game winners, y’all see that, but like y’all don’t see like, what it takes, what it takes, how many nights like you prepare so long for this but for it to happen for me in year nine, it’s so special. So [making the Olympic team is] definitely number one.”

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For Copper, making the Olympic team is the culmination of hard work in a journey riddled with challenges and changes. From the early part of her career, when she was traded from the Washington Mystics to the Chicago Sky, to finding her current home with the Mercury, Copper never wavered.

She says her journey throughout her career has shaped her into the player she is, and allowed her to be an inspiration for other young players who look up to her. Copper has had the opportunity to win a WNBA championship and play with legends of the game, and now she’ll get to call herself an Olympian.

When asked what excites her most about going to Paris, Copper’s answer was simple.

“Winning a gold medal,” Copper said. “Like, I don’t think it’s anything equivalent to it. Not many people have it. Not many people experience it. So I really just want the full experience and then just top it off with a gold medal.”

Written by Tia Reid

Tia Reid covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. Her other work has also appeared on NCAA.com, College Gym News, Cronkite News/Arizona PBS and the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. Tia is a senior at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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