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Taurasi shoots from lip with cheeky antics

It was Friday morning at Cox Pavilion, and USA Basketball women’s national team mini-camp practice was winding down — or so I thought — when Diana Taurasi walked out as I was walking in. Taurasi apparently had some sort of business to attend to in the tunnel linking Cox Pavilion to the Thomas &Mack Center.

In a little while, if her former coach at Connecticut Geno Auriemma would ever quit blowing his whistle, she and I were going to talk. I don’t think she knew this yet. The nice woman from USA Basketball said she would take care of it, though.

When Taurasi returned from the tunnel, she spent most of the last hour of mini-camp practice sitting against the wall of the Cox practice gym. For starters, she doesn’t need to practice. She’s Diana Taurasi, one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time.

Secondly, they should have called this a maxi-camp instead of mini-camp, because there were 33 players vying for 12 roster spots on the team that will travel to Turkey for next year’s world championships. One could bump into one of the other 32 players trying to impress Geno, and then one could turn her ankle or something.

So Taurasi just sat there and watched mini-camp unfold, and every so often she would get up to attend to business in the tunnel.

I already knew Diana Taurasi is one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time, because I had seen her play at UConn, mostly on the off day between the men’s national semifinals and the championship game.

Sometimes you just need a basketball fix, and I would much rather watch the women than, say, Bobcats vs. Magic, because unlike the Bobcats and Magic — and the Timberwolves — the women listen to their coaches and run the plays as diagrammed.

Diana Taurasi, who somehow has turned 31, has won three NCAA championships, three Olympic gold medals, two WNBA titles, five EuroLeague titles, one FIBA World Championship. She has been named WNBA Rookie of the Year, WNBA Most Valuable Player, one of the top 15 players in WNBA history … and so on and so on and so on.

This was why when she enrolled at UConn, Geno insist she wear No. 3. He said that was Babe Ruth’s number, and Taurasi was going to become the Babe Ruth of women’s hoops.

Taurasi’s trademark, besides her tenacity and her jump shot, is her tight bun hairstyle. But a couple of years ago she let her hair down for ESPN The Magazine, and they applied some serious product to it. Then she took off all her clothes and they put Taurasi and her luxurious hair on the cover of The Body Issue.

She’s also had trials and tribulations, some of both, enough to put her in basketball rehab, as Sports Illustrated put it.

She got arrested for DUI after a playoff win in Phoenix; she tested positive for a banned stimulant while playing in Europe (it was a false positive reading and she was cleared); the primary benefactor of the Russian pro team for which she played, a former Soviet spy named Shabtai von Kalmanovic, was shot dead while his car sat at a traffic light.

Taurasi thought Kalmanovic was the most interesting man in the world. She had gone to his office to pick up Beyonce tickets when she learned he had been murdered.

So there are the championships and the individual honors and the letting down of the bun and the personal issues.

And then a couple of weeks ago, Diana Taurasi kissed a girl.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it happened on the court, a couple of weeks ago, during a playoff game between Taurasi’s team, which is Phoenix, and Seimone Augustus’ team, which is Minnesota.

The two bumped chests twice away from the ball. Then they got into each other’s face. Then Taurasi kissed Augustus on the cheek.

It was like Magic smooching Isiah Thomas, or a Bizarro World version of that.

Was it the greatest diss of all time? Might have been. It was so outrageous that everybody began to laugh, and what could have been an ugly moment became instead a viral YouTube video.

“She just wanted some of my deliciousness,” Augustus said in the postgame news conference, and that made it even more fun.

When I asked Taurasi about The Kiss, she said she and Augustus “go way back,” so she more or less felt compelled to do something. Plus, she is known for her wit. Plus, Phoenix was losing 70-44 at the time.

“I think the WNBA playoffs or something are going on, I am not exactly sure,” wrote a wiseguy on one of those wiseguy Internet sites the next day. “But they are kissing girls during the game, so I figured someone might find that interesting.”

“I’ll take it,” Diana Taurasi said after mini-camp practice finally ended Friday, and then she excused herself and went back into the tunnel before I could ask about her deliciousness.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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