Taurasi was never as good as advertised ... she's been even better

Mohegan — The greatest women’s basketball player in the history of the world returned to where it began for her Friday night, Diana Taurasi back in Connecticut, now 20 years removed from the first time UConn fans learned of her — and her cachet.

Hard to believe. But, yes, 20 years ago this month — July, 1999 — Taurasi attended the Nike All-American Camp in Indianapolis with about 80 or so other high school girls. Carl Adamec of the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, now the dean of UConn beat writers, convinced me I should travel to Indy with him to write about this whiz kid from California.

This is why we, to this day, tease Geno Auriemma that Adamec is the most important male figure in the history of the program. No other women’s team in the country had two beat writers at this camp (or even one), ultimately illustrating the interest in and stature of the UConn program.

"Wow. Yeah, IUPUI," Taurasi said Thursday, alluding to the place where the camp took place: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the longest moniker since supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

“Ashley Robinson, who was in the same class as me, just found a diary from Nike Camp. And there was a little piece how we got in trouble for laughing at (Nike Manager of Women's Basketball) Felicia Hall's last speech. Who were the two clowns laughing? Me and Ashley Robinson. Go figure.”

Would you like to come along for the ride?

Here is what Carl and I experienced 20 years ago this month:

• We arrived in Indy late Sunday afternoon, July 18, 1999. This was before most cell phones. Or at least anything you could carry that had access to something called the Internet. When we got to the hotel, all we knew was that the Yankees beat Montreal 6-0.

It wasn’t until we were in the bar watching “SportsCenter” that we learned David Cone pitched a perfect game. And we missed it.

I barked just loud enough for Auriemma to hear, “I just missed Coney’s perfect game because I have to be here watching this (stuff?”)

His reply wasn’t suitable for family newspapers.

• The camp began the next day. We ran into UCLA coach Kathy Olivier, who we met during the previous season when UConn played at Pauley Pavilion. Taurasi, essentially, was down to two college choices: UConn (3,000 miles away) and UCLA (very near her hometown of Chino).

“What are you guys up to?” Olivier asked pleasantly. When we told her, “We're following Diana Taurasi around,” she turned ghost white.

• It took roughly 32 seconds to figure out Taurasi was the best player in the gym. Forget that she made every shot. It was the way the other kids deferred to her. Almost revered her. The same demeanor we’ve seen for the last 20 years.

Later that day, Auriemma came up to me and asked what I thought of her.

I said, “Yo, if you have to cheat to get her, I’ll make sure the media looks the other way.”

(Joking, joking).

Auriemma grinned. But he knew way before that moment she was a transcendent player.

• I believe we mentioned to Taurasi that the NCAA tournament West Regional was played in California a few months earlier. The attendance figured needed only three digits.

“It would be a shame if you had such a great college career and nobody was there to see it,” Adamec told Taurasi, which, loosely translated, is called a direct hit.

• We got to know DePaul coach Doug Bruno very well that weekend. Awesome guy, as the rest of UConn women’s fans have learned.

But we were in the hotel bar one night when Bruno learned No. 1 recruit (and camp attendee) Aminata Yanni was going to rival Illinois and not DePaul.

He immediately ordered four Miller Lites from the waitress.

The waitress goes, “Are you ordering a round for your friends?”

Bruno goes, “no,” and takes the four beers back to his room.

• We also met Jessica Moore, Morgan Valley and Ann Strother and introduced them to UConn fans via our stories.

• We had a great night with Georgetown coach Pat Knapp, who bought us all dinner at St. Elmo’s, one of the greatest steakhouses in the country. We laughed the night away with Knapp, Bruno, Auriemma and Chris Dailey.

We learned that Knapp got so mad once after a loss he ripped off his sport coat and stuffed it in a trash can. Ah, coaching.

Taurasi committed to UConn a few months later. It was hard not to giggle because we knew, having seen her, that she’d instantly captivate the UConn fans. She sure did. And hasn’t stopped.

Twenty years have passed. Turns out Diana Taurasi was never as good as advertised. She’s been even better.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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