OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Despite a wealth of talent on the U.S. women's basketball roster, only three players have world championship experience.
"I think for the three of us, it's important that we show the way," said Bird, who won a gold medal in 2002 and a bronze in 2006 at worlds. "That's what the older players did for us at our first world championship. You know nine games in 11 days is not easy, and you have to be mentally and physically ready for it."
Sylvia Fowles and Swin Cash have competed in the Olympics, with Fowles playing on the 2008 team and Cash in 2004. Still, that schedule is different from worlds because there is a day off between games.
That leaves over half the roster without any major international experience. Connecticut senior Maya Moore is the youngest on the team at 21, and former UConn player Tina Charles is taking on more of the load in the post.
"We're really not that experienced if you look at us," Taurasi said. "It's Maya's first time overseas and Tina's too. We're still learning as the tournament goes on."
After a day off Sunday, the U.S. will open the second round Monday against Canada.
So far the abundance of new players hasn't hampered the team. The Americans have cruised through the first three games, winning by an average of 34 points. But the games will get more difficult. The U.S. will face Canada on Monday, followed by Belarus on Tuesday and rival Australia on Wednesday.
"It's hard to keep the intensity up for nine games and we try to help them through it," Bird said. "For the newbies, this experience is needed because they are going to be the next Olympians."
Lindsay Whalen, who has played internationally in Prague the last three seasons, has tried to absorb knowledge from the veterans.
"For a lot of us, it's the first time in the world championship. We're trying to learn from the people who played before," said the 28-year-old Whalen. "You get experience by playing. Every game, we gain knowledge."
Even coach Geno Auriemma is getting his first real taste of international basketball. He was an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympic team that won a gold medal.
"I don't know if there's a less experienced team in this tournament than us. It's just a matter of us growing up fast," he said. "You got nine games and you hope that you grow up to get to the medal round and then really grow up so that you have enough to win the games you have to win in the medal round."