Diana Taurasi 'feels great,' but says WNBA restart is 'fragile'
Taurasi said making it through the first two days of Mercury practices at IMG Academy was 'an accomplishment' after a lost 2019 season.
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Phoenix, ARIZONA/USA - July 05, 2018: Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) during a Sun vs Mercury WNBA basketball game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Photo Credit: Chris Poss
Hour by hour all through the early part of the summer, Diana Taurasi and her wife, Penny Taylor, a three-time champion with the Phoenix Mercury and an assistant coach for the franchise until this week, went back and forth about whether Taylor and their son, Leo, would join Taurasi and the Mercury at the WNBA “clean site” at IMG Academy.
It was never a question as to whether Taurasi – who missed most of last season with back and hamstring injuries – would play. But ultimately, the family decided it would be safer for Taylor and Leo to remain in Phoenix while Taurasi competed for title No. 4.
That’s just one of many potential distractions facing Taurasi and her teammates as they embark on the adventure that will be the 2020 WNBA season. As training camp begins for the Mercury in Florida, Taurasi was just content to have made it through physically without much wear and tear.
“I feel great,” Taurasi said. “After two days of training camp, to be able to get through everything, that to me is an accomplishment alone.”
Taurasi did take part in the USA Basketball national tour this winter, competing against college teams across the country, but played very few minutes and was not her typical, aggressive self. The last time we saw the Taurasi we know was in the legendary Game 5 of the semifinals against Seattle in September 2018.
While Taurasi, the top scorer in WNBA history, is known for her ability to put the ball in the basket, head coach Sandy Brondello has said for years that Taurasi is most valuable as a floor general who can galvanize the Mercury in tight spots. Adding Taurasi back into a rotation that now also includes four-time All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith and veteran Bria Hartley will make for, Brondello believes, a backcourt that is “really hard to guard.”
“In these first two days already, we see the benefits of having another play-maker on the court, someone else who can handle the ball,” Taurasi added. “Nothing changes with me on the court, with BG (Brittney Griner) on the court, we need Skylar to be one of the best players in the league.”
Still, Brondello admitted that for both players (Diggins-Smith also missed 2019 after the birth of her son), the extended layoff coupled with the quick fuse of the clean-site training camp mean that even though both veterans have diligently stayed in shape, it could be next season or beyond before they are able to play their normal heavy minutes load. The challenges of conditioning at the clean site aren’t exclusive to Taurasi or her new star point guard, though.
“Players aren’t conditioned, so I would expect some muscle injuries here and there,” Brondello said. “I need to condition them but also to make sure they’re not getting injured with muscle injuries.”
Much of what faces WNBA players in Bradenton, Fla., this season is up to personal accountability. Unless most everyone is following public health rules and staying on track with their basketball work, teams will not be successful and the whole operation is threatened.
When asked about what changes about leadership at the clean site versus a normal WNBA season, Taurasi said that getting hundreds of independent players, coaches and staff to follow every procedure will be hard.
“These are times where you need a lot of people to lead,” Taurasi said. “You need a lot of people to show up and show their character, and that’s what we tried to do, putting this team together with people that had high-character.
“But it’s fragile, any little thing of irresponsibility, any attitude of thinking that your actions don’t affect the next person. At any minute this thing could shut down if you make the wrong decision, so I think we’re all pretty serious about that and we take that responsibility to heart, and that’s why it’s worked up to this point for us.”
Most seasons, the return of Taurasi would be the predominant training camp story in the WNBA. Yet with so much up in the air, the challenges facing the future Hall of Famer just to get back on the court are quite similar to what is facing most everyone at the clean site. Taurasi trusts the maturity of her teammates and feels good physically, but hope is all anyone can seize onto at this point in time.