Mercury United, Not Giving Up

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

"We work," Alexis Gray-Lawson said to me in a very direct, but kind manner after the team lost to the Tulsa Shock last Sunday. "That's what we do. What else can we do? We go back to the gym and work at getting better. That's it. There's nothing to debate about or discuss; we go back to work. Done. Period."

I had asked Alexis what the Mercury's next step was. Her pointed, moving response smacked me across the face. If I'm honest, I didn't expect her to say anything close to that. I guess, looking back, I didn't have the faintest idea of what her response would be.

But the way she said it, coupled with the look in her eye, made me analyze my own experiences with adversity, and how impressed I am with this year's Mercury team.

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Everything in life is a choice.

Everything.

You can be happy, sad, whatever -- but the manifestation of any emotion comes from a choice we all make to feel the emotion. Physically, yes, a black eye is a black eye. Emotionally, though, it's a choice. It has been said that we have over 70,000 thoughts a day and over 75 percent of them are negative. Choosing your thoughts makes, literally, all the difference. The Mercury, collectively, are making the choice to keep working to get better (more on this later).

This isn't something that I've always known. Rather, I learned it the hard way.

In high school, I played the point guard position. Supposedly, I was the leader of the team. In hindsight, I was a leader when things were easy, but when the going got tough it was a different story. During my junior year, we lost our top scorer whom I continually relied on like a crutch. He made me play better and took an enormous amount of responsibility off my shoulders that I was too scared to take on.

When we found out he'd miss the rest of the year including the state playoffs, something inside me changed (and not for the better).

Instead of uniting my teammates together, I basically folded. Gave up. Figured it was a lost cause. But in doing so, I let my teammates, coaches and family down equally as much as myself.

Indeed, I'm ashamed of my attitude and mentality during those few months. I'm sure I wasn't very fun to be around and certainly wasn't close to inspiring any confidence in those around me. Back then, my outlook was that things happened to me rather than admit I was in full control of my thoughts and how I could have (and should have) responded.

I didn't realize back then that how you respond to any situation reveals a lot about your attitude, perception and character. Instead of seeing the challenge as an opportunity, I was afraid and limited myself before even getting started.

In all likelihood, that's probably why I internally assumed that Alexis Gray-Lawson (and the entire Mercury team) would have a woe-is-me, frustrated attitude.

Wow. I couldn't have been more off-base.

Although a 2-7 record isn't what anyone envisioned to start the 2012 season, as a team, the Mercury doesn't see the hardship and adversity they've faced so far as happening to them; they see it as something they can work on to get better.

As Gray-Lawson brilliantly put it, what else can they do?

Having the good fortune to be around the team, I can 100 percent attest to that statement. Playing without two of the best players in the world isn't remotely close to an easy adjustment, especially considering that multiple players have had to step up in brand new roles (several are still learning the Mercury's system of play).

For the Mercury, without Taurasi and Taylor, this starts and ends with "deliberate" practice. That is, activity that is explicitly intended to improve performance that reaches for objectives beyond one's level of capability provides feedback on results and requires high levels of consistent repetition.

For example: Simply taking hundreds of jump shots is not deliberate practice. Repeating offensive sets, looking at advanced statistics, observing the result of lineup changes, and making adjustments -- that's deliberate practice.

And that's precisely what the Mercury has been doing -- working harder, deliberately.

Again, a 2-7 start is certainly difficult for everyone with any tie to the Mercury organization -- players, coaches, fans, staff, etc. Yet, it is encouraging to see how hard the team continues to work to get better. They don't make any excuses, in spite of how difficult things are. The extra steps the team is taking isn't easy, but that's the way it must be.

They're close to putting together one of those typical Mercury games we're accustomed to. Really, the past few games have been determined by one bad quarter. Their 3-point shooting has been uncharacteristically off, and they're due for a breakout game.

One of these days, it will happen. Things will click. The team has faith that if they keep putting in the extra hours, good things will happen.

Simply put, the Mercury is working too hard for it not to.

The Mercury takes on the Washington Mystics tonight at US Airways Center at 7:00 p.m. Arizona time. For tickets, visit www.PhoenixMercury.com.