Many Happy Returns
Posted: June 17, 2009
Those who have said “you can never go home again” were proven wrong on Wednesday night when three former Mercury players again made their way to US Airways Center – this time as opponents.
On the court, two former Mercury players, Kelly Miller and LaToya Pringle contributed to their new team, the Minnesota Lynx, but returns were not limited to the court. Patrolling the sidelines for Minnesota was none other than Mercury legend Jennifer Gillom, who on June 3 was named the head coach of the franchise.
Gillom was not only an inaugural member of the Mercury more than a decade ago, but she is also the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 2,793 points. Gillom was recognized for her efforts in 2006 when the team unveiled a tribute to four legends of the organization – Cheryl Miller, Michele Timms, Bridget Pettis and Gillom. The four women make up the first coach and general manager of the organization, Miller, along with the first three players.
Pettis, who now shares banner space with Gillom in the northeast corner of the US Airways Center rafters is now an assistant coach with the Mercury and said it’s easy to see why Gillom quickly became a fan favorite during her time in the Valley.
“She gave 100% every time she stepped onto a court and I think the fans here recognized that,” Pettis said. “The fans tonight showed her exactly how much respect they have for her with that great ovation during the introductions.”
“I have so many great memories here with this organization,” Gillom told phoenixmercury.com. “I had a great career here and a truly awesome time. I have nothing but great things to say about the time I spent in Phoenix.”
To say it’s been a very good month for the new head coach of the Lynx would indeed be an understatement. On June 13 – Gillom’s birthday no less - she was recognized for her contributions to the game of basketball when she was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It was a great, great ceremony and one of the biggest moments of my life,” Gillom said. “I didn’t realize how emotional it was going to be until getting to the ceremony and everything just hit me. I’m in this room with all these elite athletes and coaches and it was just amazing to be a part of and to be a member of the Hall of Fame.”
As far as her career as a head coach, Gillom – who has experience at the high school level – said the toughest part of the job is not being able to put on the jersey herself.
“Understanding that you don’t have the control you did as a player. You can’t get out there and score the basketball. You’ve got to get out there and prepare the girls as good as possible and trust you’ll get the best out of them every night.”
Wednesday night was also a homecoming for another fan favorite, former Mercury guard Kelly Miller. Miller spent three seasons playing with the Phoenix Mercury and says her best memory was no doubt helping the team to the 2007 WNBA Championship.
“I have really good memories in Phoenix but I think (winning the title) was the highlight of my basketball career,” Miller said. “That team was fun to be a part of and we had a lot of great players. We had a great run that season and it was very exciting to be a part of.”
After the game, Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi told phoenixmercury.com just how large a piece of the championship puzzle Miller was in 2007.
“Even to say she was a huge part would be an understatement,” the sharpshooter said. “Being a teammate of hers not only in Phoenix but also in Russia, it was really weird playing against her tonight.”
But while talking about that 2007 run really appeared to bring a smile to Miller’s face after the game, the guard truly lit up when talking about the fans who continue to support her in Phoenix.
“I think the Mercury fans are some of the best in the WNBA. They have always been supportive and such great fans. I want to say thanks a lot for all of the support while I was here and the support tonight.”
Pringle With New Role in Minnesota
While the impressive collection of work compiled by both Gillom and Miller made them the highlights of former players coming back to Phoenix on Wednesday night, former Mercury center LaToya Pringle also made her first return as an opponent.
Being traded can sometimes be hard on young players, but Pringle seemed to have taken the offseason transaction which sent her to Minnesota in stride.
“It was a good transition for me,” Pringle said. “I went from a team that had a lot of veterans to a team where I’m one of the older players. Both teams really like the up-tempo game and like to score points. We are very similar.”
Like Miller, Pringle also made it apparent that former Mercury players will always have a special place in their heart for Phoenix fans affectionately referred to as “the X-Factor.”
“This was a great city and I loved playing here,” Pringle told phoenixmercury.com. “I miss everybody, especially all of the Mercury fans.”