A Penny Saved... A Penny Returned

By Brad G. Faye, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: July 17, 2009

Following a week that consisted of a pair of victories over the Monarchs – including one in Sacramento at the buzzer – and Cappie Pondexter’s second-straight Player of the Week honor, it didn’t appear things could get any better for the first-place Phoenix Mercury. That changed significantly on Friday when the ball club announced former Mercury All-Star Penny Taylor would be rejoining the team.

Taylor spent four seasons with the Mercury between 2004 and 2007, blossoming in that final season with averages of 17.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per contest. Come the postseason, the native of Australia remained an integral part of the team’s success, ultimately helping the franchise to its first title in WNBA history.

Things did not go as well for Taylor and the Mercury in 2008. Hoping to help her nation to Olympic gold in Beijing, the forward took the first part of the Mercury season off to train with her team. Taylor not only came up short of fulfilling her goal, but due to an ankle injury suffered during the games, could only watch as a pair of her Mercury teammates helped lead Team USA to a gold-medal finish.

"It was just a case of me making the decision to focus on the Olympics and needing some rest afterwards," said Taylor, who signed her contract in the MVP Room on the fourth floor of US Airways Center on Friday morning. "After that I was required to have the ankle surgery so that was something else I needed to work my way back from."

One year later, however, things are looking much better for both Taylor and the Mercury. The team currently sits atop the Western Conference standings and this even before the return of a lethal scorer who helped keep Phoenix the WNBA’s top scoring team in 2006 and 2007.

“With Penny we not only add a veteran player with experience, but someone who is probably one of the top 10 players in the world,” Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines said. “If she hadn’t been here in the past we might be worried about her fitting in but she knows the players, she knows the system and she loves playing in front of these fans in Phoenix.”

A two-time WNBA All-Star, Taylor came to Phoenix via the dispersal draft for the Cleveland Rockers in 2004. The 6-1 forward was selected first overall by the Mercury and says she hasn’t looked back.

"I loved everything right from the start," Taylor said of her transition from Cleveland to Phoenix. "I loved the city, I loved the ballclub, even love playing in this arena. I feel really comfortable here and while there have been some changes, I have so many great memories from being here and it's good to be back."

That 2004 campaign also saw the Mercury add another valuable piece in University of Connecticut standout, Diana Taurasi, whom they selected first overall in the 2004 WNBA Draft. As Taurasi explained to PhoenixMercury.com, it did not take long for the pair of scorers to form a special relationship.

“I always say that Penny and I came to Phoenix together,” Taurasi said. “We’ve built a great relationship as both friends and teammates over the years and I’m glad she’s back. When Penny’s at 100 percent and is on the court I always feel our team is going to be capable of doing a lot of great things.”

Despite having two rising stars to build around in 2004, the Mercury failed to reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that the Mercury's streak would be broken, thanks to a strong close to the regular season by Taylor.

For the week ending on August 12, Taylor even earned her first ever Player of the Week honor after helping Phoenix to a 3-0 record. In the three contests, the seven-year veteran averaged 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, three assists and 2.3 steals per game.

In no way did Taylor slow down once the playoffs began, as she and a determined ballclub fought their way through the postseason, forcing a veteran Shock team to a decisive Game 5 in the WNBA Finals. In that game, Taylor showed first-hand why - especially when on the game’s grandest stage - she has the ability to stand out as one of the greatest in the world. In a 108-92 victory on the road, the starting forward contributed 30 points behind 18-for-18 shooting from the free throw line in the series-clinching contest.

The 2007 WNBA Finals MVP, Cappie Pondexter, has kept in touch with Taylor, and says that Phoenix has always remained on her mind.

“Penny and I played together in Russia during this past offseason,” the guard explained. “Every other day we would talk about Phoenix and she would say how much she misses it and how much she would love to come back. After she had the surgery, I honestly didn’t think there was any way she would make it back, but her return shows just how much she missed being a part of this team.”

Pondexter went on to say that much like Taylor missed her Mercury teammates, the feeling was indeed mutual. It’s precisely why the forward’s attitude and ability on the floor will be welcomed back with open arms.

“She will be a great addition to this team, the kind of player that can really put anybody over the top," Pondexter said. "She’s a nightmare matchup for opponents, is versatile, gritty and has experience at the championship level.”

“She was huge for us during her time here,” assistant coach Bridgett Pettis said. “It wasn’t just the points she brought to this ballclub but it was that fight. She brought that fight with her each and every game and that was obviously one of the things we missed during the 2008 season.”

Pettis, like Gaines, agrees that despite the roster changes the team has undergone since that 2007 championship season, Taylor should have no problem feeling right at home again in the Valley.

“She’s a veteran," the assistant coach added. "She’s a mature player who is going to come in here and understand her role and accept it. She knows the situation here and we have no doubts she will again return to the locker room with a positive attitude.”

"There have been some new additions to this team and they're all really playing so well together," Taylor said. "I just want to fit in where I can and enjoy it. I love the style of basketball they play here and have seen how successful it can be. I'm just looking forward to being back out there again."

Among those new additions Taylor alluded to is starting point guard Tameka Johnson, who told PhoenixMercury.com she can’t wait for the opportunity to take the court with her newest teammate.

“Being somebody who has always admired Penny from afar, I’m really anxious and excited to see how well she and I fit together,” the playmaker said. “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. She’s going to bring a ton to this team including fresh legs which makes me really happy I’m on her side right now.”

As far as when the team and its fans can expect to see Taylor back in a Mercury jersey on the court again, the team's President, Jay Parry insists the front office is just as anxious for her return.

"We all can't wait to see her back out there again, but with things like this it's obviously impossible to put an exact date on anything," Parry said. "We just want to make sure she's healthy and ready to contribute to this ballclub which is something we know is important to her and something she wants to do as soon as possible."

Regardless of the exact date, knowing that a team already stacked with talent and already leading the WNBA in contests won has just gotten even better – a scary thought for opponents already seeded “down under” the Mercury.