Taylor Adjusts to New Role

By Mark Heller
June 9, 2007

The onion-sized bruise on her left leg, tender knees and welts on her right leg are Penny Taylor’s not-so-subtle reminders she’s playing a different game.

Time was, the 6-foot-2 forward from Australia was too big for guards to defend. Smaller shooting guards and small forwards couldn’t keep up with her inside-outside combination on offense.

These days, it’s about pushing around and colliding; both giving and receiving.

It’s working out for the Mercury and their All-Star, slowly, with a lot of ice packs.

A self-admitted shooting struggle hampered Taylor for the first couple weeks this season, but she scored 21 points in Thursday’s win over Chicago. She hit three 3-pointers, drove to the basket, posted up inside, rebounded and absorbed a couple punishing charges.

She hasn’t played a post position since age 13, but coach Paul Westhead’s style demands quickness and athleticism over size. Since she arrived for the second half of last season, it’s been a position change progression.

She saw a little time at her natural small forward position when she first arrived to play under Westhead. The Mercury had Kamila Vodichkova, Kristen Rasmussen and Jennifer Lacy inside. But when Vodichkova missed the end of the season with a knee injury, Taylor had to play inside full time.

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“It hasn’t been the easiest thing to do, but it’s what the team needs,” Taylor said Friday before heading to Sacramento for tonight’s game against the bigger, more physical Monarchs. “It’s what we need and it’s fine if I can help this way.”

Both Taylor and Tangela Smith are adept at hitting outside shots, which forces their bigger defenders away from the basket. The opposite holds true defensively, where bigger forwards try to pound the ball inside and rebound against the Mercury’s smaller frontline. With quickness and positioning her only allies, the rest is guts.

“If she plays against bigger and stronger post players and occasionally loses a basket or rebound, her advantages offensively will compensate,” Westhead said. “We win that trade-off.”

At one time or another, both Westhead and various teammates have marveled at her toughness, noting a stretch in late July last year when she appeared to suffer a major injury against Seattle. Reduced to layup drills during pregame shootarounds, she played any way and scored 16 points against Houston a couple nights later.

Taylor got off to another slow start statistically this season, so she welcomed Thursday night’s performance and the confidence better games are coming. So, too, are more splotches of black-and-blue.

“You never feel alone in there,” Taylor said. “I feel a bit more agile and flexible for our style. It’s going to work out.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.