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PHOENIX, AZ, September 29, 2009 -- “Is that Nancy Lieberman? Who is this?” said Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, referring to the 2009 WNBA MVP trophy as she posed with it for photos Tuesday on the Mercury’s practice court at US Airways Center.
Witty quips like that are commonplace when Taurasi’s being herself off the court, infecting those within an earshot with her outgoing personality and passion for life. It’s hard to be around Taurasi for a minute and not laugh or smile.
She’s a pretty good basketball player too. At age 27 Taurasi has already racked up a career most can only dream about. During her time at Connecticut, she won three NCAA championships along with two Naismith College Player of the Year awards and a pair of tournament MVP honors. She was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2004 WNBA Draft, ‘04 Rookie of the Year, has collected three WNBA scoring crowns, won a WNBA title in 2007 and owns two gold medals from the Olympics.
But after her first five seasons in the WNBA there had been one mark of greatness to elude her, and that was WNBA MVP. Well, you can cross that one off the list now, as Taurasi was honored with the award Tuesday prior to Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, which she will take part in and may result in her winning even more hardware if she continues to play the way she’s been playing up until this point in 2009.
It’s been quite the year for Taurasi, who while experiencing some highs and lows has put together arguably the best basketball season of her career. To hammer home the point, in a season in which players like teammate Cappie Pondexter and Indiana’s Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas all had career-years of their own, Taurasi won the 2009 MVP in a landslide.
Taurasi once again led the WNBA in scoring with a 20.4 points per game average, but improved vastly in other areas of her game, setting career-highs in rebounding (5.7), blocked shots (1.4), field-goal percentage (.461), three-point accuracy (.407) and free-throw shooting (.894). She led the Mercury to the best record in the entire league at 23-11, which also tied the team’s best mark in franchise history.
WNBA.com's Mark Bodenrader talked with Taurasi prior to Game 1 of the WNBA Finals to get her thoughts on her season, the award and what it all means to her.
WNBA.com: Where were you when you found out that you were the 2009 WNBA MVP? And what was your initial reaction?
TAURASI: “I was actually at the mall with Penny (Taylor). Ann Meyers called me and I never return phone calls so I don’t know why I returned this one, but it was some good news. I was kind of in shock because it’s something that I don’t play for but it is a great accomplishment knowing the other people on that list. So it was a really cool feeling.”
WNBA.com: Let’s go back to 2008, when the Mercury became the first WNBA title winner not to make the playoffs the year after. What was your mindset at that point and did it motivate you to come back as a better player in 2009?
TAURASI: “I was very disappointed. The minute the season ended we all had a lot of regret, knowing that if we were on the same page we could have made the playoffs and made a run at a championship again. For whatever reason we didn’t, so we came back this summer very dedicated. From the minute training camp started, everyone was playing with a chip on their shoulder. It is embarrassing not to make the playoffs after you win the championship.”
WNBA.com: Is there anything you worked on during the off-season and overseas to help facilitate that revival?
TAURASI: “I made a deal with myself to go to the gym every single day, which I did anyways, but to actually work on stuff that I wasn’t very good at. That was footwork, being consistent on the free throw line and that mindset that every game can be affected in more ways that just scoring. And that’s what I’ve tried to do this year.”
WNBA.com: Midway through the season we actually had your teammate Cappie Pondexter ahead of you at No. 1 in our Race to the MVP rankings. Was there any kind of competition between you guys and were you always aware of what the other was doing?
TAURASI: “We are so team-oriented that the only reason we were happy that we were in that race was because it helps the team win. There’s never any individual competitiveness with each other because I feel every time she’s successful, I’m successful. And I think she feels the same way.”
WNBA.com: How does much it help you though to have a player that’s that good on your side to push you and make you want to be better player?
TAURASI: “You have to. You have to. You have to have people around you that motivate you that you want to play really hard for and always play at the highest level. She does that for me and I think I do that for her.”
WNBA.com: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the D.U.I. incident that occurred back in early July because it’s part of your story this year. How did that affect you as a person and as a player and was it a factor at all in your play in the second half of the season?
TAURASI: “I never need to be motivated to be on the court. That’s the one thing that comes very naturally to me. But it made me appreciate basketball and how fragile one’s career can be by one decision that you make. It was something that I thought about a lot. I still do. It’s made me better in a lot of ways.”
WNBA.com: Early on in your WNBA career you were known more as a scorer and you’ve developed your game and evolved as a player since then. Can you take us though process and how it has made you the player you are today?
TAURASI: “The scoring was something that I really didn’t do much of early on, because in college I never averaged more than 16, 17 points. I was never a huge scorer, even in my first couple years in the WNBA. Scoring was always in the back seat. Obviously, (former Mercury coach Paul) Westhead’s style of play benefits your scoring. I’ve always loved passing the basketball, making other people better. And on the other side, rebounding and blocking shots is something I’ve always done; I’ve just tried to improve in those areas and be a little bit more consistent every game.”
WNBA.com: If you and the Mercury were to come through in the 2009 WNBA Finals and win another title this year, what would it mean to win an MVP in a year you also won the title?
TAURASI: “That’s the ultimate goal. The MVP is icing, but we need to get the cake.”
WNBA.com: You have one of the most celebrated careers in the history of women’s basketball. Where does this accomplishment of winning WNBA MVP rank with all of your other achievements?
TAURASI: “It really is an amazing achievement. Like I said before, with the people on that list, you’re talking about legends of the game. And if you want to be included in that at the end of the day then you have to make your mark. This was just an incredible year really of a lot of ups and downs, but very gratifying.”
WNBA.com: Do you ever look back on all the things you’ve accomplished so far, or is that something you are going to wait to do until your career is over?
TAURASI: “I don’t really look back on chapters right now while I’m still going through them. Maybe in five or six years I’ll look back on it and say that was a special time in my life and I got to do some incredible things with great teammates and people around me.”
WNBA.com: Finally, is there any one out there that you would like to acknowledge that help you get to this point in your career, where you are able to win WNBA MVP?
TAURASI: “With thanking people, if I make a list, I’d probably leave someone off. But I know if someone that helped reads it the paper or online, they’ll smile and know they had as much to do with it as anyone else.”