The Return of Diana Taurasi
UNCASVILLE, CONN. - Diana Taurasi sat out most of last season with injuries as the Phoenix Mercury stumbled from being one of the league's most explosive franchises to one of the league's worst.
"It was frustrating," she said with a shrug during All-Star weekend. "You want to be able to contribute to the team, but hey, that's life."
Taurasi didn't take the season lying down. She spent the offseason playing basketball in Russia where she helped lead UMMC Ekaterinburg to the Euroleague championship.
"I pretty much did what I do every year and that's go overseas, work on my game, get into shape and try to incorprate all that into the summer," Taurasi said."
As Taurasi immediately bounced back in the offseason, the Phoenix Mercury did too - landing the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft and selected Brittney Griner - one of the most dominant athletes in NCAA history. Immediately, the Phoenix Mercury was widely seen coming into the season as a championship contender.
But out of the gate, several setbacks have marred the team's path to victory. Griner has been sidelined for several games this season with injuries. Penny Taylor, who missed all of last season with a left knee injury, just underwent surgery on her right knee and could miss the rest of this season too.
"When you're not healthy, you have to plug a lot of holes," Taurasi said. "And this first half of the season we've had to plug a lot of holes. Hopefully in this second half of the season we can get healthy and get rolling again."
"I just get really tuned in," she said with a laugh. "I dial in and for those 40 minutes that's all I think about. That's where all my energy is going towards and that's how I've been all my life."
Now the Mercury waived their point guard Sam Prahalis this month, Taurasi has taken on more of a point guard role this season - something she said she is more than comfortable with doing.
"I've always played the one (point guard) growing up," she said. "This year it seems like theres been a shortage of point guards all around the country because you see a lot of point guards that are shooting guards too. So it's basically whatever our team needs right now and that's the position I need to play."
Taurasi has not only helped restore the Mercury's reputation as being toughest teams to stop in the Western Conference, she is leading the league in scoring and could potentially win the Most Valuable Player Award this season. But both the scoring title and MVP awards aren't on her radar, she said.
"I just play," she said. "I've never been someone to set goals for myself before the season. Every game is different, every week is different. You have to find what works to win that game so if that means scoring a little bit more, distributing a little bit more - then that's what it's gonna be."
For the second half in the season, Taurasi said the team is focused on honing in on their areas that need improvement.
"There's a couple of key components that will help us win some games and that's obviously defensive rebounding," she said. "When Brittney's back that will really help and try to get back into our running game. Those two things go hand in hand."
In order to win a championship, Taurasi said the Mercury will have to beat the Minnesota Lynx - a team they've already faced off against five times this season.
"We know it's going to go through them," Taurasi said. "If we're talking about in the league, Minnesota, when they're on a roll, they're the toughest team to beat hands down."