At age 35, UConn alum Taurasi is still shining for WNBA's Phoenix Mercury

Published on Saturday, 5 August 2017 17:39
Written by Carl Adamec

Journal Inquirer

MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. - Diana Taurasi’s last act as a member of the UConn women’s basketball team was to send the game ball deep into the New Orleans Arena stands with her left foot to start the celebration of the 2004 national championship.

When Taurasi received the game ball after becoming the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer on June 18 during the Phoenix Mercury’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Staples Center, she nearly turned back the clock 13 years.

“We were down 20 and they give you this award and you want to kick the ball into the stands,” Taurasi said Friday before leading the Mercury against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. “I was close. I have a good left foot, just like Messi.”

Taurasi broke Tina Thompson’s mark of 7,488 a week after her 35th birthday. She had 33 points in the Mercury’s 93-92 loss to the Sun, putting her total at 7,736.

At UConn, she did not finish as the all-time leader in scoring, but as the all-time leader in assists, a mark that was broken in 2016 by Moriah Jefferson.

“You get a record like that and you sit back a little bit and consider yourself really lucky,” Taurasi said. “I’ve been really lucky to play for Phoenix my whole career and with all these great players. I’ve been lucky more than anything.

“When I was in school, I wasn’t a big scorer, more of a distributor. My first two years I played the point in the WNBA so I didn’t score a lot of points. Once Paul Westhead got to Phoenix and moved me off the ball and said, ‘No. We need you to generate offense,’ that’s when it kind of took off. It’s cool when you get on a list with Tina Thompson, Tamika Catchings, these great players. It’s definitely an honor.”

It’s been a summer of transition for Taurasi and the Mercury.

Phoenix has nine players who are in their first year on the roster. At 13-11, the Mercury are two games behind the third-place Sun and one behind the fourth-place Washington Mystics. The top four teams receive a first-round bye in the playoffs and a second-round home game. Center Brittney Griner was having a MVP season but injured her left knee and right ankle in a game against the Minnesota Lynx on July 14. She hopes to return in about two weeks.

“It’s frustrating because we were starting to roll a little bit before Brittney got hurt and obviously she’s a big part of what we do,” Taurasi said. “The way she was playing this year was just at a different level. We’ll just try to hold down the fort until she gets back. I think we’ve done a pretty good job the last couple of games. People have stepped up a little bit, which will help us headed to the playoffs.”

Taurasi was 12-for-18 from the floor and often controlled play as Taurasi does. Her final points on her final shot - a spinning baseline jumper - tied the game at 87 with 1:20 left brought a smile from her former college and United States national team coach Geno Auriemma, who had a front-row seat.

The Chino, California, native was an unhappy camper as she went to the locker room.

“I still get pissed off during games, and I say that the day I stop getting pissed off is the day I will stop playing basketball,” Taurasi said. “I think I’m going to be playing or a little bit longer.”

Another change for Taurasi is both professional and personal.

Taurasi is no longer playing alongside Australian veteran Penny Taylor, who retired after last season and serves as Phoenix’s Direcor of Player Development and Performance. But they are together forever as Taurasi and Taylor were married in May.

“It’s good!” Taurasi said of married life. “Once you get married it’s a different kind of commitment. Penny and I have known each other for so long and been through so much stuff. It felt right.”

At her age, Taurasi knows her career is closer to the end than the beginning. But she has no intention and has shown few signs, if any, of slowing down.

“I’m not going to lie, there are days I feel 35,” Taurasi said with a smile. “The challenges are physical and mental. When you’ve played so much basketball, coming to the gym is either fun or a chore. Right now to me it’s still a lot of fun.”

She and her former UConn teammate Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm already share the record with four Olympic gold medals. How about taking a fifth in Tokyo in 2020?

Maybe?

“I think we have aspirations to play a little bit longer,” Taurasi said.

The act is far from over.



Posted in The Bristol Press, General Sports, UConn on Saturday, 5 August 2017 17:39. Updated: Saturday, 5 August 2017 17:41.