Diana Taurasi still has ‘a lot to do’ ahead of 18th WNBA season with Phoenix Mercury

Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury shoots a free throw during the game against the Indiana Fever.
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For Diana Taurasi, her reason for returning for an 18th WNBA season at age 39 is simple:

“I still feel I have a little bit left – and a lot to do.”

The process, admittedly, is way more complicated.

“Now there’s a laundry list of things that I just have to do to be primed to play on game night,” explained the 10-time All-Star, who turns 40 this June but told media last week that she’s not ready for couch life just yet.

“I’m still in the mindset of trying to get better, trying to improve as an individual, trying to come back to training camp and be better, looking at the season as another challenge,” she said.

“I’m very present with where I’m at as far as my basketball career. I’m not ignorant about how old I am and the things that I’ve done, but I’m still very present in the things that I’m doing right now.”

Taurasi, who has won three WNBA titles with Phoenix and is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 9,174 points, is on the second year of a two-year super-max contract that she signed with the Mercury in 2020. Her incentive is undoubtedly another WNBA title, especially after the Mercury fell 3-1 in last year’s finals to the Chicago Sky. Taurasi reportedly took out her frustrations on the visiting locker-room door, slamming the door multiple times and cracking it through the middle.

“Obviously, Diana is a champion of champions, but we have players who just got a taste, and they want more, and they’re hungry,” said first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard. “So I feel like being in the championship last year is not a negative. It’s a very positive thing for us in terms of motivation.”

But ahead of the 2022 WNBA season, Taurasi said she’s been honest with herself about areas that need improvement while also embracing the fact that she still just really loves playing basketball.

“It’s a mental competition that I literally have with myself every single day,” she said. “And I probably come home every single day and I’m like, ‘What did I do that for? I could be on the on the couch hanging out.’ But you know, I’m an addict. What can I say?”

However, Taurasi’s teammates don’t have to think twice about why they love playing with former UConn standout, who kicked off her career with Rookie of the Year honors in 2004 and was named Finals MVP twice (2009, 2014).

“I’ve been her shadow ever since being here,” said fellow Husky Tina Charles, who signed a one-year contract with Phoenix in February after a standout season last year with the Washington Mystics, where she was the league’s leading scorer (23.4 points per game). “You know, if she’s in training, I want to be there, if she’s on the court at this time, I want to shoot with her. I’m just so fortunate to play alongside the Kobe Bryant of our league.”

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“That’s why I came here, to be around Diana, to play with BG (Brittney Griner), and just to be around the greatness of all the intangibles and what that is,” added Skylar Diggins-Smith, an eight-year WNBA veteran going into her third season in Phoenix. “So I think just seeing how she approaches it – she’s the first one in the gym, getting herself ready, she’s last one to leave, and everywhere in between. … This is greatness personified.”

Griner, of course, remains detained in Russia, where she’s been since February following her arrest at a Moscow airport. Earlier this week, the U.S. government classified her as “wrongfully detained” and shifted supervision of her case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

As to when Taurasi will wrap her already storied career, which was highlighted last summer by her fifth gold medal as part of Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, that remains to be seen. She wrapped the Olympic tournament with a “see you in Paris” quip, and ahead of her 18th WNBA season, she promised two things: She’s not going anywhere yet, and when she does, it won’t be a splashy affair.

“When I’m done playing, I’m just gonna stop playing,” she said. “I’m not going to ease my way out. So, I plan on playing for a while. I don’t know if that helps these questions at all. Like, I just I want to play, and when I suck, I won’t play.”

Until that day, Taurasi is focused on the task at hand as the Mercury prepare to start the 2022 WNBA season on Friday night against the Las Vegas Aces.

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