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.”

MORE WNBA COVERAGE: Mark Davis puts money where his mouth is as owner of Las Vegas Aces

“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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Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.

USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)


  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”