We Will Be Heard
Story and photos by Devin Millington, June 2017 Issue.
Following two preseason games versus the Seattle Storm, the Phoenix Mercury opened the 2017 regular season May 14 against the Dallas Wings.
Under the tagline “We Will Be Heard,” the team has set its sights on a WNBA-record-tying fourth championship.
“The mantra emphasizes the Mercury’s commitment to having our impact felt both on the court and in our community, while fostering an environment of inclusion and acceptance for fans and players alike,” the team released via mercury.wnba.com.
Just as the Mercury kicks off its 2017 season, we’re bringing you all the details on what’s new and what you can expect to see on the court in the coming months.
The Coaching Staff
With the rollercoaster ride of 2016 almost a distant memory, the Phoenix Mercury set out to correct the issues that plagued the team most. At a March 21 preseason town hall, Jim Pitman, Mercury general manager, shared that he made moves that focused on improving rebounding, team defense and athleticism, just to name a few.
Pitman further explained that improvements needed to be made in the locker room as well. It’s an issue that typically doesn’t get addressed until it directly affects on-court chemistry.
Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi.
Pitman and Ann Meyers Drysdale, Mercury vice president, also made a very special move: hiring Penny Taylor as the team’s director of player development and performance earlier this year. This newly created coaching position, seemingly taylor made for the 13-year WNBA veteran (10 years of which were spent in Phoenix) working directly with Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello and rest of the coaching staff as well as focusing on strengthening areas of weakness and enhancing skills training with the players.
In the meantime, Brondello, who earned 2014 WNBA Coach of the Year honors, was announced as the head coach of the Australian Women’s National Team April 17, making her the 11th head coach in Opals history. But don’t worry, X-Factor, Brondello just signed a multi-year contract extension with the Phoenix in October.
Just like her previous 12 seasons with the team, all eyes are once again on Diana Taurasi, the team’s all-star veteran. And for good reasons. Not only is DT hotter than ever, she opened the 2017 regular season just 178 points shy of becoming the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history.
“I sat down with Jim Pittman and Sandy and just kind of mapped out what the next four months looks like individually to make sure that when I’m on the court, I can help this team as much as possible,” she told reporters at the team’s media day event May 8.
Following her performances at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team this past summer, Diana Taurasi earned an unprecedented fourth USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year award (she previously earned the honor in 2006, 2010 and 2012).
Griner spent her second consecutive off season in Russia with Brondello and Taurasi as part of the UMMC Ekaterinburg team. Upon returning to Phoenix in March, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year signed a multiyear contract extension with the Mercury.
When asked about the new faces on the team, Griner’s face lit up at the mention of fellow rookie and Baylor Bear Alexis Prince.
“When Baylor University was recruiting Prince, I was her player escort and I’m very excited to that we have her here,” Griner said, adding that she’s especially fired up for this year. “I know it sounds cheesy, but we will be heard.”
A Couple Missing Faces
DeWanna announced that she is pregnant and will miss the 2017 season. In a statement released by the Mercury, the three-time WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year assured the Mercury and the X-Factor that she will be present, cheering on the Mercury during the 2017 season and back to playing with the team in 2018.
Bonner released the following statement March 8: “I am so happy to announce that I’m expecting. I have always wanted a family and I have looked forward to this chapter of my life. While I am disappointed to miss the 2017 season with my Mercury family, this was the right decision for me right now. Don’t worry, X-Factor, I will still be around this summer, and I will be back and better than ever in 2018!”
In a shocking move, the Mercury traded five-time WNBA All-Star (2014-2015 with the Mercury) Candice Dupree to the Indiana Fever. In return, the Mercury received former WNBA Champion power forward Camille Little from Indiana and the draft rights to rookie forward Jillian Alleyne from the Connecticut Sun in the three-team trade deal. (Alleyne was cut from the team following its two preseason games.)
Little has compiled averages of 9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and a 45.1-percent career field goal percentage in an 11-year career with San Antonio, Atlanta, Seattle and Connecticut. Additionally, mercury.wnba.com reports that she has added a three-point shot to her game in recent seasons: After attempting 187 threes in her first eight seasons, she has 283 attempts in her last three and has connected on 34 percent.
Little was specifically acquired to bolster the Mercury’s lackluster rebounding performance, according to Pitman. And, during the first day of training camp, Vince Kozar, vice president of operations, stated he was very pleased with the Little acquisition.
New Names To Watch
Three-time WNBA All-Star and defensive dynamo Danielle Robinson was acquired from the San Antonio Silver Stars (who drafted her from the University of Oklahoma in 2011) via a trade for Isabelle Harrison and a first round draft pick.
At 5-foot-9 and 125 pounds, Robinson is known for her game-changing speed at both ends of the floor. Her league-leading and career-high 6.7 assists in 2013, and her career 4.9-assist average ranks seventh in the history of the league, fourth among active players. She is a career 45.8-percent shooter from the field, in part because of her ability to get to the rim.
“DRob” gives the Mercury a high-caliber point guard who drives and dishes unlike anyone the team has seen in quite some time. The three-time WNBA All-Star, teamed with Taurasi and Griner should make for a formidable trio that’s tough to defend and exciting to watch.
“We really haven’t had a dynamic point guard like DRob,” Taurasi shared at the team’s media day event. “It’s going to change things up with DRob with the rock. She just so quick and dynamic and puts so much pressure on the defense.”
Australian Stephanie Talbot was added to the roster and, while this is her rookie season in the WNBA, she brings four years of overseas experience with her.
When asked how she felt her preseason games went, she admitted, “I didn’t know what to expect and went in a bit timid, but I came back, got on the practice court and in the second game I came out and obviously as a team we did much better.”
Talbot and Cayla George led the team with 16 points each in their final pre-season game, proving that Talbot worked hard to get acclimated in short order.
Additionally, Mercury selected Alexis Prince of Baylor in the third round of the 2017 WNBA Draft (29th overall pick). At 6-foot-2, the forward recorded her best year at Baylor during the 2016-2017 season, finishing with career highs in scoring (12.1 ppg) and rebounding (5.8 rpg). The former Big 12 Freshman of the Year knocked down 62 three-pointers on the season, while hitting 41.6-percent of her attempts from long range.
Prince is the second-ever Bear to be picked by the Mercury, joining Griner, who was drafted in 2013 (Griner and Prince played together in the 2012-2013 season).
The Mercury brought back Shay Murphy, Cayla George, and Leilani Mitchell in an attempt to improve team chemistry and locker room camaraderie, while adding quality basketball players with highly developed skills.
The Quest for Four
With two regular season games behind them, the Mercury is giving fans an idea of how members of the new team roster are gelling and what fans can expect in the coming months.
It’s no surprise that the biggest challenges facing the Mercury this season will be the games against Western Conference rivals – the Los Angeles Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx.
The Lynx, who the Mercury will face June 30 and July 14 and 16, are aging and didn’t make any significant moves in the off-season. On the other hand, the defending WNBA champions are looking strong after acquiring Odyssey Sims, could pose a huge hurdle for the Mercury in their June 10, 18 and Aug. 24 games. The match-up between DRob and Sims should be exciting to watch. I predict DRob will have the edge, thanks to her explosive speed, experience and defensive prowess.
The team, as a whole, seems focused on the details and poised to go after its fourth WNBA title. Once again, the X-Factor will be focused on Taurasi and Griner – who are guaranteed to put on a great show. With this dynamic duo leading the way, the Phoenix Mercury will be heard this season, and it will be loud.
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