April 26, 2021 

Space Jam 2 and entering the tunnel: Diana Taurasi is ready for 2021

Sandy Brondello says the Mercury star is in "unbelievable shape"

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PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 8: Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury plays defense during the game against the Seattle Storm on August 8, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. 

PHOENIX — It was Media Day 2019 and Diana Taurasi was waiting in a hallway of Talking Stick Resort Arena to go through one of the various stations set up for Phoenix Mercury players.

At the time, rumors had been swirling about the LeBron James-led “Space Jam 2” and who would be cast in it, and Taurasi’s name continued to come up as a possibility. As I waited in the same hallway as Taurasi to interview a different player on the team, I made a passing reference to the movie, asking if she was involved with it. Taurasi didn’t answer, but the look and smirk I got for asking made it obvious to me that she would be involved.

It’s been two years since that day. In the meantime, Taurasi battled injuries all throughout the 2019 season, only playing in six games, and while she played in 21 of the Mercury’s 24 games in 2020, the bubble is not something anyone wants to experience again.

So when Taurasi spoke to the media (via Zoom) after the first day of an actual training camp in Phoenix for the 2021 WNBA season, her excitement at playing with her Mercury teammates for the first time in more than seven months was palpable.

“Today was a good day,” Taurasi said. “Not going overseas now, these offseasons are really, really long, so to get back on the court with some familiar faces, some new faces, it was a really good first day of camp we had.”

Taurasi was one of eight players suiting up on the first day for the Mercury, according to head coach Sandy Brondello, with more players expected to join once they clear testing protocols in the coming days. And even though Taurasi has stated she never wants to play for anyone other than the Mercury in the WNBA, she still was technically a free agent during the offseason, leaving Brondello thrilled to have her re-signed for the next two seasons.

“Everyone is extremely happy that Diana’s continuing to play in Phoenix,” Brondello said. “She’s our franchise player and she has been for so long.”

For Taurasi, just being able to kick off a full training camp in Phoenix is a good feeling, particularly after the “short-notice” ramp-up to the 2020 season in the bubble.

“Here, you really feel like you can really take it slow and build as a team and as an individual,” Taurasi said. “I think a lot of teams will enjoy their training camps.”

For a player who retired from playing professionally outside of the WNBA in 2017, getting back on the court with teammates is a welcome sight to Taurasi, who has worked hard to try and find a routine in the WNBA offseason.

“It almost becomes harder when you don’t play overseas, because it’s easy to take a week here, go on vacation here, not do anything for a couple of days, and those days add up,” Taurasi said. “Every single day, I’m in the gym. I’ve had a great supporting cast here with our trainer and our strength and conditioning coach and our on-court player development coach and Skylar. We’ve been here every single day for the last five or six months, and it’s a marathon. Every single day, you try to get a little bit better.

“And you have days where you just don’t see the end of the tunnel of the season three or four months away. But it’s your due diligence, it’s really tough work and it pays off on the first day of practice when you feel like you’re in really good time and shape for the season. It’s taken me a little bit of tweaking here and there, but I think I’ve figured it out.”

Brondello agrees, saying Taurasi showed up on Sunday in “unbelievable shape” and has continued to be a great influence on her teammates.

“She always takes care of her body, but I think she has had a really good offseason and she’s excited for the season,” Brondello said. “I think all of the young players coming in, they’re always saying they love to play with Diana Taurasi, but when they get here, they’re always just amazed. She’s such a great leader and a great teammate. And she really helps in giving the younger players and newer players confidence, and that’s pretty good when it’s coming from your best player.”

For anyone trying to emulate her, two of the big keys Taurasi has found to making the offseason work count is adding stakes to each drill, but also being able to accept when you don’t do achieve what you wanted to.

“My workouts, they’re not, ‘Let’s do five spots of five shots, you make 10 from here and 10 from there,’” Taurasi said. “They’re all competitive drills, and when you lose, you lose. That spot is done, that game is done, you can’t get it back. Those are the things that, as the preseason happens, you’re in this game mode the whole time, you’re just not playing against cones, which a lot of kids like to play against cones these days.”

It surely helps that the Mercury team returns a majority of their key rotation players from 2020, and even with some key players still overseas for the time being, Taurasi feels good about where the team’s progress is.

“Just being together for an extra year, kind of getting to know each other a little better from last year to this year, all of that helps you get on the same page a little bit quicker,” Taurasi said. “I think already on Day 1, we’re way ahead of where we were last year. We’ll just keep building on that.”

With Day 1 of training camp marking the end of the offseason, the focus for Taurasi turns to a 32-game WNBA regular season and a postseason — with the Mercury expecting to be in the thick of the championship hunt, which would be Taurasi’s fourth — as well as the chance to win a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo from July 26-Aug. 8.

Oh, and then there’s Space Jam: A New Legacy, the sequel that’s scheduled to be released on July 16, 2021, with Taurasi co-starring as one of the players on the Goon Squad facing off against LeBron in the trailer that premiered three weeks ago.

The offseason may have been long, but with the 2021 summer finally here, it will be quite busy for Diana Taurasi. And she wouldn’t want it any other way.

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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