Interview: Penny Taylor talks life in the WNBA

Interview: Penny Taylor talks life in the WNBA

Already one of Australia’s most accomplished basketball players – male, or female – Penny Taylor rightfully earned her reputation as one of the best through years of hard work and dedication. Now, after 18-months of battling knee injuries, and at age 32, Taylor is applying that same dedication and work ethic to coming back healthy and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the Phoenix Mercury’s younger players. Right now, it’s all about the love of the game.

Basketball Australia caught up with Taylor after the Mercury squeezed out an 80-76 win against the New York Liberty at the Prudential Center. Taylor finished with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in almost 22-minutes of game time.

Basketball Australia: Tonight was just your second game back since July. You had a bit of a layoff with a knee injury---

PT: Yeah, you could say that [laughs].

BA: How does it feel to be back?

PT: It feels really good. I went through a real process of surgeries and rehab non-stop. Pretty much a year-and-a-half of frustrating times, so to be able to get out there and contribute, and be part of a team again, is something I can’t really explain.

BA: You had a lot of DNP-CD’s to start the season. Was that because of the knee issues?

PT: I was still coming back - still recovering - I had three surgeries on this knee [points to left knee] so I was still coming back from those. I came back and played six games and the other one went. So, it’s been a process and it’s been very up-and-down, the good thing is that everything feels really great right now, and I’m just trying to slowly re-integrate myself into the team and my knees get used to playing a few minutes.

BA: Where’s your game at now? Is there a little bit of rust?

PT: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of rust [laughs]. There is, but I feel good. On the positive side it’s given the rest of my body time to rest and other niggling injuries I’ve had have disappeared for now. I’ve got a renewed sense of fun about playing because I couldn’t play for so long.

BA: You’re headed into the playoffs now. Do you think you’ll be in top game-shape by the time you start your campaign?

PT: Oh, there’s not a chance [laughs]. I don’t expect to be. As a player that’s played a lot over the years, I feel like that’s one thing I can deal with – knowing what I can contribute, and how long I can contribute for. Just adapt a little better, and play smart.

We’ve got so much talent on this team [that] I don’t have the demands on me that I have had in the past.

BA: You’ve played on some really good Phoenix teams - been WNBA champions twice – how does this year’s team compare to previous teams?

PT: We’ve obviously had some great teams in the past, we’ve won championships, but talent-wise, this team is on the top of that list. We’ve had to learn how to play together, and we’ve had to learn how to benefit from the talent we have in the right ways. I feel like we’re growing towards that now at the right time of the season.

BA: I’ve never actually seen so many media inside a visiting locker room at a WNBA game.

PT: It happens a lot with this team [laughs].

BA: Obviously having someone like Britney Griner on the team has added some extra buzz?

PT: Yeah. We’ve got Diana [Taurasi] – who is, in my opinion, the best player in the world – so we’re used to that kind of attention, but [also] having Britney, who is such a unique player and so special in what she can do and what she can bring to the team. She’s only going to get better.

BA: You alluded to a renewed enthusiasm for the game earlier. Is that your motivation now? You’ve been in the league so long now, won so many accolades. Is it your love of the game that keeps you going?

PT: Yeah, I think so. For a long time it was the pressure that I put on myself to want to be in this league, to want to be one of the best, to want to get better. And now, it’s just to win. It’s always been to win, now even more so for the younger players on our team, [just] to leave them – eventually when I do stop playing – with something special.

They’ve given me so much, and it’s a second home for me, and I want to be able to leave them with my hard work. They stuck with me through all this [injuries], it’s important for me to give that back in a way.

BA: You haven’t played in the WNBL for a very long time. Any plans on going back to finish your career there? How much longer do you envision doing the WNBA/Europe gigs?

PT: Realistically, I’m going to have to take each season as it comes. Even each month as it comes. The way things have been you just don’t know what’s going to happen, and the amount of miles I’ve put on my body, I just don’t know.

I’ll enjoy wherever I am playing at the time – and I’ll look forward to the World Championships next year, I think we’ll again have a special team and I want to leave the Australian team having given my best. We’ve got a lot of good, young, talent that’s coming through and I want to help them achieve what they want to at the World Championships as well. If all goes well, I’d love to play the Olympics [in 2016] but looking that far ahead for me now is not healthy.

BA: Are you headed back to Europe after this WNBA season, or will you give the knees more time to get 100% healthy?

PT: I want to go back to Europe. I love playing in Europe. But, realistically, I think I need to have a break after we finish here and see what comes up. It could be WNBL, or it could be in Europe. I’ve played in three countries that I’ve really loved, and hopefully left a good impression and would perhaps get a job in one of those, but we’ll see what happens.

I’m just enjoying playing right now, and not thinking too far ahead.

BA: Do you keep in touch with your fellow Opals throughout the year, more so the younger girls like Liz [Cambage] and Rachel [Jarry] to give them advice?

PT: It’s such an exciting thing [having all the girls in the WNBA]. It’s hard you know. I haven’t had the opportunity to build great relationships with these girls because I haven’t spent a lot of time with them so it is good to see them, play against them. Liz was playing so well [before the injury] and Jenna [O’Hea] is a great piece for L.A., and [also] Rachel [in Minnesota]. It’s great to hear reports of the other players around the league and how good our Australian talent is.

And obviously Erin winning the championship last year, it’s so positive and I’m so proud we’re coming through with some great players that can compete around the world.

By Nick Metallinos in New York