PHOENIX — With less than a week before the Phoenix Mercury begin training camp, Diana Taurasi has seen Brittney Griner slowly improve on the court in her first basketball action since the 2021 season.
“I think she’s gotten better,” Taurasi told ESPN on Tuesday. “Yeah, I think she’s progressed. I mean, when you don’t do anything for 10 months, yeah, it’s a long strain on your body — mentally, physically.
“But every week you just see her getting a little bit better.”
Griner has shown glimpses during scrimmages of the player she was when she helped lead the Mercury to the 2021 WNBA Finals and was in the running for league MVP.
“You see her do things [and you’re like] ‘Oh, oh, OK. Spin move baseline. I remember that.’ Or getting a block,” Taurasi said. “So, there are all these little moments that she keeps stacking up and it’s going to be a big training camp for her to get back where she wants to go. But, we’re all here helping and hopefully we could all do it together.”
Taurasi said it’s been “great” having Griner back with the team.
Griner was released from a Russian prison in December after being detained for nearly 10 months and quickly declared her intent to play for the Mercury this season.
“I mean, there’s no one like her in women’s basketball,” Taurasi said. “How she affects the game with her size, and I think what gets lost is how good she is on the block and all those things.
“And the strain of her, what she’s gone through, we all felt it — not like her. She was the one in prison and I think that was the one thing that, throughout that whole ordeal, every time I would wake up and we would have coffee and we’re like, ‘I can’t believe she’s still in prison.’ We’re like, ‘Well, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. She’s the one in prison.'”
Taurasi, who will turn 41 in June during her 19th WNBA season, said Griner was motivation to keep practicing, keep playing, keep going last year. But Taurasi also understands what’s about to come the Mercury’s way because of Griner’s return.
Starting with Griner’s news conference on Thursday and continuing through, at least, her first few games and potentially every road trip, the spotlight on Phoenix will be brighter than usual this season.
“She’s the one doing the bid, not us,” Taurasi said. “So, how do I make sure I come into the gym and make sure I bring my best self? Because I know that’s what BG would do.
“And she went through something that no one else has gone through. So, she’s going to have to find a way to navigate the attention, the eyes, the publicity, the mental strain of having all that and still getting back into basketball form. It’s a lot. It’s a lot. But hopefully when she comes here, this is home for her, right? It’s all she knows.”