Since walking off the US Airways Center floor in early September, virtually nothing has gone according to plan for Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi. Following the end of the WNBA season, the four-time all-star quickly found herself embroiled in an international doping scandal while playing abroad for the Turkish club team Fenerbahçe Istanbul.
Amid a modern-day 24/7 sports scene, in which PED-rumors ooze from the cracks like tree sap on a hot summer day, the story ran rampant throughout the national media.
Somehow, it didn't matter that the entire situation was entirely mishandled by the testing lab. Within a culture that judges athletes as guilty-until-proven-innocent, the damage was already done.
Soon after, when it was discovered that the entire process was a sham, there was no pity party. No mass apology or attempt to reverse the damage that had been inflicted. It was bizarre to see. Reputations aside, fundamental human decency requires at least a minor effort to make things right. Yet, that was that, and everything was swiftly swept under the rug.
"It was one of the most stressful times of my life," Taurasi explained at Phoenix Mercury media day.
Though, in an ironic twist of fate, it now seems the incident that once threatened the Mercury's identity may serve as a catalyst for one of the most energized, motivated, an most importantly, renewed Mercury squads in years.
After leaving Fenerbahçe, Taurasi spent the ensuing months getting something that she hadn't since graduating from UConn in 2004: a break.
Taurasi acknowledged in hindsight how truly necessary the layoff was, "I've been playing a lot of basketball for the last five or six years... it was weighing down on me a little bit. This time off made me realize how much stress and how much pressure I put on myself to play hard and play at a high level. It's hard to maintain."
"There's been a new energy," she continued. "We're going to come into this gym and see how can we make this a group that can win another championship."
Following Taurasi's dismissal from Fenerbahçe, in a sign of loyalty, teammate Penny Taylor soon followed suit.
"It just wasn't the right place to be," Taylor explained. "She was going through a lot and I felt partly responsible because I encouraged her to go to that team... At that time it wasn't right for me to be there anymore."
Taylor also echoed Taurasi's sentiments that the layoff became a blessing in disguise.
"It's helped so much," she said. "Having a chance to be away from the competitive side of things, relax and have a normal life. It was really enjoyable, and I think in the long run we will have a lot more longevity than if we hadn't had this time."
With a core reenergized after a much-needed extended rest, and a powerful inside game with another year of Coach Corey Gaines high-flying offense under their belt, Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury look to be shaping into contenders as WBNA season looms near.