PHOENIX — Until last Friday’s home opener, the last time Phoenix Mercury fans saw forward Penny Taylor was Sept. 21, 2014, as she was celebrating the team’s third WNBA Championship.
Following that championship victory, Taylor returned home to Australia to play for the Jayco Dandenong Rangers of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) so that she could be close to her father, Michael, who was battling lung cancer.
Taylor said that while her dad was English, a soccer player and did not know much about the game of basketball, he was still her No. 1 supporter.
“He was just so proud of what I achieved,” she said. “And every time I did something new he was super pumped for me.”
Michael Taylor died in December 2014, just three months after his daughter had won the WNBA championship. It was not the first time she lost someone to cancer. Her mother, Denna Noble, lost a battle with ovarian cancer in May 2013.
Following her father’s death, Taylor decided to sit out the 2015 WNBA season. She said she needed take some time off from playing basketball to regroup mentally.
“I think you need some time after what I went through for some healing and that was the perfect time to do it for me,” Taylor said. “I needed to recover and I wanted to give the best to this club like I always have.”
Following her season off from the WNBA, Taylor competed for the Shanxi Xing Rui Flame of the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association.
Despite being nearly 7,000 miles miles away, Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman said he kept in contact with Taylor and her agent.
“We knew she was an important piece to what we are trying to do this year, which is win a championship,” Pitman said.
In 2014 with the Mercury, Taylor scored 10.5 points per game, pulled down 3.1 rebounds per game and was second on the team in assists with 3.1 per game. In 2007, her career-high 17.8 points per game were second to only Diana Taurasi, as the team won its first championship in franchise history.
“With her, she’s always been the strongest person, she’s always fought and she’s always had that grit to get back to where she wanted to be,” Taurasi said. “That’s just inspiring to be there and to see that.”
The veteran forward, now in her 13th year in the WNBA, said that following her season in China, she feels great physically and is ready to help her team win.
“We’ve had ups and down, successful years and ones that have been more challenging,” Taylor said. “This year, I take it the same way I have taken it every year and I feel like once we get on a roll that we have what it takes to win.”
Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello, who had been a teammate of Taylor’s on the Australian Women’s National Basketball team in 2004, said Taylor just knows how to score and is a very intelligent player.
“She’s just well-respected and a great communicator,” Brondello said. “It just means we have more leadership in the locker room.”
Taylor is excited to get back in the mix.
“I want to be a part of the team again and have success here,” Taylor said.
Through four games this season, Taylor is second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per game, and third in rebounds per game with 4.3.