Story by Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas
The 25th season of the WNBA is slated to tip-off on Friday, May 14 with the Phoenix Mercury starting off on the road against the Minnesota Lynx. It’s been a busy offseason for the Mercury and with their first preseason game on Saturday, the group has locked in their first few practices as players start to arrive from playing overseas.
Head coach Sandy Brondello is happy with what she has seen so far from her squad and knows things will only get better as the team’s chemistry improves.
“I think we’re ahead of where we were last year because Skylar (Diggins-Smith) is in training camp. She’s used to the system,” Brondello said. “Diana is here. Kia Nurse is a really smart player and has picked up things well, and we’ve brought a lot of our pieces back. I think that certainly helps to develop a little bit quicker. We’re going to learn a lot just by playing those preseason games, just to see where we’re at.”
The Mercury will start the season with three games in five days all on the road, but Brondello believes that people shouldn’t count this group out despite the difficult stretch of games to begin the year.
“I don’t think anyone’s talking about us winning the championship but we believe in our team, I believe in these players,” Brondello said. “If we can stay together and stay healthy, why can’t we win?”
On the topic of staying healthy, another plus is the Mercury will be getting center Brittney Griner back after she left the WNBA bubble at the end of the season for personal reasons. The six-time WNBA All-Star just returned from playing overseas in Russia and is undoubtedly a special part of this Mercury team.
"Where is BG?!" – everyone the last month
Us, today: BG IS BACK. pic.twitter.com/EQbxkmchFu
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) May 4, 2021
“There’s no question that we’re a better team when she’s here and we’ve proven that by winning a championship,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said. “We all know what BG can do and when she comes here focused and ready to go, she’s the most unstoppable force in our game…She looks strong and fit and it’s up to BG what she wants to do, you know, when she’s on her game. She makes us one of the best teams in the league.”
Joining Taurasi and Griner on the court will be new addition Kia Nurse, who was acquired in a trade from the New York Liberty. Nurse is entering her fourth season in the WNBA and was an All-Star in 2019. She’s hungry for wins after coming off a disappointing season with the Liberty, who went 2-20.
“She’s been a great teammate since day one,” Taurasi said of Nurse. “She’s just been in the gym every single day. She picked everything up within minutes. What we run is pretty intricate and she picked it up with no problem and she’s going to have a great year for us. She’s going to be a big part of what we do.”
Also, a big part of this Mercury team are the fans, known as the X-Factor. It will be the first time that Nurse has the X-Factor cheering for her, instead of against her, which is also something that Skylar Diggins-Smith is looking forward to.
Diggins-Smith joined the Mercury last year, but didn’t get to play in the Valley due to COVID-19 and the formation of the bubble in Florida. The presence of fans back in Phoenix will be a welcomed sight for a group that has been playing in empty gyms for months.
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) May 5, 2021
“It makes a difference in my mind,” Diggins-Smith said. “It creates the atmosphere, it creates a home environment. You get the opportunity to connect with the community and play off the fans…I like to get the fans involved and as do a lot of our players…I think it’d be fun to finally play in front of the X Factor. I’m looking forward to playing my first full season outside of the bubble but in Phoenix.”
The X-Factor won’t be in action until May 21 when the Mercury take on the Connecticut Sun for their home opener. Griner gave her thoughts on what the schedule looks like for them this season.
With many back-t0-back meetings and many familiar faces going up against each other, it a season that Griner and the rest of her team feel prepared for.
Our national broadcast schedule is HERE! 🚨
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) May 3, 2021
“When I look at it, it’s kind of like playoff vibes, how we play certain teams multiple times back-to-back,” Griner said. “I like it. It keeps me fresh and keeps it going. It reminds me of playoffs honestly, so I just got to bring the playoffs mentality. That’ll help us in the long run. I’m liking the schedule.”
17 games will be broadcast on national television this year, including the season opener.