The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, August 28, 2019

Enjoy Diana Taurasi while you can — Kayla Alexander book news, interview — Must-click women's basketball links

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Mercury rising

I spent much of Tuesday observing Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury. Part of this was work, of course, but part of this was making sure I properly appreciated and enjoyed it.

Diana Taurasi is 37 years old. She’s given us further evidence that a day will come when she isn’t playing basketball anymore by virtue of this back injury that cost her much of the 2019 season. So I’ve had the privilege of covering her for years now, but the day will come when she is still a great interview, but no longer a player I get to watch in the course of my WNBA coverage.

Here’s the thing: Taurasi knows it, too. And she’s in a very interesting position as it relates to the WNBA season. The Phoenix Mercury have all but clinched a playoff berth. Yet, given their number of losses, they aren’t climbing into the top four, barring a miracle. So it’ll be winning a lot of road games if Taurasi and Phoenix are to add another title to her resume. It’s something she cares deeply about — the winning, not the resume.

But this Mercury team is playing extraordinarily well right now. Brittney Griner is at a level she’s never reached before — don’t take my word for it, Ann Meyers Drysdale and Sandy Brondello both told me so. DeWanna Bonner has made an MVP case for herself. Leilani Mitchell has been unstoppable, especially lately. Briann January is a luxury as a secondary cog on a championship contender. Sophie Cunningham and Brianna Turner have contributed immediately.

This is a team that finished some Sue Bird heroics away from last year’s WNBA Finals, and now has the luxury of a few weeks of glorified training camp for Taurasi to find her form.

What’s preventing them from setting a date for the parade already is that there’s no real precedent here for Taurasi. She’s not had a year off, essentially, ever. And, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, she’s never been 37 before. At some point, it might not come back so easily. That some point might be now, though as she showed with her 10 assists Tuesday night, even a Taurasi who isn’t hitting her shots is still exceedingly valuable.

“Her legs are not under her, but you see how she creates some easy looks with her passing ability and leadership out there,” Brondello said after the game.

Taurasi held court in front of her locker, waxing philosophical as she always does.

“I’ll work through that struggle,” Taurasi said. “Just getting back in the gym, getting my rhythm back, timing. And hopefully it comes and if it doesn’t, I better be able to do something else really well.”

Come playoff time, as of now, it looks like Phoenix will play Minnesota, Chicago or Seattle in the first round. On the road or at home, doesn’t matter — Taurasi has made a career of ending other teams’ seasons as the visiting villain. Then comes a trip to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, perhaps, and should they advance, Taurasi and the Mercury could be headed to Washington or Connecticut, where the Sun have seen their past two seasons end, on their home floor, at the hands of Taurasi.

It all lines up in a way that is going to give opposing coaches a fair amount of heartburn between now and the postseason. And there’s every chance that it means, in a season when few of us have gotten the chance to properly enjoy Diana Taurasi in the way we’re used to — the unshackled personality, hooking around a screen for that impossible fast jump shot, words for everybody and personality bursting out of every creative play — there may be more than a little bit of Taurasi left in this season, after all.

I’d suggest you treat it as I do: something to savor.

Announcing The IX’s Civil Boost!

We’re extremely honored that Civil chose us for its first Boost, a fundraising pathway to help fund vital newsroom projects. This one is straightforward: travel costs to send me to the WNBA Finals. You’ll get daily podcasts, behind-the-scenes extras and both original reporting and the amplifying of others doing the good work on the scene. More details, and how to give, are available here:

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Here’s the backstory of Kia Nurse joining Jordan Brand.

Devereaux Peters chats with Ariel Atkins.

Huw Hopkins’ latest looks at the Mercury and Aces.

Terrific Bria Holmes deep dive by Molly Yanity.

Madeline Kenney goes macro look on how James Wade changed the Sky culture.

Michelle Smith handicaps the Most Improved Player candidates. (I’m struggling with this one, too!)

Love to see Chris Herring writing about the WNBA.

Sabreena Merchant dives into the Fred Williams musical story. (Fred is amazing to discuss music with, incidentally.)

Matt Ellentuck points out that a number of elite teams are going to face a rough playoff schedule.

Kevin Pelton brings the data to prove how dominant the Mystics have been.

Enjoyed MJ Slaby on Teaira McCowan, third horse in very much a three-horse ROY race. (McCowan, though Slaby is having a nice year, too.)

Maggie Hendricks looks at Jantel Lavender, broadcaster.

Jenn Hatfield looks at how the Mystics have been compensating with Kristi Toliver out.

Wonder if Courtney Vandersloot received a call from the previous season assist record holder after she broke the record of… Courtney Vandersloot.

Joseph Tsai is the owner of the Liberty and Barclays Center now. Cue the music…

Stat of the Week

Seriously, you guys, it is a three-person Rookie of the Year race.

Five at The IX: Kayla Alexander, Author, Chicago Sky center

(I spoke with Kayla about her forthcoming book, “The Magic of Basketball”, which you can order! It’s out tomorrow.)

1. So what was your impetus to write a book? 

I love being creative, the game of basketball and inspiring the next generation. Since the second grade I always knew that I wanted to teach and work with kids. This book allowed me to do just that by combining all of my passions into one.

2. Why this book, and why now?

I wanted to share my story with the world in the hope that I could inspire young kids to dream big and work hard! 

I am a strong believer that representation matters, and that when you see people in positions that you want to be in, the dream instantly becomes that much more attainable to you. In Canada, you can see the love of sports, especially for basketball in the grassroots organizations. Young boys and girls are picking up a ball everyday. We have the Toronto Raptors, who just came off of a championship this year (woot woot!), that young boys can look up and say, “One day thats going to be me.” Unfortunately, we don’t have a professional women’s team here for young girls to aspire to. When we’re lucky they show the odd WNBA games on cable here. A lot of young girls don’t know about the Kia Nurses, Natalie Achnowas, Miah Marie Langlois etc of the Canadian women’s basketball community. They don’t know our stories, what many of us have endured, and overcome, the fact that we are from the same communities, went to the same schools, and walked the same streets as them. If they were exposed to more of our stories, if there was more representation, just imagine the impact that could have on their lives! 

Whenever anyone asks me about basketball, the one thing I always say is that it has been a blessing in my life. Yes, its allowed me to travel the world and provide for my family, but its bigger than that. The life skills I have learned and developed from playing the sport of basketball are invaluable. Playing this game that brings me so much joy (and at times a lot of frustration, sadness, injury) has made me better, stronger, and shaped me into the person I am today.

Although it’s a children’s book, the messaging behind it is for everyone, no matter what age you are. If even just one young child reads my book and believes that they can make their dreams a reality, or a parent reignites a dream that they put to the side because they stopped believing in themselves, I will consider this book a success.

This book has been in the works for many years now. It has gone through numerous drafts, changes, updates and cuts. I have wanted to write this book for the longest time but I always gave myself excuses to not follow through. 

At first, I was having a hard time illustrating the character and designing the images. I was constantly changing up the style and aesthetic. Up until a year ago my medium of choice was copic markers and paper. Although they create stunning images, my sister, Kesia (and co-author) did not believe illustrating an entire book with markers was ideal. She felt that it wouldn’t look as polished.

The game changed when I bought an iPad Pro and dowloaded the Procreate app. With practice (and a lot of googling, youtube and trial and error) I finally figured out how I wanted my character to look. Since the image was created digitally it was easier to keep the character consistent throughout the entire book.

I’ve experienced the gratification of my sacrifice, dedication and hard work paying off on the basketball court. When I completed all the images and the final draft of the book with my sister, that feeling of accomplishment, after years of doubt, failure, frustration and hard work felt amazing! The hard part was done, or so I thought.

Turns out the other hard part was trying to figure out how to publish the book. 

We did a lot of research on how to publish. Originally we thought about going the traditional route with a publishing house. However, after much thought, we wanted more freedom and control over the book (plus this was our first time). So we decided to self publish and that took a lot of research as well. Thankfully my agent, Eric, connected me with one of his clients, Toccara, who has helped a number of people publish their books!

I say all this to say that this didn’t happen over night. It was years of drafts, edits, research, illustrating, and self teaching to get here. 

3. When we’ve talked about your art in the past, you’ve described it as something you use to inspire others. Is that the way you approach writing books as well?

Absolutely! When it came to this book I wanted to inspire those who read it’s pages. Whether you’re a mother reading this to your son, an older brother reading this to your baby sister, or a teacher reading to your classroom. I wanted to highlight that basketball, is so much more than a sport, it’s magical. It teaches invaluable life skills that you take with you long after you stop playing the sport. It gives you gifts greater than the wins or the skill sets you gain while playing. Basketball is magical and gives so much when you open up and receive it. 

4. What role did James Wade play in your decision to return to the WNBA?

When James called, I jumped at the opportunity because I had played for him while in San Antonio and enjoyed learning and developing under him. He’s high energy, encouraging and believes in his players. I’ve been here less than a week but you can see and feel the family culture they have created here. I guess I’m pretty fortunate to have experienced that three times now (San Antonio, Indiana and now Chicago).

Also, I love playing the game of basketball. So even though I enjoyed my summer at home; I was able to spend quality time with my family and friends, work on personal projects, able to train and compete with team Canada in June, train and simultaneously give my body some much needed rest, I was itching to get back on the court and start playing and competing again. 

5. At the end of the book, you have a section for the reader to write “Your Dreams”. If you were filling that out now, what would it say?

My first dream or hope is that the book inspires the reader to dream big and chase after their dreams. It’s one thing to have a dream, it’s another thing to set goals and work at it daily or weekly to make it happen. I would also hope that the reader never lets anyone else doubt their dream!

Speaking from experience, sometimes our dreams get derailed or we hit obstacles along the way but it’s important to keep pushing through! It’s also OK to make new dreams. If one chapter in your life closes for whatever reason, make a new dream. Even as adults I think sometimes we forget about our childhood dreams or get caught up in the stresses of life. Our dreams keep us youthful and inspire others to follow through on theirs!

The dream that I would write in my copy of The Magic of Basketball, and that I’m actively working towards right now is to one day be an Olympian. This is a dream that I have had for many, many, many years now so I’ve broken it up into goals. Goal #1: make the Senior Women’s National Basketball Team roster. Goal #2: help the team qualify for the Olympics (competitions taking place in September, November and February). Goal #3: travel to the Olympics with Team Canada and represent my country at the highest level. And once that dream is accomplished, my next dream is for Team Canada to be standing on that podium! 

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.