The last time Penny Taylor wore a Phoenix jersey, the Mercury were celebrating their third championship in franchise history.
Count that sight as good omen No. 1 in a training camp that is full of them.
There was Taylor, wearing the familiar No. 13 on Monday, directing traffic and plying her trademark, hard-nosed style of play.
Candice Dupree was there for the opening day of camp, too, wearing out the net with accurately placed shot after shot. Mistie Bass wasted no time establishing her presence on the glass down low. But more places and familiar faces will arrive soon, now that the Euroleague season has come to a close, including Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Head Coach Sandy Brondello.
Yet the sight of Taylor was more than a good start. The versatile forward appeared fresh and engaged after an offseason of rest, and she is eager to help Phoenix return to its title-winning ways.
“That’s the plan,” Taylor confirmed. “We’re super excited. I know I am to be back and to be part of this group again. Obviously we’re still waiting for a few pieces to come back, as well as Sandy, but it’s an exciting time. Everyone’s pumped and energized and ready for a new year.”
Some of that energy is being infused by a group of first-year players. Isabelle Harrison, selected 12th overall in 2015, could be the steal of her draft class after completely rehabbing from a knee injury suffered in college. Courtney Williams, drafted eighth overall earlier this month, is a scoring machine on the perimeter, while Nirra Fields, taken 30th overall, is getting valuable reps.
Harrison, who averaged 12.2 points and 8.6 rebounds in her senior season at Tennessee, was thrilled that the wait to don a Mercury jersey was finally over.
“I’m just glad to be here with all these people because I’ve been through a lot,” Harrison said. “I can compare myself to them and see what I can work on. I thought this day would never come.”
Her teammates share those feelings, if for different reasons. The Mercury are intent on redemption after falling to Minnesota in last year’s Western Conference Finals. With old players returning and new ones arriving, Phoenix is almost comically loaded from a talent standpoint.
The process of parlaying that talent into wins has already started.
“From our perspective, having been here since 2004, our [expectation] is always to win,” Taylor said. “That hasn’t changed at all. Obviously a lot of work goes into that process and we expect nothing to come easily.”