Atop this past season’s EuroLeague scoring leaders are several names familiar to Mercury fans. Diana Taurasi sat at the very top with her 20.9 points per game. DeWanna Bonner sat just two spots below, third overall with 17.4 points per contest.
The fifth-best scorer is a newcomer to the desert, one who has put aside personal achievement for the sake of a team that was just too appealing to ignore from overseas. Sonja Petrovic, a star Serbian forward and one of Europe’s best players, has made Phoenix’s talent pool even deeper.
“The fact that Phoenix wanted me was basically the most important thing,” Petrovic said. “I know they’re a championship team with a great coach, with great players, which you can always learn from. You can have the opportunity to improve. I just felt honored and I felt that it was an opportunity you cannot skip.”
The Mercury could hardly pass up the opportunity to sign the 6-2 forward, who has dominated international competition after her brief WNBA introduction in 2012. That season, spent with the Chicago Sky, was difficult for the then-23-year-old. She said her priorities were not what they should have been, and hopes that the three subsequent years of overseas play have better prepared her for her second attempt.
“I’m mentally tougher,” Petrovic said. “I was pretty young when I came here the first time. There is a big difference between playing in Europe and [the WNBA]. I’m hoping this time I am more prepared.”
The Mercury believe she is. Head Coach Sandy Brondello compares the young Serbian to current Phoenix starter Penny Taylor, citing her toughness and smarts on the court.
Petrovic, who knows full well how much Taylor has accomplished in her career, takes the praise as a welcome standard.
“That’s really a compliment, because outside of the States, Penny is probably the best woman forward the basketball world has ever seen,” Petrovic said. “She’s for sure somebody you can look up to.”
Most other players would say the same of Petrovic. Still just 27 years old, she has already led her home country to a European Championship, which in turn earned them an automatic berth in this summer’s Olympics. In the recently concluded EuroLeague season, she ranked in the top 15 in scoring (fifth), steals (third), three-pointers made (seventh), rebounds (13th), three-point shooting (15th) and assists (15th).
Petrovic knows those numbers will not be expected of her on such a loaded Mercury team, but she is excited about her role on a contender aiming for a WNBA championship.
“It is true that I’ll need some adjustment compared to my role that I have with my team in Europe,” Petrovic admitted, “but I think I’m surrounded here by so much greatness, that with time, it should go smoothly.”