THE UNLIKELY HERO

You saw the shot, but do you know the player?

“Patience is a virtue.”

The Phoenix Mercury’s roster features the greatest player of all-time and an electric four-time all-star. Yet with the season on the line, the ball found its way into the hands of perhaps the unlikeliest of heroes in the final second.

Shey Peddy was a decorated collegiate athlete at Wright State University and Temple, becoming a two-time Big 5 Player of the Year and earning both the 2011-12 Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

However, after being drafted 23rd overall by the Chicago Sky in 2012, Peddy was cut from the roster prior to the season. It happened again the following year with the Washington Mystics. Peddy found success playing overseas, but with six years gone since she’d been draft, her dream of playing in the WNBA seemed to be slipping away.

“My whole mentality was just off,” Peddy said. “I think I was falling out of love with basketball. Being cut twice from my dream job, I thought I would never get another chance. So, I was contemplating just quitting.”

But in 2019 with key pieces missing due to national team commitments, the Mystics again came calling. And this time, she was signed to the roster. At age 30, Peddy officially made her WNBA debut.

“It was a great feeling,” Peddy reflected on the first time her number was called. “I had butterflies. The crowd and everybody were screaming. I just tried to take in the whole scenario, the atmosphere. Not many people can say that their dream came true. I’m living my dream. It took me many years, but I did it.”

In that first opportunity, Peddy was relied on more as a practice body and could only really find time on the court in the final minutes of blowouts. And once those stars returned, Peddy was expendable once again.

What made this time different was she didn’t leave Washington. Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault, impressed by Peddy’s basketball IQ, added her as an assistant coach for the remainder of the season, one that culminated in the franchise’s first WNBA Championship.

Flash forward to 2020 when the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble was officially announced, and Peddy once again received a call from Thibault, who asked if she’d like to be a part of the Mystics once again. Peddy assumed he meant as a coach. He meant as one of the 10 players on roster.

“I was completely shocked,” Peddy said. “I thought he was kidding.”

Peddy played nine games for the Mystics in 2020 before the team, beset by injuries and shuffling through free agents, cut her once more.

“I started packing my bags,” Peddy said. “I was looking at teams and rosters and I didn’t know anyone who could use a point guard. To be honest, my stats weren’t the best. I hadn’t been playing the best basketball for somebody to pick me up. This was the end of the journey for me.”

But in the most unorthodox season in league history, Peddy’s resume had added an important bullet – she was in the bubble. In order for a team to sign a free agent, the player must pass the COVID-19 protocols before even flying to Bradenton. Then, once there, they must go through a period of quarantine, adding at least a week delay before an outside signee could take the floor with their new team. Peddy was already there and ready to play immediately.

Struggling with their own injuries and absences, the Mercury were the team who took a chance, and that chance was all she needed to prove herself. “When I got the offer from Phoenix, I was surprised,” Peddy said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought this team was already well established, but I had a chance.”

 

Peddy appeared in the final eight games of the season for the Mercury, carving a reliable role off the bench for Head Coach Sandy Brondello. She played a career-high 28 minutes in the final game of the season and looked poised and ready for the Mercury’s first round matchup.

Phoenix opened up the single elimination game against no other than the team that had released Peddy just a few weeks prior, the Washington Mystics.

Peddy was now sharing a backcourt that featured two of the premiere guards the league has ever seen in Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Both all-stars proved their status against the Mystics, notching over 20-points apiece and spearheading a 13-point comeback late in the second half.

“To be alongside them during this journey, it’s amazing,” Peddy said. “They’re two great individuals and even greater players. I love watching them. Sometimes I’m on the court and I’m in awe at the shots that they’re hitting.”

The Mercury didn’t take their first lead of the game until the fourth quarter, thanks to a comeback buoyed by Peddy’s defense and hustle. A couple of steals, an assist in transition, helping to change the trajectory of a game in which the season hung in the balance.

With less than six seconds to go, and the Mercury down by two, Phoenix drew up a play in a timeout. However, the one that resulted, maybe wasn’t quite what head coach Sandy Brondello had drawn up. In fact, Peddy wasn’t even the second option.

“The play was that Sky was going to get it,” Peddy said. “Kia was going to come and set the screen. She was expecting Emma to go with Kia, but when she turned the corner and Emma was there. Diana was the second option coming up off of the flare screen, but she wasn’t open. I wasn’t even an option. I didn’t expect her to throw me the ball at all, but when she turned the corner, we made eye contact.”

Peddy caught the ball, pump-faked to free up the shot and launched the three-pointer as the clock hit zero.

“My mind went blank,” Peddy said. “Once I shot it, I was like, ‘Please. Just please go.’ We fought so hard to come back.”

BUCKET. GAME. SERIES.

“I didn’t remember how I made it until I re-watched it,” Peddy said. “Once I made it, I turned to Diana and said, ‘Wow.’ I was in shock. I didn’t know whether to celebrate because I didn’t know if it counted. Then my teammates just swarmed me.”

The seemingly insurmountable comeback. The unscripted play. The unlikely hero.

“Once we got back from the game, I came to my room and I just laid in bed,” Peddy said. “I had notifications going crazy on my phone the whole time, but I turned my phone off and started taking it all in – everything, the tears, the pain of wanting to quit and give up, not thinking I was good enough. Then to be here on this day and make a shot like that – probably the biggest moment of my career.”

It was Peddy’s first time ever appearing on the court in the WNBA Playoffs and it was, as it turned out, right where she belonged. And right where her team needed her to be.

 

“I felt at that moment, everything that I’ve been through, all the complaining, all the hard work, everything led to this moment for a reason,” Peddy said. “It was all worth it. I have a tattoo on my forearm that says ‘patience is a virtue.’ I truly believe that. That sums up my entire life. Everything happens for a reason at its own time.”

The patience of making the league. The patience to pump fake on the shot. The patience to see her dream become a reality.

Peddy and the Mercury advance to the second round of the playoffs where they will once again face a single-elimination game against the Minnesota Lynx. Be sure to tune-in Thursday at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN2.

Don’t miss the chance to be a part of historic moments like this next season. Join the Mercury family as an X-Factor member and become a critical piece to the championship-driven franchise: https://mercury.wnba.com/paypal-xfactor/