On 11 June 2022 Penny Taylor became just the third Australian to be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, joining Michele Timms (induced in 2008) and Lauren Jackson (2021) in this select group. Three weeks later on Friday 1 July 2022 Taylor was inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame.
Penny grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and commenced her junior basketball career with the Belgrave South Red Devils Basketball Club at four years of age. Taylor played most of her junior career with the Nunawading Spectres, progressed to represent Vic Metro and her ultimate aim was to play for the Australian senior women’s team – the Opals and to play in leagues overseas.
At 15 years of age Taylor made her debut in 1997 with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in the highest standard women’s basketball league in Australia – the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). Up until this point of her career Taylor had been a post player, AIS head coach Phil Brown taught Penny how to play as a guard and helped develop her into an international player.
In Taylor’s third WNBL season the AIS team of teenagers which also included Lauren Jackson, Suzy Batkovic, Kristen Veal, Deanna Smith and Belinda Snell created history by winning the 1999 WNBL Championship, becoming the first AIS team to win the title.
During her WNBL career Taylor played four seasons with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers comprised of three consecutive seasons from 1999/2000 to 2001/02 and the 2014/15 season later in her career. Taylor won the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award in both 2000/01 and 2001/02, led the league in scoring in both seasons and also ranked in the top four of the WNBL for steals and rebounds per game. In the 2014/15 WNBL season with the Dandenong Rangers Taylor ranked second for points per game and third for steals and blocked shots. Despite joining the Rangers after the 2014/15 season commenced and missing the first five games of the season Taylor finished fourth in WNBL’s MVP Award and was selected in the WNBL All-Star five for the third time in her career.
From 2002 to 2016 Taylor was an integral member of the Australian women’s basketball team, representing her country at seven of a possible eight major championships, comprised of three Olympic Games (2004 2008 & 2016) and four World Championships (2002, 2006, 2010 & 2014), only missing the 2012 London Olympics due to a knee injury. The Australian Opals won medals at five of the major championships Penny competed in, gold in 2006, silver in 2004 and 2008 and bronze in 2002 and 2014.
As well as being a key part of the Opals team achieving this great team success throughout her career Penny was also recognised for her outstanding individual performances at major championships, winning the MVP award at the 2006 World Championships in Brazil where Australia won their first gold medal at a major basketball championship. Taylor well and truly delivered when stakes were at their highest, scoring a game-high 26 points in the semi final against Brazil followed by a game-high 28 points along with nine rebounds in the Opals victory in the gold medal game against Russia.
In 2014 when she captained Australia at the World Championships in Turkey Taylor had 4.8 assists per game ranked second overall at the tournament and was selected in the All-Star five. With her height of 185 centimetres and her wide-ranging skill-set Taylor could play multiple positions on both offense and defense, although she predominantly played as a small forward for the Opals.
At the 2001 WNBA draft the Cleveland Rockers selected Taylor with pick 13. Taylor played off the bench throughout a physically demanding debut WNBA season in 2001. During 2002 Taylor started most of Cleveland’s games and had a breakout season to earn selection in the WNBA All-Star game.
The Cleveland Rockers folded after the 2003 WNBA season and Taylor was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the number one pick at the 2004 Dispersal Draft on 6 January. Three and a half months later Phoenix selected guard Diana Taurasi on 17 April 2004 with the first pick overall at the 2004 WNBA Draft.
Taylor met her future wife Taurasi for the first time during the Phoenix Mercury’s 2004 WNBA training camp. In an article published by mercury.wnba.com on 2 February 2021 Taylor recalled “It’s an instant thing. You just feel like a part of her family the minute you meet her … It was just kind of shocking, in a way, to see someone who was that energetic and dynamic.”1
At Phoenix Taylor played a pivotal role in the Mercury winning WNBA Championships in 2007, 2009 and 2014, and along with Taurasi is one of only two players to play in all three of the Mercury’s WNBA Championships. In the third of these Championships Taylor’s former Australian Opals team mate Sandy Brondello was the head coach of Phoenix. Throughout her illustrious career Taylor was an extremely versatile player with the ability to adapt her game to what her team needed most from her and could play as either a guard or a forward.
During 10 seasons with the Phoenix Mercury over 13 years from 2004 to 2016 wearing the number 13 singlet Taylor established herself as one of the club’s all-time greats, was a two-time All-Star and earnt All-WNBA selection in both these seasons, being selected on the first team in 2007 alongside Taurasi and was selected in the second team in 2011. On 9 July 2017 Taylor became just the fourth Phoenix player to have their number retired, joining fellow Australian Michele Timms in this select group. For regular season career leaders at Phoenix Mercury Taylor ranks in the top five in several categories including assists (second), steals (third), points and minutes played (fourth), rebounds (fifth) and shooting accuracy.
During a video played in Taylor’s Phoenix Mercury retirement ceremony Penny commented “The goal’s never been how many points can I score, its how much can we win by, how many wins can we get how hard can I work for Sandy in doing what she asks me to do.”
In addition to playing in the WNBL and WNBA Taylor played multiple seasons in three European leagues from 2002 to 2012, playing in Italy, Russia and Turkey, and later played the 2015/16 season in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association. Winning was a common theme throughout Penny’s superb career and she played on at least one championship winning side in each of the three European leagues that she played in.
Taylor retired after the end of the 2016 WNBA season with the Phoenix Mercury. Taylor and Taurasi married on 13 May 2017 in Phoenix and have two children, son Leo and daughter Isla. Taylor has held off-court roles with the Phoenix Mercury as Director of Player Development and Performance in 2017 and as an assistant coach in 2019.
In a post-game television interview following Phoenix Mercury’s victory against Atlanta Dream on 10 June 2022 Taylor’s wife Taurasi commented “She’s the consummate professional. When you talk about a winner, you talk about Penny, in all facets of life. I’ve admired her so much on and off the court. Not only is she a Hall of Famer on the court, but she is the best mother of all time, and we are really lucky to have her in our lives.”
More detail is provided on Penny Taylor’s phenomenal basketball career below, including playing in the WNBL with the AIS and the Jayco Rangers, representing the Australian Opals and playing in the WNBA with the Cleveland Rockers and Phoenix Mercury.
Early life and junior career
Penelope Jane Taylor was born on 24 May 1981, both of Penny’s parents, mum Denna and dad Michael were born in England and later on moved to Australia. Penny grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and commenced her junior basketball career with the Belgrave South Red Devils Basketball Club. During a video Penny Taylor’s Basketball Pathway published by Basketball Australia on 7 February 2017 Taylor commented on the start of her basketball pathway “I was four when I started, my sister (Heather) who is three years older she’d just started as well. I just jumped in there, gave it a crack (laughs). I guess I had a competitive streak, it just happened to be that I had gone in to basketball and my parents knew that we were going to be tall kids so I’ll be forever thankful that they chose basketball and I was able to make a career out of it, make a life out of it.”
“The Belgrave South Red Devils was the first (club) and we used to train in this little tiny court that probably was a church at some point I think and it was only half a court really or not even but to me it was Disneyland. We got to be out there running around and learning the game. Then I was with Knox Raiders for a little bit and then went to the Nunawading Spectres and played majority of my juniors there. I had some amazing coaches, Tony Carlin was one who really helped me develop and was really demanding. I think back now and I probably would have 10 and 11 and the things that they were requiring of us at that point, it’s special that we were able to, I have seen some video and we were running plays, we were running defenses, full-court traps. Now that seems so young but we were fully capable and they taught us so much at an early age and I feel like that was a big reason why things were easier later, a really good foundation from Nunawading.”
In a video Australian player joins class of 2022 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame published by Wate 6 On Your Side on 10 June 2022, days before the induction ceremony in Knoxville Taylor reflected on starting her basketball career as a junior and commented “I was just actually writing my speech and reflecting a little on those early days and how it was very difficult for me, I was a very shy child and found the people watching even though it was a handful of parents, it was intimidating for me, and I had to really overcome that barrier. And I think in essence that’s why my parents put me into the sport, to allow me to be physical and to have that sort of opportunity to be competitive that they knew I had in me and just break through the shyness that held me back.”
During her junior career Taylor competed for Vic Metro in Australian under-age national championships. During a video Penny Taylor returns to Dandenong for 25 year anniversary recorded by Basketball Victoria in January 2017 Taylor commented “There’s some really good years, those state teams that I was lucky enough to make and the tournaments away and really having that camaraderie with those players at the time. I was always super-competitive, so I would go into those things so stressed about winning and wanting to do the best and wanting to make sure we got a good result. That was a balance with the real enjoyment that you had of being around people and travelling with a team and working towards that common goal, fantastic memories of those times. I really just remember having such a rivalry with the Vic Country team, the Vic Metro vs Vic Country was always such a good game. Belinda Snell was a part of that team always and she obviously is one of Australia’s best ever players so just playing against her as 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 year olds and being so competitive and all of us wanting to win. I really enjoyed that feeling that other people really wanted to win as bad as I did, I loved that feeling. I enjoyed that team atmosphere and being in something together and trying to win together. Knowing that we were all trying to do the same thing, that was a really food learning experience, I think it is great for kids that they are on teams and they are enjoying that experience of doing something together and working towards a common goal. That’s probably out of those first few years the biggest thing I came away with.”
WNBL career with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) from 1997 to 1998/1999
Taylor made her WNBL debut for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) during the 1997 season at 15 years of age. The AIS team based in Canberra was comprised of teenagers who had a steep learning curve competing in the highest women’s basketball league in Australia. With considerably less experience than their rival teams in the WNBL it had been rare for the AIS to make the WNBL finals. The season before Taylor joined the AIS managed only one win from their 18 games in 1996 and finished last of the 10 teams in the WNBL. Playing for the AIS Taylor wore number 14. Taylor’s AIS teammates for her debut WNBL season in 1997 included Lauren Jackson, Kristen Veal, Deanna Smith, Rohanee Cox and Desiree Glaubitz.
In July 2017 during the Phoenix Mercury Penny Taylor retirement ceremony Taylor reflected on her time at the AIS, commenting “I had a coach there named Phil Brown and when I went there I was a post player and he taught me over the next two years how to play as a guard. But he taught me more than that, he taught me how to understand the game, how to read the game and he gave me a great opportunity to challenge myself and to get better and so I want to thank him for that very special two years and what he gave to me, he helped me become an international player.”
After missing the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons from 1987 to 1996 the AIS rose up the ladder rapidly and made the finals in 1997, finishing fifth out of 10 teams. In an elimination final the AIS defeated Dandenong Rangers 76-66. In a low scoring semi final against the Melbourne Tigers the AIS were defeated 48-57. During her debut WNBL season Taylor had a field goal accuracy of 50.9% to rank fifth in the WNBL in this category.
Whilst Taylor was at the AIS the WNBL season shifted from being held in winter to being held in summer. The final winter season in 1998 was a shorter season with each team only playing 12 games in the regular season, a reduction from 18 regular season games in 1997. In 1998 the AIS had eight wins and four losses to finish fourth on the WNBL ladder out of nine teams. The AIS and Perth went to overtime in a semi final, with AIS dominating the extra period to win 84-70. The AIS were defeated by Adelaide 54-81 in a preliminary final.
Taylor’s final season with the AIS was the WNBL’s first season in summer, being held in 1998/99 with each team playing 21 games during the regular season. The AIS finished on top of the WNBL ladder in 1998/99 with 16 wins, and five losses, two wins ahead of the Perth Breakers in second place. The AIS continued their progression to defeat Perth 81 points to 62 in the 1998/99 major semi-final to progress to the Grand Final. Whilst a 19 point margin appears comfortable in the history books the AIS’s lead had only been four points with three minutes remaining in the game. It was the second time the AIS had made a WNBL Grand Final, having been defeated by Nunawading 51-62 in 1986. The 1986 AIS team included current Opals coach Sandy Brondello who led the league with 83.6% accuracy from the free-throw line, making 46 of 55 shots from the stripe in 1986.
The AIS featured prominently at the 1998/99 WNBL Awards with Phil Brown being named the Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season and Lauren Jackson winning the WNBL’s Most Valuable Player Award for the first time in her career.
Although the AIS had clearly been the best team throughout the 1998/99 WNBL season some people questioned how a team of teenagers without Grand Final experience would handle the pressure in the 1998/99 Grand Final against an experienced Perth line-up featuring Jenny Whittle, Tully Bevilaqua, Gina Stevens, Rohanee Cox and Narelle Fletcher (nee McConnell).
The AIS’s starting line-up in the 1999 Grand Final held at home in the AIS arena was Veal, Glaubitz, Taylor, Batkovic and Jackson. The seven players on the bench for the AIS were Smith, Belinda Snell, Lauren Fitzgerald, Alison O’Dwyer, Tammy Hoare, Deanne Smitheram and Tanya Heritage. Eight members of the AIS Grand Final team including Taylor graduated at the end of the season and were playing their last game for the AIS in the 1999 WNBL Grand Final.
After the scores in the Grand Final were locked at 71 apiece with three minutes and 55 seconds remaining in the game Taylor came up with two big plays, one at each end of the court to gain the ascendancy for the AIS. With three minutes and 45 seconds remaining Taylor made a three-pointer to give the AIS a 74-71 lead over the Perth Breakers. Just under a minute later and with no change to the score Taylor took a charge from a Rohanee Cox drive in the key to cause a Perth Breakers turnover. The AIS controlled the dying minutes to defeat Perth by nine points, 88-79 and win the 1998/99 WNBL Championship. Point guard Kristen Veal won the Grand Final MVP with 14 points, 11 assists and six rebounds, equalling the record for most assists in a final. Taylor scored 16 points in the AIS’s Grand Final victory.
During 1998/99 playing for the AIS Taylor had a field goal accuracy of 52.6% – ranked third in the WNBL behind teammate Jackson (54.1%) and Adelaide Lightning forward Rachael Sporn (52.8%).
The 1999 AIS team contained several players that would become stars in the WNBL and regulars for the Jayco Opals Australian Women’s team, with Taylor and five of her AIS team-mates – Jackson, Batkovic, Veal, Smith and Belinda Snell all going on to be selected in at least one WNBL All-Star five, with Jackson being selected in this team and winning the WNBL MVP in the AIS’s 1998/99 championship winning season. Highlighting how dominant the players from the AIS class of 1998/99 have been, between them they won more than half of the WNBL MVP awards in the 20 seasons from 1998/99 onwards, combining for 12 MVP’s comprised of six for Batkovic, four for Jackson and two for Taylor. Making this domination even more impressive, in four seasons, 2004/05 and three consecutive seasons from 2006/07 to 2008/09 none of the trio played in the WNBL.
In a video Penny Taylor discusses her retirement and stellar Opals career published by Basketball Australia on 19 January 2017 Taylor commented “Obviously the AIS Championship was huge and such a highlight and really my first big win as far as professional sports went and I will always remember that as one of the greatest moments in my career.”
Reflecting on her time playing for the AIS in the WNBL Taylor told SBS Courtside 1 v1 in March 2022 “The success we had I’ve only really understood in the last few years since I have retired, knowing who we beat, who we competed against as much as the level of talent we had on that team. The level of physicality just sticks out to me, playing against Robyn Maher who I felt like could just break me (laughs), she was so strong. Trish Fallon who was the ultimate professional and so good at what she did. Jenny Whittle who was just an outstanding Australian and exceptional not just for her height but her shooting ability. Now I look back and just appreciate what we did even more for the fact that we beat those outstanding players.”
During SBS Courtside 1 v1 S2 E4 Penny Taylor – published on 24 March 2022 host Megan Hustwaite asked Taylor “Pretty much the whole (AIS) team became greats of Australian international basketball, yourself, Lauren Jackson, Suzy Batkovic the names go on, how special was it to share that together and then share many more memories and achievements as your careers went on?” Taylor responded “Lauren was just so much better than everyone and just has been throughout her career just so great and a talented player and to see what she did over in the WNBA and then to see what Suzy has done around the world. We had Belinda Snell who I think is just so underrated for what she achieved throughout the world and the list goes on and on. Not only that, some of my best friends and we created these relationships at such a young age. The fact that we were able to pull it all together, the maturity that we showed through pretty stressful experience I am really impressed with. I think some of it was just naivety, like we didn’t know what we were doing, Browny kept us very focussed on the task at hand but now looking back I am not sure that will ever happen again and knowing the program has moved on in a different way as well. It is a fantastic memory that I look back on so fondly.”
WNBL career with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers from 1999/2000 to 2001/02
Taylor joined the Dandenong Rangers for the 1999/2000 WNBL season. Mark Wright was in his second season as Dandenong’s head coach and Lucille Baillie (nee Hamilton) was the Rangers captain. Other players on the Dandenong roster included Emily McInerney, Allie Douglas and Caitlin Ryan. Jayco owned by Gerry Ryan were in their third season as the Rangers naming rights sponsor. The Rangers finished seventh out of eight teams on the WNBL ladder in 1998/99 with six wins and 15 losses.
In Taylor’s first season with Dandenong the club improved and had a winning record but narrowly missed out on making the finals. The Jayco Rangers finished fifth with 11 wins and 10 losses an identical win-loss record to the third placed Bulleen Boomers and the fourth placed Perth Lynx. In 1999/2000 Taylor playing for the Jayco Rangers ranked third in the WNBL with 2.1 steals per game and ranked equal fifth for defensive rebounds (4.5 per game) and total rebounds (6.9 per game).
During her first four seasons in the WNBL from 1997 to 1999/2000 Taylor played a total of 75 games, comprised of 54 games for the AIS and 21 games for Dandenong. Over these four seasons Penny averaged 11.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocked shots per game.
In her fifth season in the WNBL, 2000/2001 Taylor playing for the Jayco Rangers elevated her game to a new stratosphere winning the WNBL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award at 19 years of age, playing 23 games for the Dandenong Rangers including two finals, averaging 24.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.5 steals and 0.9 blocked shots per game. During the regular season Taylor led the league in points per game and steals, and was ranked third for rebounds. Taylor’s 25.5 points per game was 3.9 points more than the second ranked player, Lauren Jackson (21.6). Dandenong finished the 2000/01 season fourth on the ladder with 15 wins and six losses, only two games behind ladder leaders Canberra and an amazing eight games ahead of the fifth placed team, the AIS. After winning their semi-final on the road against Adelaide 83 to 71 Dandenong lost to Sydney 78 to 72 in the preliminary final.
Dandenong finished third on the ladder in 2001/02, again with a record of 15 wins and six losses, and lost their semi-final to Sydney by 13 points 98-85. Taylor won her second consecutive WNBL MVP award in 2001/02, playing 21 games for the Jayco Rangers including one final, averaging 27.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.9 blocked shots per game. Penny again led the league for points per game during the regular season with 4.2 points per game more than Jackson (24.3), and also ranked third in the league for steals and fourth for rebounds. Taylor’s 28.5 points per game in 2001/02 is the all-time record in the 42 season history of the WNBL from 1981 to 2021/22.
Between her back to back WNBL MVP winning seasons for the Dandenong Rangers in 2000/01 and 2001/02 Taylor played her first season of basketball internationally, for the Cleveland Rockers in the WNBA, and in the 12 and a half years between playing in the WNBL for the Jayco Rangers in 2001/2002 and 2014/15 Taylor spent the vast majority of her time playing basketball internationally, in national leagues in the USA, Italy, Russia and Turkey, as well as for the Australian women’s basketball team, the Opals.
To celebrate the WNBL turning 25 during the 2004/2005 season the league announced the WNBL 25th anniversary team comprised of 10 players, Taylor was selected in the team, receiving the sixth highest number of votes behind Lauren Jackson, Robyn Maher, Michele Timms, Rachael Sporn and Shelley Sandie.
Playing in European leagues and the Chinese Basketball Association
From 2002 to 2012 in the WNBA off-season Penny played in a national league in Europe, first with Italian clubs La Spezia (2002-2003) and Famila Schio (2004-2007), followed by Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg (2007-09), and finally Turkish club Fenerbahce (2009-2012). In each of these three European leagues Penny played on at least one championship winning team, being a member of the Italian A1 Champion in 2006 with Famila Schio, the Russian Superleague Champion in 2009 with UMMC Ekaterinburg and the Turkish League Champion in 2010 and 2012 with Fenerbahce. Penny was selected on the World team for the EuroLeague All-Star game three times – 2006, 2007 and 2010. Playing in Turkey for Fenerbahce against Galatasaray in a EuroLeague semi final on 29 March 2012 Taylor tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee.
During 2015/16 Taylor played 22 games for Shanxi Flame in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association, averaging 23.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Throughout her distinguished career Taylor played in six different national basketball leagues on four continents, winning a total of eight championships across these leagues, including at least one championship in five of the six leagues she played in. The only exception was the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association where Taylor only played one season.
During SBS Courtside 1v1 S2 EP 4 – Penny Taylor published on 24 March 2022 Taylor spoke about playing in several European leagues, commenting “The first experience was rough. It is not just that you are going there to play basketball, you are going there with expectations of being the best, scoring the most, helping the team win, you have to start somewhere so I started at a mid-range team and we had great success but it is overwhelming. My coach didn’t speak English, I think one of my teammates spoke English. So you have got to be resilient and it helped me get a lot tougher. It used to be eight solid months so you would go over there and not come back until the end. It was really tough but I found a way to make it work, you make friends, you try and find common ground with the coaches. It is very different in Europe too, there is very different ideas about how to play basketball which you have to adapt to and it was a lot of fun learning new ways and making great friends. I learnt Italian while I was there, I didn’t learn any Russian or Turkish or Chinese but I had all these great experiences in a lot of different countries.”
On playing in several leagues around the world Taylor commented in her Phoenix Mercury retirement ceremony “I am thankful to being exposed to all those different styles of basketball and I learnt a lot from different corners of the world and I’ll always treasure those experiences.”
Representing the Australian Opals at major championships from 2002 to 2016
At 18 of years age Taylor attended her first training camp with Australia’s senior women’s team, the Opals. At the next major championship, the Sydney Olympic Games in September 2000 Taylor missed out on selection in the Opals 12 player team. Only one of Taylor’s peers was selected on the Australian team for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, fellow 19 year-old Jackson, no other player on the Opals team for their home Olympics was younger than 24. In the two years that followed the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Taylor won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in the WNBL playing for the Jayco Dandenong Rangers and made her WNBA debut for the Cleveland Rockers.
Taylor was selected in the Australian Opals team for the 2002 World Championships held in China from 14 to 25 September and was a key player for Australia at the tournament. Former Opal Jan Stirling was the Opals head coach, having commenced the role in 2001. Playing for the Opals Taylor wore singlet number 7 and in an illustrious career at international level Taylor represented Australia at seven major championships comprised of three Olympic games and four World Championships.
Taylor’s predecessor in the Opals number 7 singlet was Michele Timms who was a member of Opals medal winning teams at the previous three major championships, winning bronze medals at the 1996 Olympics and 1998 World Championships as well as a silver medal on home soil at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Taylor and Timms are two of Australia’s greatest ever basketball players and as well as both wearing number 7 for the Opals they have some significant achievements in common. Being two of the four Phoenix Mercury players that have had their numbers retired and are in an even smaller group of three Australian’s along with Lauren Jackson that have been inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
At 21 years of age Taylor was the third youngest member of the Opals squad for the 2002 World Championships with only 18 year-olds Laura Hodges (nee Summerton) and Hollie Florance (nee Grima) being younger. Taylor was one of three 21 year-olds on the team, being joined by two of her team-mates from the AIS’s 1999 WNBL championship winning team – Jackson and Batkovic. Taylor is five months younger than Batkovic and 13 days younger than Jackson. The seven members of the Opals team for the 2002 World Championships over 25 years of age were current Australian Opals coach Sandy Brondello, Kristi Harrower, Trish Fallon, Jennifer Whittle, Michelle Brogan, Allison Tranquilli and Jae Kingi.
During the Basketball Australia video Penny Taylor discusses her retirement and stellar Opals career published on 19 January 2017 Taylor commented on being selected in the Opals team for the 2002 World Championships “I remember just being really happy, I think going through juniors you’re always trying to make that next team and be a part of the absolute best. To know that at that time I was a part of the best team in the country, the best players in the country, I mean that was always my goal so I just remember super-happy and excited.”
In the group and classification stage at the 2002 World Championships Australia won five of their six games with the loss being by a point to Brazil 74-75. The Opals easily accounted for France, 78 to 52 in a quarter final. USA defeated Australia 71 to 56 in a semi-final at the 2002 World Championships. In the bronze medal game Australia led Korea 46-33 at half-time and extended the lead in the second half to win 91-63. Against Korea Taylor made eight of 13 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 61.5% to score 16 points and be the Opals second highest scorer behind Jackson’s game-high 31 points.
As one of only five players to play all nine games for the bronze medal winning Opals Taylor averaged 13.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.4 steals and 21.9 minutes per game. At the tournament Taylor ranked second for Australia for points per game behind Jackson, first for steals and fourth for assists. Taylor ranked 16th overall at the 2002 World Championships for points per game, equal 31st for assists, 15th for field goal percentage, 10th for three-point percentage and equal eighth for steals.
Taylor made her Olympic Games debut at 23 years of age at 2004 in Athens, Greece. Penny was one of five 23 year-olds in the Opals team along with Jackson, Batkovic, Snell and Natalie Porter, the youngest member of the team was 20-year-old Laura Hodges. The Opals team contained several players with a vast deal of experience on the international stage with the remaining six players being Brondello, Rachel Sporn, Fallon, Harrower, Tranquilli and Alicia Poto.
At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens Australia finished on top of Group A, winning all five group games by at least 12 points. In a 39 point quarter final victory against New Zealand 94 to 55 Taylor played a brilliant all-round game, scoring 12 points with a field goal accuracy of 50 %, took seven rebounds, had a game-high four assists and an equal game-high three steals. The semi final against Brazil was far closer than most of the Opals games to that stage of the tournament. After leading by seven points at three quarter-time the Opals outscored Brazil 25 to 19 in the final quarter to win by 13 points 88 to 75 and progress to the gold medal game. Australia’s greater depth was a key factor in the victory with five Opals in double figures for scoring compared to only three Brazilians. From 29 minutes court-time Taylor scored 12 points with a field goal accuracy of 50%, made her only three-pointer and took six rebounds – ranked third for Australia.
In the gold medal game at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens the Australian Opals played the United States of America. Taylor’s Phoenix Mercury teammate and future wife Diana Taurasi was playing her first major championship for USA. The first three quarters were extremely close with the USA leading the Opals by two points at three quarter-time 52-50. USA dominated in the final quarter to outscore Australia 22 points to 13 and won by 11 points, 74-63. Taylor scored a team-high 16 points with a field goal accuracy of 46.2%, took five rebounds and had an equal team-high two steals in 32 minutes court-time. As a member of the USA’s gold medal team Taurasi scored eight points, making three of six field goals at an accuracy of 50% in 14 minutes court-time.
Highlighting phenomenal shooting all over the court at the 2004 Olympic Games Taylor ranked in the top 10 overall for field goal percentage – sixth with 51.2%, free-throw percentage – fifth with 84.6% and three-point percentage – seventh with 40%. Taylor was the only player at the tournament to be ranked in the top 10 overall in all three categories for shooting accuracy.
Taylor ranked equal 43rd overall and fourth for Australia for minutes played. Taylor stood out with her all-round play at the 2004 Olympic Games to rank in the top 25 per game in all four of the following categories, points – 13th, rebounds – equal 22nd, assists – equal 21st and steals – 20th. Of the players ranked in the top 25 for points per game only two averaged less minutes per game than Taylor’s 23.9, the USA’s Lisa Leslie with 23.0 and the Czech Republic’s Eva Vitcekova with 22.4. Of the top 25 players for points per game 11 averaged over 30 minutes per game. One of the USA’s and Australia’s greatest strengths was the depth that both nations had which meant that neither squad was reliant on their stars playing huge minutes, and as a result Tamika Catchings led USA with 25.0 minutes per game and Jackson ranked first for the Opals in this category with 29.4. As one of only five players to play all nine games for the Opals Taylor averaged 14.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 23.9 minutes per game. For the Opals Taylor ranked second for points behind Jackson, third for rebounds behind Jackson and Batkovic, third for assists behind Harrower and Fallon, first for steals, equal third for blocked shots and fourth for minutes played behind Jackson, Harrower and Fallon.
Australia had a far from ideal preparation for the 2006 World Championships held in in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from September 12 to 23, only having one practice match against the USA five days before the start of the tournament. The 12 members of the Opals team were Taylor, Jackson, Harrower, Whittle, Snell, Bevilaqua, Hodges, Florance, Erin Phillips, Jennifer Screen, Emily McInerney and Emma McDonald (nee Randall).
At the 2006 World Championships Australia won by forfeit over Lithuania in their opening game due to Lithuania not reaching Brazil in time for their game, party due to a flight cancellation. Members of the Opals family and fans were at the stadium and with Australia needing more match practice the Opals played a game amongst themselves with the coaches picking two teams.
The Opals had comprehensive wins over Senegal and Canada by 40 points and 32 points respectively to finish on top of Group A and be one of only two teams at the tournament along with the USA to be undefeated during the group stage. In the eight-final round the Opals won all three games, however two of them were close victories by four and nine points respectively against Spain and Brazil. Taylor top-scored for the Opals in both games, including a game-high 27 points on 10 of 16 field goals (62.5% accuracy) against Brazil. In this game Penny also took seven rebounds including a team-high four offensive rebounds.
Australia won their quarter-final against France 79-66 with Taylor scoring 18 points. Host nation Brazil led the semi-final against Australia by seven points at three quarter-time, however Australia controlled the final quarter 31-12 to win by 12 points, 88-76 and progress to the gold medal game. Against Brazil Taylor scored a game-high 26 points comprised of eight of ten field goals including two three-pointers and eight of nine free-throw attempts made. During the 2006 World Championships Taylor injured her groin and then further aggravated this injury in the semi final victory against Brazil. In a semi-final on the same day (21 September) Russia upset the USA 75 points to 68 to end the USA’s 50 game winning streak at major championships.
In front of a crowd of 4,500 people Australia won every quarter of the gold medal game on 23 September against Russia to win in convincing fashion by 17 points, 91-74. Taylor scored a game-high 28 points – 11 more than the second ranked player and put on a sublime shooting display all over the court to make 9 of 14 field goal attempts (64.3%), including three of five three-points shots. Penny also made seven of nine free-throw attempts, took nine rebounds – ranked second for the Opals behind Jackson with 11, and had a game-high three steals in 35 minutes court-time.
With the victory the Australian Opals coached by Jan Stirling won their first gold medal at a major championship. It was the first time that Australia had made the final at the World Championships and Taylor commented “We did know that but it wasn’t something that restricted us at all. It’s an exciting thing to make history, but we knew we had to get the job done first. Now all that stuff is fantastic to think about.”2
Taylor played all eight games for Australia at the 2006 World Championships, averaging 18 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 26.5 minutes per game. Penny led the Opals for steals, was ranked second for points, rebounds, assists and minutes played. Taylor ranked third overall at the tournament for points per game, 25th for rebounds, 14th for assists and equal 14th for steals. Taylor was ranked second for field goal accuracy with 59.3%, 10th for three –point accuracy with 41.4% and sixth for free-throw percentage with 85.7%. No other player at the tournament ranked in the top 10 overall in all three categories for shooting accuracy. Taylor was rewarded for her brilliant all-round tournament, phenomenal shooting and outstanding form at the business end of the tournament by being named the Most Valuable Player at the 2006 World Championships, ahead of team-mate Lauren Jackson in second place, followed by Russia’s Maria Stepanova in third position.
Reflecting on the 2006 World Championships Taylor told Basketball Australia in January 2017 “Everything just fell into place, you know you need a lot of luck sometimes and we were lucky, we had a really cohesive team, we had a really focussed team, we had some experience, a lot of young legs and it all fell into place for us and we just played really tough, really hard and together. My memory is that we were just a good team, we fed off each other’s strengths and we went to the right people at the right time, but it was our attitude as well. We were tough and I think that is what gave us a lot of success.”
At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games 27 year-old Taylor was named vice-captain of the Opals with power/forward centre Jackson competing in her third Olympics named captain. Taylor and Jackson were two of the six players that remained from the Opals 2004 Olympic Games team along with Batkovic, Snell, Harrower and Hodges. The Opals 2008 Olympic Games team was completed by Phillips, Bevilaqua, Screen, Florance, McDonald and Rohanee Cox.
In a FIBA video Penny Taylor exclusive interview recorded at the Diamond Ball Women’s tournament in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics Taylor spoke about the rivalry between USA and the Opals, commenting “As much as people talk about Australia and the USA there’s a lot of other teams in the mix there but there is a rivalry now, especially because a lot of us are playing in the WNBA and we are gaining that experience from playing with and against these American players and it has really improved our game, I think definitely. We also have so many players playing in Europe, sometimes with, sometimes against American players as well so we have gained a lot of experience right throughout our team and it has helped us, also we have been exposed to them a little more so they know our games also. There’s a rivalry there and I think just purely the talent of both teams is a very high level.”
Australia progressed comfortably to the quarter-finals of the 2008 Olympic games by winning each of their first five games of the tournament by at least 15 points with Taylor scoring more than 10 points in each game. Australia were in control of their quarter-final, leading the Czech Republic 38-17 at half-time however the Opals had a massive set-back in the third quarter when Taylor injured her ankle on a drive to the basket. Team-mates Jackson and Batkovic assisted Taylor before she was carried to the bench by the medical team in tears. After the ankle injury it was feared that Taylor would not play again at the tournament, with Opals head coach Jan Stirling commenting on Taylor’s injury and the Opals prospects of defeating the USA “It does look quite significant at this point in time. If she is not ready to go, then that’s sport. That’s one hole that’s been created and someone else will have to step up. We probably need our whole group but stranger things have happened in the game of basketball.”3
As expected Taylor missed the semi final against China due to the ankle injury. Australia led by two points at quarter-time and thrashed China in the second quarter 21-7 to set up a comfortable 34 point win, 90-56 and advance to their third consecutive Olympic Gold medal game against the USA. Taylor took her place in the Opals line-up against the USA but was hampered by her ankle injury. The USA won in convincing fashion by 27 points, 92-65 after leading by 17 points at half-time. The biggest difference between the two teams was shooting accuracy with Australia making only a quarter of their field goals, comprised of 19 made from 76 attempts, whilst in a brilliant shooting exhibition the USA made 33 of their 56 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 58.9%. In 23 minutes court-time Taylor scored six points, took two rebounds and made one of her seven field goal attempts. The Opals won the silver medal for the third consecutive Olympic Games.
At the 2008 Olympic Games Taylor played seven of the Opal’s eight games, averaging 11.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.1 steals and 24.4 minutes per game. Taylor ranked in the top 25 overall per game in the following four categories, points – 25th, rebounds – 16th, assists – 13th and steals- 5th. Highlighting just how difficult it is to be ranked in the top 25 of all four categories, only one other player at the tournament also achieved this feat – long-time Opals team-mate Snell. Taylor ranked fourth for Australia for points per game behind Jackson, Batkovic and Snell, third for rebounds behind Batkovic and Jackson, first for steals and equal second for assists with Snell, behind Harrower. Stirling stepped down as the Opals head coach after the 2008 Olympic Games.
At the 2010 World Championships from 23 September to 3 October in the Czech Republic Carrie Graf was in her first major championships as the Opals head coach. Taylor missed the Opals first game of the tournament against Canada due to a back injury. Taylor returned to the Australian team for their second game of the tournament against Belarus and despite receiving a heavy knock to her back played every Opals game for the remainder of the tournament. Six members of Australia’s 2008 Olympic Games team represented the Opals at the 2010 World Championships with Taylor being joined in this category by Jackson, Harrower, Snell, Florance and Bevilaqua. Five players made their major championship debut for the Opals at the 2010 World Championships – Abby Bishop, Liz Cambage, Jenna O’Hea, Marianna Tolo and Samantha Richards. After missing the 2008 Olympic games Erin Phillips, a member of the Opals gold medal winning team at the 2006 World Championships returned to the Australian team for the 2010 edition of the tournament.
Australia won their three matches in group A and two of their three matches in the eight-final round, losing to USA 75 to 83. Australia played hosts, the Czech Republic in a quarter-final and trailed 51 to 52 at three quarter-time. The Czech Republic controlled the final quarter to outscore Australia 27 to 17 to defeat the Opals by 11 points 79 to 68. Poor field goal shooting proved costly for Australia, making only 20 of their 70 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 28.6%, significantly lower than the Czech Republic’s 37.5%. Australia defeated Russia 78 to 73 and France 74 to 62 to finish the World Championships in fifth position. During the 2010 World Championships Taylor played eight of the Opal’s nine games, averaging 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 21.9 minutes per game. Penny ranked third for the Opals for points per game behind Liz Cambage and Jackson, equal second for rebounds with Cambage behind Jackson, and equal second for assists with Jenna O’Hea behind Harrower.
Playing in Turkey for Fenerbahce against Galatasaray in a EuroLeague semi final on 29 March 2012 Taylor tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. After suffering the injury Penny said “A fast-break pass was thrown up in the air, I jumped up and caught it, landed as I would have done a million times, and just felt my knee go out, felt a bit of a pop or a snap.” Taylor went on to say “After a few different tests and seeing a few different people I realised it was my ACL.”
The left knee reconstruction was the first serious long-term injury that Taylor had suffered during her magnificent career, with her previous worst injury being an ankle injury that kept her sidelined for the first two months of the Phoenix Mercury’s 2009 WNBA season.
Taylor missed the 2012 London Olympic Games due to her left knee injury, it was the only major championship that Taylor missed from 2002 to 2016. Australia finished second in group B at London, winning four games and having a four point loss in overtime to France. Australia won their quarter final against China by 15 points. Australia led the USA by four points at half-time of their semi final, 47-43 but were outplayed in the second half, losing by 13 points 73-86. It was the fifth consecutive Olympic Games that the United States had beaten Australia, having also won a semi-final in 1996 before defeating the Opals in three consecutive Olympic gold medal games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. The Australian Jayco Opals defeated Russia by nine points, 83-74 in the bronze medal game resulting in the Opals extending their medal winning sequence to five Olympic games.
Brendan Joyce was appointed as the Australian head coach and named a new look Opals line-up for the 2014 World Championships in Turkey from 27 September to 5 October. Only three players that represented the Jayco Opals at the 2012 Olympic games also represented Australia at the 2014 World Championships – guard/forward Rachel Jarry, shooting guard Snell and forward Hodges. Several players that had played for the Opals during the 2012 Olympics had retired, were injured or were unavailable, including Harrower and Screen (both retired), Jackson (injured) and Batkovic and O’Hea (both unavailable).
Days before Australia commenced their 2014 World Championships campaign the Opals named their leaders with Taylor being named captain and Hodges named vice-captain. Opals coach Joyce told Australia.basketball “We have worked extensively in the past 18 months to give the players the opportunity to drive their own set of values and standards that reflect what it means to be part of the Opals program. This player-driven focus extended to the selection of the captains for the World Championships and in Penny and Laura they have chosen two players who live and breathe these values. To see Penny back in an Opals uniform has given everyone a great boost. Her on-court ability speaks for itself, but it has been her leadership and mentoring that has gained the respect of the team.”4
Under head-coach Joyce the Opals played an up-tempo style of basketball and had the same five starters for every game of the tournament – Taylor, Erin Phillips, Rachel Jarry, Laura Hodges and Marianna Tolo. Whilst Jarry and Hodges played for the Opals at the 2012 Olympics, Taylor missed due to her knee injury and Phillips and Tolo made the squad of 15 before both being in the last three players cut from the Opals 2012 Olympics Games team.
Although Australia were the number 2 ranked women’s basketball country in the world they were on the same half of the draw as the number 1 ranked nation, the United States of America, whilst the third ranked country Spain were on the other half of the draw. In an Opals warm-up game against the USA just over a week before the start of the World Championships Australian centre Liz Cambage ruptured her Achilles tendon which forced her to miss the 2014 World Championships. Bendigo Spirit centre Gabe Richards joined the Opals in Turkey as a late replacement for Cambage. Other members of the Australian team at the 2014 World Championships were point guards Leilani Mitchell and Tessa Lavey, guard/forward Rebecca Allen and front court players Natalie Burton, Cayla George and Gabe Richards.
In the Opals opening game of the 2014 World Championships, a 90-57 win against Cuba Taylor scored a game-high 20 points, making seven of 12 field goals at 58.3%, had four assists and took four rebounds. Australia won all three of their Group C games, also defeating Korea 87-54 in their second game and Belarus 87-45 in their third game.
In the quarter-final Canada provided far tougher opposition than Australia’s group C opponents and after leading by only two points at quarter-time the Opals controlled the second quarter 17-7 to set up a 63-52 victory. The semi-final between the USA and Australia was tight during the first term, with the Opals trailing by three points at quarter-time, however USA dominated the second quarter 23 to 14 to lead 42-30 at half-time. Australia kept pace with the USA after half-time with both teams scoring 40 points in the second half, resulting in USA winning 82-70. Taylor had an equal team-high six rebounds, a team-high four assists and scored eight points – making three of her 10 field goal attempts.
The bronze medal game against Turkey at the 2014 World Championships was Taylor’s first medal game fully fit at a major championships since the gold medal game at the 2006 World Championships, having been hampered by an ankle injury during the gold medal game at the 2008 Olympics, missing the 2012 Olympics due to her left knee reconstruction and whilst she was fully fit at the 2010 World Championships Australia didn’t progress to the medal games. Australia started the bronze-medal game against hosts, Turkey in the best possible fashion, after Australia scored the first 17 points of the game they were never threatened, winning 74-44. Taylor led the Opals brilliantly, scoring 13 points on six of ten field goal attempts and gave a passing exhibition to register a game-high nine assists – more than Turkey’s combined assist tally of seven, and triple the players ranked equal second in this category with three assists each.
Taylor played all six games for the Opals at the 2014 World Championships, averaging 12.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 23.0 minutes per game. Taylor ranked second for Australia for points per game behind Tolo, fourth for rebounds behind Tolo, Natalie Burton and Cayla George, and first for assists. Taylor was ranked second overall at the tournament for assists behind Cuba’s Ineidis Casanova (5.8 assists per game), ranked 11th for field goal accuracy with 46.6%, 14th for points, 17th for steals and 31st for rebounds. As recognition for her superb tournament Taylor was selected in the All-Star 5 for the 2014 World Championships.
After Australia won the bronze medal game Opals captain Taylor commented “This team has been the most together and happy as a team more than any other team. We had adversity staring in the face right through. There’s a lot of talent coming in. I’m so proud of them. I think Brendan has put together a fantastic system, especially in defense.”5
For the 2016 Rio Olympic Games head coach Joyce retained most of the Opals team from the 2014 World Championships and had Australia playing a similar style of basketball. Only three changes were made between the two major championships with Snell, Gabrielle Richards and Rebecca Allen from the 2014 World Championships missing out on a spot on the Opals 2016 Olympics Games team. The three additions for the 2016 Rio team were Steph Talbot, 2015/16 WNBL All-Star Five member Katie Ebzery and Cambage.
Whilst nine players represented the Opals at both the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games the way that these players were utilised changed considerably and only two players were starters for the Opals at both major championships – Taylor and Phillips. The three players that moved into the starting line-up in Rio were point guard Leilani Mitchell, athletic forward Natalie Burton and centre Liz Cambage.
The Opals were strongly tested in the group stage at the 2016 Rio Olympics and although they won all five games, in three of these games they trailed by a double-figure margin before fighting back to win. The Opals kicked off their Olympic games against the hosts – Brazil and were slow out of the blocks to trail 14-24 at quarter-time. Australia won each of the last three quarters by at least six points to win by 18 points, 84-66. Three Opals starters scored at least 17 points each, Cambage – 20, Mitchell – 18 and Taylor – 17.
Against Turkey in their second game Taylor was held scoreless for the first three quarters. The Opals led by only two points at three quarter-time and outscored Turkey 18-15 in the final quarter to win by five points 61-56. Taylor played a critical role in the final term to score five points and make some big plays.
In Australia’s third game at Rio they faced their highest ranked Group A rival – France who were ranked fourth in the world behind the USA, Australia and Spain in that order. Opals centre Cambage who was leading the women’s tournament for points per game picked up two fouls in the first three and a half minutes of the game, was substituted off and only returned to the court for the final play of the first half in which she scored a field goal. Forward Taylor gave a vintage performance against France to set a new Australian record for most points in a game at the Olympics with 31, including 17 points in the first half. Taylor played an incredible all-round game against France, also having a game-high nine assists, team-high three steals and five rebounds. Penny’s shooting was phenomenal, making 10 of her 13 field goal attempts for an accuracy of 76.9% and made all eight of her three-throws.
Taylor reached 50 games for Australia at major championships in the Opal’s fourth group game in Rio against Japan. Australia trailed by two points at half-time and were thoroughly outplayed in the third quarter 21-11 to trail by 12 points with a quarter to play. Japan gained the ascendancy due to their speed, fantastic outside shooting and disciplined style of play, twice extending the margin to 16 points early in the final term to loom as almost certain winners. Australia had a size advantage and looked to exploit this with Cambage and Tolo in the final quarter. Cambage was instrumental in the Opals pulling off a miraculous escape to win by six points, 92-86. Taylor scored 13 points – making five of 11 field goals, had an equal team-high seven assists with Mitchell and took six rebounds. Cambage scored 18 points in the last quarter and a total of 37 points to break the Australian Olympic record for most points in a game that Taylor had set just one game earlier against France.
In Australia’s final group game at Rio they trailed Belarus by 13 points with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter and yet again had a comeback victory, dominating from that point on to win by eight points, outscoring Belarus 22-7 in the final quarter. Taylor scored 11 points, had five rebounds and three assists.
Having won all five of their Group A games at the 2016 Rio Olympics Australia finished on top of the Group. The Opals were overwhelming favourites for their quarter final against Serbia but very little separated the two teams throughout the game. After scores were tied 20 points apiece at quarter time Australia outscored Serbia 17-15 in the second quarter. Serbia took the honours 17-16 in the third quarter to trail by one point 51-52 at the final change. With a minute and one second remaining in the fourth quarter Australia trailed 67-70. Whilst the Opals scored four points in the final 61 seconds Serbia added three points of their own, resulting in the Opals being defeated 71-73, ending their tournament. Taylor had a game-high nine assists and a team-high three steals against Serbia.
At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio Taylor averaged 13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 28.6 minutes per game. Penny led the Opals for assists, steals and minutes played, and ranked second for points and rebounds – behind Cambage in both categories. At her final major championships Taylor ranked in the top 30 per game in the following five categories, assists – second, steals – equal seventh, points – 16th, blocked shots – equal 20th and rebounds 27th. Taylor led the tournament for free-throw percentage at a perfect 100%, making all 18 attempts.
During the Basketball Australia video Penny Taylor discusses her retirement and stellar Opals career published on 19 January 2017 Taylor commented on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games “Yeah, that was pretty devastating. It took a long time to get over that and even be able to talk about it because I never wanted to let Australian basketball down in that way and let the country down. I have always wanted to make everyone really proud of us and our team. I feel like we did let ourselves and a lot of people down.”
When asked what is your best memory of the Olympic Games Penny responded “The best memory from Athens and Beijing would be the Gold medal games, it was super exciting, we gave it our all, we obviously fell short in those games but it is a big moment and a good challenge for us, playing against the best is always the goal.”
After Taylor retired as a player she was appointed as an assistant coach of the Australian Opals in 2017 including at the 2017 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup. Opals coach Brondello commented “Penny is one of the most respected Opals of all time. She has delivered an incredible legacy as a player and now, having been working with me at the Mercury as an assistant, she has an intimate knowledge of my system that the players can tap into.”6
On being a member of the Opals coaching staff Taylor said “I couldn’t be more thrilled to continue my journey with the Opals. I look forward to being a part of an extremely impressive coaching staff with worldwide experience and knowledge of the game. Helping the players have an enjoyable, fulfilling and successful experience as an Opal is my top priority.”7
Taylor was an assistant coach of the Opals at the 2017 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup where Australia won the silver medal, being defeated by Japan in the final 73-74.
From 2018 onwards Taylor’s most important priority has been her family and she stopped her role as an Opals assistant coach. Taylor and Taurasi got married in Phoenix on 13 May 2017 and have two children, son Leo Michael Taurasi-Taylor and daughter Isla Taurasi-Taylor on 9 October 2021.
During the TAB Courtside 1 v 1 episode published by SBS in March 2022 host Megan Hustwaite asked “Do you still follow the Opals?” Taylor responded “Yeah, definitely, I really follow them closely. I love seeing that they are all attempting different things throughout the world and learning and growing. There is a bit of a change of the guard in the sense where they have got the younger generation coming through which is exciting and they play a different way. I think basketball in general is always evolving and you see just how its constantly growing and I love to keep with the new way of playing, the new talent that’s coming through and I think there is a few really exciting players. I think there is a great aspect of now younger players going to the US, playing College, coming back and bringing those skills with them as well. Australian basketball as always done a great job of creating team players that are able to pass, shoot, play the right way, learn a play quickly, do what the coach asks them so that’s always fun for me to see.”
On Thursday 22 September the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup commences in Sydney. Next this week Milestones and Misses will be publishing an Australian Opals World Cup preview and player profiles article. In the past nine months Milestones and Misses has published articles comprehensively covering the careers of Australian Opals 2022 World Cup team members Steph Talbot, Cayla George, Anneli Maley and Kristi Wallace as well as several other players that have represented the Opals in 2022 but missed out on selection in the final 12 player team. Below are links to the Australian Opals category and the homepage of Milestones and Misses:
2001 to 2003 WNBA seasons with the Cleveland Rockers
At the 2001 WNBA Draft on 20 April the Cleveland Rockers selected Taylor with pick 11. Taylor was one of three Australians selected in the first round along with two teammates from the AIS’s 1999 WNBL Championship winning team – Lauren Jackson selected with the number one pick by Seattle Storm and Kristen Veal who was selected by Phoenix Mercury with pick 13.
Dan Hughes was the head coach of the Cleveland Rockers in 2001, his second season in the role. At 19 years of age Taylor was the youngest player on the Rockers 2001 roster, Penny wore number 14 for the Cleveland Rockers. The transition from being the Most Valuable Player in the WNBL to a player who didn’t get a single start in her first WNBA season with the Cleveland Rockers in 2001 and averaged less than half the game on the court was a difficult one for Taylor and a few weeks into the season she even feared that she might get cut from the team. During an interview in March 2022 Taylor told SBS program TAB Courtside 1 v 1 “I got beat up my first season in the WNBA. It was super physical and as a 19-year-old I hadn’t reached my physical peak. It was very hard and I don’t think I even touched the ball during the first three weeks of my first training camp. It was physically demanding and I realised I wasn’t the level where I needed to be, but I was learning more and more every game.” Cleveland finished first in the Eastern Conference with a regular season record of 22 wins and 10 losses. The Rockers were defeated in the Eastern Conference semi finals by Charlotte Sting two games to one. Taylor ranked fifth for Cleveland in points per game and rebounds, equal third for steals and seventh for minutes played.
That first WNBA season with the Cleveland Rockers in 2001 provided Penny with a greater understanding of her team-mates, the style of play in the league and which areas of her game she needed to improve. During a breakout 2002 season Taylor was one of the most improved players in the league, increasing her scoring output by 80.6% from 7.2 points per game in 2001 to 13.0 points per game in 2002 to lead Cleveland in this category. Penny started 26 of her 30 regular season games for Cleveland in 2002 and earnt selection in the 2002 WNBA All-Star game. Taylor ranked second at Cleveland for steals, equal second for assists and third for rebounds and minutes played.
During the 2003 WNBA season Taylor played all 34 games for the Rockers including 33 as a starter. In two games against the Phoenix Mercury Taylor excelled for Cleveland. In the first match-up on 10 July 2003 in Phoenix Taylor scored 12 points took a game-high and equal season-high nine rebounds and had four assists along with a game-high and season-high five steals in Cleveland’s 68-67 victory. When the two teams met for the second and last time of 2003, three weeks later on 1 August in Cleveland Taylor put on a shooting exhibition, scoring a career-high and game-high 33 points – 20 points more than the second ranked player for the game, making 11 of 15 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 73.3%, took five rebounds, made three assists and had three steals in a Rockers 75-56 win.
In 2003 Taylor ranked second at Cleveland in scoring with 11.7 points per game, behind centre-forward Chasity Melvin (13.1 points per game) and ahead of 2003 WNBA number one draft pick, forward LaToya Thomas (10.8 ppg). Taylor was the Rockers equal leader for steals per game, ranked second for assists per game and third for rebounds and minutes.
Cleveland had 17 wins and 17 losses in the regular season to finish fourth out of seven teams in the Eastern Conference. In the Eastern Conference first round Detroit Shock defeated Phoenix two games to one. During Cleveland’s three playoffs games in 2003 Taylor averaged 15 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
After becoming an integral player at Cleveland, one of the eight original WNBA franchises, Taylor faced uncertainty after the club folded at the end of the 2003 season.
WNBA Career with Phoenix Mercury from 20004 to 2014
On 6 January 2004 the 2004 WNBA dispersal draft was held. A 2004 WNBA Dispersal Draft Recap published on WNBA.com stated “Sixteen players were available to be selected in the one-round draft, including those players who did not play last season, but to whom the Rockers had negotiating rights. Teams drafted in inverse order of their regular-season finish in 2003, meaning Phoenix had the first pick, and selected 6-1 forward Penny Taylor.”8 Chasity Melvin was selected by Washington with pick 2 and with the third pick San Antonio drafted LaToya Thomas.
Phoenix Mercury General Manager Seth Sulka commented “Penny is a great young player at her position and when we take a look at our team, we really need to get stronger at the perimeter.”9
After the 2004 Dispersal Draft Taylor commented to wnba.com from her apartment in Italy “I wanted to go to a team where I thought I could make an impact – to be a scorer and to become a better player. My primary goal is to help the team and win games. In a perfect situation, it came about that Phoenix is the place where I could do all of those things as well as being able to play on a great team that has a positive look to the future.”10
In 2003 Phoenix Mercury who had the worst WNBA record with eight wins and 26 losses. Fellow Australian Carrie Graf was in her first season as the head coach of the Mercury in 2004, having previously been an assistant coach of the team. Phoenix also had the number one overall selection at the 2004 WNBA draft on 17 April and selected guard, Diana Taurasi. During Taurasi’s college career with University of Connecticut she was named the Naismith Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004 and UConn won three consecutive NCAA Women’s Championships from 2002 to 2004.
Australian guard Michele Timms played five WNBA seasons for Phoenix Mercury from the league’s inaugural season in 1997 through to 2001. In 1999 Timms became both the first Phoenix Mercury player and first Australian player to play in the WNBA All-Star game. Timms retired from the WNBA at the end of the 2001 season and on 7 August 2002 became the first Phoenix Mercury player to have their number retired. When Taylor’s number 13 was retired and joined Timms’ number 7 in the rafters at Talking Stick Resort Arena Taylor commented “I really want to talk about and tell you how fantastic it feels to be up there (Taylor points to the retired numbers in the rafters) with one of our greatest ever basketball players in Michele Timms. She was a pioneer for Australian basketball, she paved the way for people like me to be able to be respected and she gained so much traction for Australian basketball players and so much respect and people looked at us differently after she came here and showed you what she could do.”
During Timms’ five WNBA seasons with Phoenix from 1997 to 2001 three Australians were teammates of Timms at the Mercury for two seasons each – Michelle Brogan (1998 and 2000), Kristi Harrower (1998 and 1999) and Michelle Cleary (2000 and 2001). Brogan and Harrower were both teammates of Timms on the Opals silver medal winning team at the 2000 Olympic Games and two years later were teammates of Taylor’s on the Opals bronze medal winning team at the 2002 Olympic Games. On 1 July 2022 Taylor and Brogan were two of the four inductees into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame.
At Phoenix Taylor wore number 13 and Taurasi had number 3. During their first season with the Phoenix Mercury in 2004 Taylor and Taurasi were two of the three Phoenix players that started every regular season game they played along with Anna DeForge. Phoenix improved from having the worst record in 2003 to being a middle of the road team in 2004 with a record of 17 wins and 17 losses. Taylor and Taurasi both ranked in the top three at Phoenix in 2004 for, scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and minutes played. Taurasi led Phoenix in points and assists per game and Taylor led the Mercury for rebounds and steals. Taylor had a field goal accuracy of 48.4% in 2004 to rank fifth in the WNBA, ranked sixth for three-point accuracy (42.7%) and equal ninth for steals per game (1.6). Taurasi won the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year award and was also selected in the 2004 All-WNBA first team.
Taylor’s Australian Opals teammate and former AIS teammate Belinda Snell joined Phoenix in 2005. Phoenix had a regular season record of 16 wins and 18 losses in 2005 and narrowly missed out on the playoffs. With pick 2 at the 2006 WNBA Draft Phoenix Mercury selected shooting guard Cappie Pondexter and a Phoenix big three of Taurasi, Taylor and Pondexter was formed.
Former NBA coach Paul Westhead took over as Phoenix’s head coach in 2006 and the club again just missed out on a playoffs berth, having a regular season record of 18 wins and 16 losses, the Mercury lost a tiebreaker with two teams in the Western Conference that had the same record – Houston Comets and Seattle Storm.
In three seasons from 2004 to 2006 Phoenix Mercury had a winning percentage of exactly 50%, with 51 wins and 51 losses and didn’t make a single play-off appearance during this time.
Throughout the 2007 regular season the big three of Taurasi, Taylor and Pondexter were joined in the Phoenix starting line-up by Tangela Smith and Kelly Miller and were able to build continuity with Taylor, Smith and Miller playing all 34 games and Taurasi and Pondexter only missing two games and three games respectively.
In Taylor’s first 12 games of the 2007 WNBA season she scored more than 20 points in a game once – 21 points against Chicago Sky on in an 80-66 victory on 7 June. In six consecutive games from 20 June to 6 July 2007 Taylor scored at least 23 points in each game including 30 points twice – against the Houston Comets on 24 June and against Connecticut Sun on 6 July.
Taurasi started for the Western Conference in the 2007 All-Star game and Taylor and Pondexter were both selected on the bench and played in the game on 15 July at Verizon Center in Washington. Taylor and Taurasi were two of the five contestants in the three-point shootout. Taylor and Taurasi both progressed to the final three person round along with Washington Mystix shooting guard Laurie Kohen. Taurasi shot first in the final round of the three point shootout, scoring 16 which was followed by Taylor scoring 19. Kohen who top scored with 23 in the first round scored 25 in the final round to win the competition, with Taylor second and Taurasi third.
Two thirds of the way through the 2007 regular season Phoenix had 12 wins and 10 losses to have a winning percentage of 54.5%. In the last third of the 2007 regular season Phoenix were dominant, recording 11 wins and had a solitary loss to Seattle to finish with 23 wins and 11 losses and register the best record in the Western Conference and second best record in the league behind the Eastern Conference’s top seed – Detroit Shock with 24 wins and 10 losses.
During the 2007 regular season Taylor started all 34 games for Phoenix and averaged a new career-high 17.8 points, a new career-high 6.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. At the end of Taylor’s illustrious career her average for scoring and rebounds in 2007 remained her WNBA career-highs during the regular season. Taylor ranked seventh in the WNBA for scoring per game in 2007 to be one of three Phoenix players ranked in the league’s top eight along with Taurasi (19.2 points per game – 3rd) and Pondexter (17.2 ppg – 8th). Taylor led the league for free throws made with 175, one ahead of fellow Aussie Jackson, had a field goal accuracy of 49.9% and a free-throw accuracy of 88.4% rank sixth in the league in both categories. Taylor’s true shooting percentage of 62.5% ranked second in the WNBA behind Jackson (63.4%). Taylor scored at least 23 points in a game 12 times.
In the first round of the 2007 Western Conference playoffs Phoenix played fourth seeded Seattle Storm which included Jackson and Sue Bird. In game one Taylor and Taurasi were Phoenix’s equal top-scorers with 21 points each in a 101-84 victory on the road at KeyArena on 24 August. Phoenix won game 2 95-89 in a home game at US Airways Center to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Game 1 of the Western Conference finals was a shoot-out with Phoenix Mercury prevailing against San Antonio Silver Stars 102-100. Taylor scored 18 points – ranked third for Phoenix behind Pondexter (26) and Taurasi (20), took a team-high 14 rebounds, made five assists and blocked two shots. Fellow 2022 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Becky Hammon scored a game-high 32 points for San Antonio. Taylor scored 23 points and took seven rebounds in the Mercury’s 98-92 game 2 victory.
On 5 September 2007 the All-WNBA First teams and Second teams were announced. Phoenix were the only team to have two players on the All-WNBA first team with Taurasi and Taylor earning selection, joining Jackson, Hammon and Detroit Shock’s Deanna Nolan on the team. Taylor finished sixth in the WNBA’s MVP Award with 48 votes and Taurasi was in third place on 144 votes behind Jackson (473 votes) and Hammon (254 votes)
In the WNBA Finals Detroit Shock were attempting to go back to back, having won the 2006 WNBA Championship whilst Phoenix were attempting to win their first title in franchise history. Throughout the 2007 WNBA Finals series six foot, one inch tall (185cm) Taylor started at power forward against Detroit Shock power forward/centre Kara Braxton who had a considerable size advantage being six foot, six inches (198cm) tall.
In game 1 of the 2007 WNBA Finals Taylor played an incredible all-round game for Phoenix, to score a game-high 32 points with a field goal accuracy of 57.9%, took a team-high nine rebounds, made a game-high seven assists, had three steals and blocked two shots. On the road at the Palace of Auburn Hills Phoenix were defeated by Detroit Shock 100-108.
The team on the road won games two and three with Phoenix defeating Detroit 98-70 in game 2 at Palace of Auburn Hills followed by Detroit having a victory over Phoenix 88-83 in game 3 at US Airways Center. Taylor scored 16 points and took a game-high 14 rebounds in game 3. Phoenix overcame a three point deficit at three quarter time of game four at US Airways Centre to have a thrilling game four win by a point, 77-76.
Phoenix started game five superbly to lead 20-9 half-way through the first quarter on the road at Palace of Auburn Hills and went on to lead 55-43 at half-time. The closest Detroit got in the second half was nine points. Phoenix led by a game-high 30 points from Taylor won game 5 to win their first WNBA Championship 108-92. With stakes at their highest Taylor shot the ball at 54.5% from the field and was exemplary from the free-throw line, making all 18 shots. Phoenix guard Cappie Pondexter scored 26 points and had 10 assists in game 5 and won the Finals MVP Award.
During the 2007 playoffs Taylor was superb in her nine games for Phoenix, averaging 19.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, shot the ball at 46.4% from the field and 91.2% from the free-throw line. Westhead left Phoenix Mercury after the 2007 season to accept a role as an assistant coach with NBA club Seattle SuperSonics.
Taylor missed the 2008 WNBA season to focus on her commitments with the Australian national team including the Beijing Olympic Games. Phoenix with Corey Gaines as their head coach had 16 wins and 18 losses during the 2008 regular season and missed the playoffs.
Due to an ankle injury that required surgery Taylor missed just over half of the 2009 WNBA regular season. When Taylor returned to the Phoenix line-up in early August the Mercury had the best record in the Western Conference. Days after Taylor made her return PhoenixMercury.com asked “You rejoined a team that is currently first in the Western Conference. What qualities do you add to this team that’s already one of the top teams in the WNBA?” Taylor responded “I just hope to add a little bit of depth. You know, bring some of my strengths to the team which is penetrating inside and some outside shooting. When I play the four [power forward] I can create a mismatch for other teams, because I am mobile. I’m looking forward to stepping up and doing whatever [Mercury head coach] Corey needs me to.”11
To enable Phoenix to continue momentum and Taylor to build her match conditioning and touch she was played off the bench upon her return and only made one start in the 14 regular season games she played. During the 2009 regular season Phoenix had a record of 23 wins and 11 losses to finish first in the league. Taurasi won the 2009 WNBA MVP Award, polling 323 votes to finish ahead of Indiana Fever duo Tamika Catchings (163 votes) and Katie Douglas (128 votes). Phoenix also had two players in the top four with Cappie Pondexter finishing fourth on 99 votes. Taurasi and Pondexter were both selected on the 2009 All-WNBA First team along with Catchings, Hammon and Jackson.
Although Taylor continued to be utilised by Phoenix off the bench throughout the 2009 playoffs she made a significant impact, having a field goal accuracy of 52.7% and ranked third at Phoenix for scoring and assists per game to play an important role for Phoenix who advanced to the WNBA finals by recording 2-1 victories against the San Antonio Silver Stars in the Western Conference semi finals and Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference finals. In game one of each series Taylor scored 18 points.
Game one of the WNBA finals in a home game at US Airways Center was a shoot-out with Phoenix and Indiana Fever tied at 105 apiece at the end of the fourth quarter. Phoenix outscored Indiana 15-11 in overtime to win 120-116 in the highest scoring game in WNBA history. Both team’s surpassed the record for most points scored by a team in a game of 115 set by Phoenix earlier in the season on June 13 in an overtime victory against Sacramento. In the game 1 victory against Indiana Taylor scored an equal game-high 23 points along with Cappie Pondexter, shooting at 70% from the field and made seven of eight free-throws.
Indiana won game two at US Airways Center 93-84 and defeated Phoenix 86-85 in game 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse to lead the 2009 WNBA Finals two games to one. Phoenix struck back to win game 4 on the road at Conseco Fieldhouse 90-77 with Taylor scoring 17 points.
With just over two minutes to play in the fourth quarter of game 5 at US Airways Center Phoenix led Indiana 88-86. On a drive to the basket Taylor was fouled and then made both free-throws to extend Phoenix’s lead to 90-86. Phoenix went on to have a 94-86 victory to win their second WNBA championship in three seasons. In game 5 Taylor scored 14 points took four rebounds and had five assists. Taurasi scored a game-high 26 points in game 5 and won the Finals MVP Award.
In March 2010 Pondexter was traded by Phoenix to New York Liberty. Taylor was a member of the Mercury’s starting line-up in 2010 along with Taurasi, Candice Dupree, Tangela Smith and Temeka Johnson. Phoenix’s five starters all averaged more than 27 minutes court-time per game and sixth woman DeWanna Bonner averaged more than 25.0 minutes per game.
The Mercury finished second in the Western Conference with 15 wins and 19 losses. During the 2010 regular season Taylor played 32 games for Phoenix, all as a starter and averaged 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 30.0 minutes per game. Taylor led Phoenix for assists per game ahead of Taurasi (4.7 assists per game), the Mercury duo ranked fifth and eighth respectively in the WNBA in this category. Taylor ranked fifth in the WNBA for three-point percentage (44.2%), seventh for three-throw percentage (89.3%) and ninth for field goal percentage (50.9%) to be the only player in the league that ranked in the top 10 in all categories. Penny ranked 10th in the WNBA for free throws made with 117 and had a true shooting percentage of 64% ranked second in the WNBA behind Phoenix teammate Dupree. Taylor finished 10th in the 2010 WNBA MVP Award but missed out on a spot on the All-WNBA second team.
Phoenix played the third seeded San Antonio Stars in the Western Conference semi finals. In game 1 at US Airways Center Taylor scored 20 points, making eight of 11 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 72.7%, took five rebounds and had seven assists in the Mercury’s 106-93 victory. Phoenix swept the series, defeating San Antonio 92-73 in game 2 at the AT & T Center, San Antonio with Taylor scoring 12 points, taking six rebounds and having a game-high 12 assists.
In game 1 of the Western Conference against the top seeded Seattle Storm on the road at KeyArena Seattle Taylor scored a team-high 16 points in a 74-82 loss. Seattle defeated Phoenix 91-88 in game 2 at US Airways Center to win the series two games to nil.
In Phoenix’s third regular season game of 2011 Taylor registered a double-double comprised of 18 points and a game-high and new regular season career-high 10 assists. Taylor shot the ball at 63.4% from the field and made a game-high three steals in the Mercury’s 99-101 loss to the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Taylor was named the WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for her performances in Phoenix’s three road games in the week commencing 20 June 2011. Against the San Antonio Stars on 21 June Taylor scored a game-high 30 points, making 11 of field goal attempts at an accuracy of 73.3% and had five assists in a 105-98 victory. On 24 June against Atlanta Dream Taylor registered her second double-double of the season comprised of 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and also had a game-high eight assists playing a brilliant all-round game in a Phoenix 92-83 victory. The following day Phoenix defeated Chicago Sky 86-78 and Taylor fell just short of recording back-to-back double-doubles, scoring 19 points at a field goal accuracy of 58.3%, took a team-high nine rebounds and made a game-high seven assists. During the week commencing 20 June Taylor “finished third in the Western Conference in scoring (22.0 ppg) and assists (6.7 apg), and second in field goal percentage (.615)” and “also reached a career milestone, becoming the 25th player in league history with at least 3,500 points.”12
For the 2011 WNBA All-Star game Taylor was selected as a reserve for the Western Conference and was one of two Phoenix players along with Taurasi who was a starter.
Phoenix finished third in the Western Conference during the 2011 regular season with 19 wins and 15 losses, the top seeded Minnesota Lynx had 27 wins and seven losses. In 29 games for Phoenix, all as a starter Taylor averaged 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 29.8 minutes per game. Five times during the 2011 Regular season Taylor scored at least 26 points in a game.
During the 2011 regular season Taylor ranked seventh in the WNBA for points per game, eighth for assists, sixth for steals, 10th for free-throws made and had a true shooting percentage of 64.2% to lead the WNBA in this category. Taylor finished 10th in the 2011 WNBA MVP Award and was selected in the All-WNBA second team. Taylor was one of two Phoenix players to earn All-WNBA selection with Taurasi being selected on the first team.
In celebration of the WNBA’s 15th season in 2011 the league named the 15 best and most influential players of the first fifteen seasons of the WNBA, along with a group of 15 other finalists, Taylor was named in the group of 15 finalists.
For the second season in a row Phoenix played Seattle Storm in the playoffs. Seattle finished second in the West with 21 wins, and 13 losses, two games ahead of Phoenix to gain home-court advantage. The home side won the opening two games of the series with Seattle winning game 1 at KeyArena 80-61 and Phoenix having a 92-83 victory at US Airways Center in game 2.
In the opening quarter of game 3 at KeyArena Phoenix were outplayed in the first quarter and trailed 9-20 at quarter-time. Taylor played an instrumental role in Phoenix recording a fightback 77-75 win, scoring 19 points at a field goal accuracy of 54.6%, made all six free-throws and took a game-high 17 rebounds comprised of 15 defensive and two offensive. Phoenix won the rebound count 39-35 and Taylor’s 17 rebounds equated to an astronomical 23.0% of the rebounds in the game for both teams combined, no other player took more than 10 rebounds.
The top seeded Minnesota Lynx swept Phoenix two games to nil in the Western Conference finals, having a 95-67 victory at the Target Centre in game one and defeated Phoenix 103-86 in game 2 at US Airways Center.
Due to tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee playing for Fenerbahce against Galatasaray in a EuroLeague Semi Final on 29 March 2012 Taylor missed the entire 2012 WNBA season. Due to hip and ankle injuries Taurasi only played eight games for Phoenix in the 2012 WNBA season. Phoenix had seven wins and 27 losses during the 2012 Regular Season and finished last out of six teams in the Western Conference and 11th out of 12 teams overall, ahead of the Washington Mystix who had five wins and 29 losses. Phoenix won the WNBA 2013 Draft lottery and with the first selection overall at the 2013 draft selected centre Brittney Griner. In college Griner played 148 games for Baylor University from 2009/10 to 2012/13 and over her college career averaged 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game. In 2012 Baylor amassed an NCAA record 40 wins for the season and were undefeated for the entire season, winning the NCAA Championship with Griner named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
The left knee reconstruction was the first serious long-term injury that Taylor had suffered during her magnificent career, with her previous worst injury being an ankle injury that kept her sidelined for the first two months of the Phoenix Mercury’s 2009 WNBA season. Penny maintained a positive outlook saying “Definitely I think that this injury as disappointing as it is may give me a little bit more time on the end of my career.” After enduring such a rigorous workload for an extended period of time, being sidelined with the knee injury allowed the rest of Penny’s body some time to recover.
Despite being diligent in the rehabilitation process in recovering from the left knee injury the knee didn’t feel right to Taylor and she required further surgery in November 2012. Taylor made her return to the WNBA for Phoenix Mercury during the 2013 season, however in her sixth game back she suffered another injury, this time her right knee and required arthroscopic surgery in late July 2013, Taylor returned late in the season and was restricted to a total of only 10 regular season games and two playoff games in the 2013 WNBA season.
After being accustomed to playing two seasons each year, from April 2012 to April 2014 injuries restricted Penny to less than half a season of basketball during a two year period. Throughout this time Taylor rehabilitated in Melbourne and also in Phoenix with both Phoenix Mercury and Phoenix Suns (NBA) strength and conditioning staff. During the time that Penny was rehabilitating in Melbourne she was able to spend more time with her mum, Denna who was suffering from ovarian cancer, after a three and a half year battle Denna passed away in May 2013. During Teal Ribbon round to raise Ovarian cancer awareness in Round 15 of the 2014/15 WNBL season Penny was interviewed on ABC TV, commenting about the need to increase awareness of Ovarian cancer “I think it’s so important to get that message out there, it was something that my mother felt strongly about, these were symptoms that she had for a long time that she wasn’t aware it could be such a serious issue, so for me it’s important now to get the message out there, that just to be aware of your body and the things to look out for.”
On 15 November 2013 Australian, Sandy Brondello was appointed as Phoenix Mercury’s head coach. Brondello and Taylor had been teammates on Australian Opals medal winning teams at the 2002 World Championships – bronze medal and 2004 Olympic Games – silver medal. On Brondello’s appointment as the Mercury’s head coach Taylor commented to WNBA.com “I am so excited to get to work with Sandy. Her knowledge of the women’s game, and basketball experience in the WNBA and around the world are second to none.”13 Brondello had commenced her WNBA coaching career with the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2005 and held this role for five seasons before being the Stars head coach in 2010. From 2011 to 2013 Brondello was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Sparks. As an assistant coach with Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburh Brondello had coached Taurasi.
In March 2014 Australian guard Erin Phillips was traded to Phoenix Mercury from Indiana Fever. Phillips was a member of Indiana’s 2012 WNBA Championship winning team and had been an Australian Opals teammate of Taylor’s at several tournaments including at the 2006 World Championships where Australia won the gold medal.
In the lead-up to the 2014 WNBA season Phoenix head-coach Brondello was unsure if Penny would have recovered from her knee injury sufficiently to play at the start of the season. Taylor surprised her coach by playing in Phoenix Mercury’s 2014 WNBA season opener on 17 May, after playing such little basketball in the previous two years Taylor’s court-time was carefully managed, only playing a combined 25 minutes in the opening two games of the season and getting her first start of the season in the 10th game on the road against Minnesota Lynx on 15 June, she remained a starter for the rest of the season. Other members of the Phoenix starting line-up were Taurasi, Candice Dupree, DaWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner. It was no coincidence that as Penny regained match conditioning and touch the Phoenix Mercury became the form side of the WNBA. In Taylor’s first game as a starter for the 2014 season Phoenix commenced a 16 game winning streak from 15 June to 29 July which was one of the longest streaks in WNBA history, and only two games short of the all-time record of 18 consecutive wins held by the Los Angeles Sparks.
In a 101-85 Phoenix Mercury victory against Connecticut Sun on 17 July Taylor scored a season high and equal game-high 23 points, made nine of 12 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 75%, took four rebounds, made four assists and an equal game-high three steals along with teammate Phillips.
After Taylor was inserted into the Mercury’s starting line-up Phoenix had only two more losses in the 2014 regular season including a loss to Atlanta in the Mercury’s third last game of the season when both Taylor and Taurasi were rested. With Taylor in the starting line-up Phoenix’s record during the 2014 regular season was 23 wins and one loss. The only loss, 67-75 loss to Minnesota Lynx on 31 July ended the Mercury’s 16 game winning streak. Phoenix set a new single season record for most wins in a season with 29 wins and five losses to have the best record during the 2014 regular season, ahead of Minnesota Lynx (25 wins and nine losses), Atlanta Dream were the Eastern Conference’s top seed with 19 wins and 15 losses. Two Phoenix players were selected on the 2014 All-WNBA first team Taurasi and Griner who was also named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
During the 2014 regular season Taylor played 33 games and averaged 10.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 23.4 minutes per game. After scoring less than 10 points in 11 of her first 13 games of the 2014 regular season Taylor reached double figures in 18 of her remaining 22 games for the season including seven games scoring at least 16 points.
Phoenix commenced their 2014 playoffs campaign against the Los Angeles Sparks in game one of the Western Conference semi finals at the US Airways Center. Taylor scored seven points, took six rebounds and made a game-high seven assists and a game-high three steals in Phoenix’s 75-72 victory. Phoenix swept Los Angeles three games to nil to advance to the Western Conference finals against the Minnesota Lynx.
Playing against Phoenix’s biggest threat to winning the 2014 WNBA Championship, the Minnesota Lynx in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at US Airways Center Taylor registered her first double-double of the season, scoring 16 points and taking a game-high 13 rebounds in an 85-71 victory. Taylor made of 10 of 11 free-throws, had a game-high seven assists and made two steals. Phoenix led Minnesota 22-9 at quarter time of game 2 at Target Center. Phoenix were outscored in the final three terms and after the Mercury led 62-56 at the final change they were outscored 15-26 by the Lynx in the last quarter and lost the game 77-82 with Minnesota forward and 2014 regular season MVP Maya Moore scoring 32 points. In game 3 at US Airways Center Phoenix led 28-21 at quarter time and went on to record a convincing win 96-78.
Phoenix Mercury were overwhelming favourites for the 2014 WNBA Finals against Eastern Conference fourth seeds Chicago Sky who had a record of 15 wins and 19 losses during the regular season. Chicago won their first two rounds of the playoffs two games to one, defeating Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semi finals and having a victory against Indiana in the conference finals.
In game 1 of the 2014 WNBA Finals at US Airways Center Phoenix restricted Chicago to just 20 points in the first half and scored 42 points themselves to lead by 22 points. After an even second half Phoenix defeated Chicago 83-62, Taylor scored nine points, made eight assists and an equal team-high two steals.
Taylor scored 14 points shooting at 50% from the field, took a game-high eight rebounds and made a game-high six assists and an equal team-high two steals in Phoenix’s 97-68 game 2 home victory at US Airways Center. With Phoenix leading Chicago 2-0 in the WNBA Finals Mercury head coach Brondello called Taylor “the missing piece to the puzzle” and went on to say “Once we put her into that starting line-up, we’ve only lost two games. That’s how important she is because of her versatility. It’s great after two years out to see her playing the way she is.”
Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on the road at UIC Pavilion was far closer than the first two games of the series and Phoenix trailed Chicago at three quarter time by two points, 61-63. In the last term Phoenix outscored Chicago 26-19 to record an 87-82 victory and win the third WNBA Championship. Taylor’s versatility stood out in the finals, averaging 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game in the three game series.
With their 2014 triumph Phoenix had won three WNBA Championships in eight seasons, having also won the title in 2007 and 2009, however the team had changed considerably during this time. Only three players were part of both the 2009 and 2014 Phoenix WNBA championships, Taylor, 2009 WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner a three-time winner of the WNBA sixth women of the year. There was a strong Australian influence on the Mercury’s 2014 title winning team with three Aussies, head coach Brondello, Taylor and back-up point guard Phillips. On Downtown episode 52 – Aussie Opals Captain Penny Taylor published in September 2014 Taylor commented “I think that was a huge key to us our success. Sandy came in and just did a fantastic job, everyone loves playing for, loved the style she wanted us to play and respected her so much. Then Erin coming over from Indiana with that real physical toughness. What she brings to the game, led the league in three-point percentage. I am so proud to have some Australians there to share that victory with.”
On Downtown episode 52 – Aussie Opals Captain Penny Taylor published in September 2014 Liam Santamaria asked “The knee injuries and surgeries over the last couple of years, obviously a massive challenge both physically and mentally. What level of support did you receive from the Mercury throughout that time. Taylor replied “A huge amount of support. You know they stuck with me the entire time. You know I didn’t get injured with them but they supported me throughout, they never stopped asking how I was, offering support and letting me know that whenever I was ready that they wanted me back on court. I was so happy this year that I was able to give back to them and that we could go all the way and win the championship. To me they’re like a second family for me, I have been there since 2004. They have always been a great club to play for and always had great support for me.”
2014/15 WNBL season with the Jayco Dandenong Rangers
Taylor joined the Rangers part-way through the 2014/15 season, missing the first five games of the season. The Jayco Rangers were coached by Mark Wright who had coached Taylor in her previous three seasons with Dandenong from 1999/2000 to 2001/02. Wright was in his ninth season overall as the Jayco Rangers head coach in 2014/15 and his fifth consecutive season in the role. During the 2014/15 season with the Rangers Taylor wore number 7, the same number she wore when representing the Opals.
In a press conference just after Taylor had joined the Jayco Dandenong Rangers for the 2014/15 WNBL season Penny commented on her return to the Rangers, “Dandenong is a great option, it’s where I started, and after quite a long time I get to come back here and play for a great club, and a great coach who I really respect so it couldn’t have worked out better for me.” Penny went on to say “I always knew that if I was going to play in Australia it would be for Dandenong, this is as I said where I started, for me Melbourne (the city) was the only option (to be close to family) and Dandenong sets such a good standard in the WNBL.” When asked about playing on a young Dandenong Rangers team that included several teenagers Penny said “That’s something I really enjoy actually, and even more so coming here and seeing what talent Australia has and learning who their good young prospects are, that’s really exciting for me, I look forward to now being an older player and seeing how I can add some knowledge to their game.”
After Penny had signed with the Dandenong Rangers for the 2014/15 season coach Wright asked his players to raise their hand if they had previously played on a team with Penny, only one player could raise their hand – American import shooting guard Cappie Pondexter. Taylor and Pondexter had been team-mates on three different teams in three different national leagues, winning at least one championship with each team, Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA in 2007 and 2009, Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2009 and Turkish club Fenerbahce in 2012.
On returning to the WNBL with Dandenong and having Wright as her head coach again Taylor commented “In my three years here Mark was the coach, so it has come full circle with him as well as myself, that’s an added bonus here, getting to play and see how each of us have grown.”
In Taylor’s comeback game to the WNBL on 8 November 2014 the Dandenong Rangers on the bottom of the ladder with a record of one win and four losses hosted the top of the table Townsville Fire at Dandenong Basketball Stadium. Taylor was unwell on the day of the game against Townsville which led to rumours circulating that she would be a late withdrawal from the Rangers line-up. Despite being ill, Taylor not only took her place in the Dandenong line-up but played a game-high 34 minutes and 11 seconds against a Townsville team featuring front-court duo Batkovic and Cayla George at Dandenong Basketball Stadium. The Jayco Rangers led Townsville 61 to 56 at three quarter-time, however Townsville gained the ascendancy to lead by four points with less than four minutes remaining in the game. In her first game back in the WNBL in 12 and a half years Taylor willed the Rangers across the line with a phenomenal final quarter performance, making four three-pointers in the final stanza to be the only player from either team to make a three-point shot in the critical final quarter. Dandenong outscored Townsville 18 points to 16 in the last term to win by seven points 79 to 72. Taylor was the match-winner, finishing with a game-high 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and shot the ball at a superb 54% from the field, making seven of her 13 shots.
When asked by Lori Chizik in an interview on ABC TV after the Round 4 win against Townsville “What was your thought process in coming back and playing in Australia?” Penny responded “This has been an amazing year for me, I was coming back from injury and I worked really hard to just get back on the court, I wanted to really take it one step at a time. So WNBA was a huge step for me, I really wanted to get through that, and then looking forward to the World Championships and making sure I was as healthy as possible for those games and we had great success there, and then I wanted to take some time, just rest and re-evaluate how my body was feeling and Dandenong came up as an option. A lot of things went into the decision but a huge one was family and being able to spend some time with my family at a point in my life where that is really important part for me, where I have been able to do a lot throughout my career, and now I have to put that (family) as a priority.”
Returning to play in the WNBL with Dandenong allowed Taylor to spend more time with her family, including her father Michael who was suffering from lung cancer. Penny’s two nieces Olivia and Harper and nephew Luka, all under 10 years of age had never seen her play in Australia.
Injuries to two Dandenong Rangers players before the season begun, Australian Opals centre Liz Cambage and American import Monica Wright created the opportunity for Dandenong to approach Taylor about playing for them in the 2014/15 WNBL season. It was only after Taylor had given her body some time to rest and recover after captaining the bronze medal winning Australian Opals at the World Championships held in Turkey during September and October 2014 that Taylor felt she was in a position to commit to the Rangers for the 2014/15 WNBL season. Whilst Dandenong did an exceptional job in signing Taylor and Cappie Pondexter to replace Cambage and Wright they had been unable to sign an experienced centre which resulted in the Rangers being under-sized throughout the 2014/15 WNBL season.
The Jayco Rangers starting line-up after Taylor joined the team was Kathleen MacLeod and Cappie Pondexter in the back-court along with Taylor, Alice Kunek and American import Annalise Pickrel in the front-court. Other members of the Rangers team included Lauren Scherf, Aimi Rocci (nee Clydesdale), Tegan Cunningham, Chloe Bibby, Tenaya Sooalo (nee Phillips), Briahna Whatman and Rachel Antoniadou.
Whilst Taylor’s return game to the WNBL had a fairytale result both from an individual and team perspective, in the month that followed the Dandenong Rangers had mixed results, winning three games and having three losses by more than 10 points each to Melbourne, Bendigo and Townsville, to have a record of four wins and seven losses at the half-way point of the season, resulting in many people writing the Rangers off as finals contenders. In the final two games before Christmas Dandenong had wins over West Coast and Sydney to remain within striking distance of the top four during the mid-season break over the Christmas/New Year period.
In late December 2014 Penny’s father Michael lost his battle with lung cancer and passed away. In an interview with Paulo Kennedy from FIBA.com in January 2015 Penny commented “I was really lucky to be here when my dad needed me and to help him through his illness. Him passing away in December was devastating, but I’m glad I was able to be here for him. He could see me play here in Australia, which he was happy about and he hadn’t been able to do for a long time.”
The 2014/15 WNBL season resumed with Round 11 during the first weekend of January 2015, Penny was named the Wattle Valley WNBL’s Player of the Week for Round 11 after dominant performances for the Dandenong Rangers in a road double against the Sydney Uni Flames and the University of Canberra. On Saturday night January 3 against Sydney Taylor had 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and made six of 14 field goal attempts in the Rangers 15 point victory, 93-78.
The following afternoon Dandenong played a Canberra side featuring eventual 2014/15 WNBL MVP Abby Bishop and three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, making it one of the most anticipated games of the WNBL season. The game at AIS Arena on Sunday 4 January well and truly lived up to expectations with the Rangers winning an outstanding game of basketball by five points, 89-84, with Taylor playing a pivotal role, scoring a season best 30 points in an incredible shooting night, making nine of 11 field goals (only missing two three-point shots), and also making 11 of 12 free throws in exactly 37 minutes court time. Penny also had seven rebounds, a season-high three blocked shots, two assists and two steals in a brilliant all-round performance.
At the mid-season break the Dandenong Rangers had been sixth on the ladder with a record of six wins and seven losses, however they quickly rose up the ladder in the new year. With Taylor leading the way the Rangers were the form team of the WNBL in January, winning all six games that they played, increasing their winning streak to eight games and in the process jumped up to third on the WNBL ladder, a remarkable turn-around. Taylor won the WNBL Player of the Month award for January which comprised Rounds 11 to 15. In six games during January Taylor averaged 22.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 35 minutes and 39 seconds on the court per game.
In an interview with Tiffany Cherry on SEN radio program The Hen House on 1 February 2015 Taylor commented on her return to the WNBL with Dandenong in 2014/15 “It has been strange, the last time I played here you know I was just a kid with all these dreams of playing around the world and having these experiences and getting the opportunity to play in the WNBA for example, and now to come back having fulfilled a lot of those dreams, now getting to play in front of my sisters children and my brothers daughter, it’s a new experience and I’m really enjoying it.”
Despite losing their last three games of the season the Dandenong Rangers concluded the regular season with 12 wins and 10 losses to finish third on the ladder and hosted a sudden death semi final against Sydney at Dandenong Basketball Stadium. Dandenong looked to be in control, leading by 13 points at half-time. Early in the third quarter when going for a lay-up Penny injured her left ankle when she stepped on Sydney centre Paris Johnson’s foot. Taylor had to be assisted from the court and was unable to take any further part in the game. With Taylor sidelined momentum shifted and Sydney overran Dandenong in the second half to win by nine points, 89 to 80, ending the Rangers season.
The initial fear was that Taylor had suffered a serious ankle injury and could be facing an extended time on the sidelines for the third time in less than three years, however the outcome was better than this as Taylor didn’t require any surgery, having severely sprained her ankle.
All five Rangers starters Taylor, Pondexter, Kunek, MacLeod and Pickrel averaged more than 11.0 points per game. Dandenong were the only club to have multiple players ranked in the top seven of the WNBL for assists per game, with three – MacLeod, Pondexter and Taylor.
In 18 games including one final for the Dandenong Rangers in 2014/15 Taylor averaged 19.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocked shots, playing 32 minutes and 44 seconds per game, setting new WNBL career-bests for assists and blocked shots. For average per game Penny led Dandenong in points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots, and was ranked third for assists behind MacLeod and Pondexter.
Despite missing five games of the 22 game regular season Taylor polled 94 votes to finish fourth in the 2014/15 WNBL MVP award, behind runaway winner Abby Bishop on 135 votes and Townsville Fire duo George and Batkovic, second with 107 and third with 105 votes respectively. Penny’s Jayco Rangers team-mate Pondexter finished 10th with 63 votes.
Highlighting her exceptional all-round game Taylor was the only player ranked in the WNBL top 11 during the 2014/15 regular season for average per game in all five of the following categories: points (2nd), assists (7th), rebounds (11th), steals (3rd) & blocked shots (3rd).
The WNBL All-Star five is voted on by the coaches and captains of the WNBL clubs, Taylor received the highest number of nominations with 14 and was joined in the WNBL All-Star five by Canberra Capitals centre/forward Abby Bishop, Townsville Fire forward Cayla George, Bendigo Spirit forward Kelsey Griffin and Melbourne Boomers guard Tess Madgen. It was the third time of her career that Taylor was selected in the WNBL All-Star five, having previously been selected in her 2000/01 and 2001/02 MVP winning seasons.
Taylor was extremely consistent throughout the 2014/15 WNBL regular season, scoring 17 points or more in 14 of her 17 games, and in her last 14 games of the season she had at least six rebounds 12 times. Despite missing the first five games of the season Taylor ranked equal fifth in the league for three-pointers made with 35, making 40.2% of her three-point shots to be one of only four players in the league that made more than 30 three-pointers at an accuracy above 40%. It wasn’t just beyond the arc that Penny had exceptional shooting accuracy, it was all over the court. Despite more than a third of her field goal attempts being three-pointers Taylor ranked fourth in the league with a field goal accuracy of 51.0%, behind three players who took significantly more shots from close range, Alex Bunton (58.1%), Laura Hodges (56.1%) and Gabrielle Richards (51.2%). Taylor ranked sixth in the league for three-throws made with 63, at a WNBL career-best 88.7% accuracy, of the 26 players that made at least 30 three-throws only three were more accurate, Belinda Snell (93.6%), Deanna Smith (92.5%), and Kelly Wilson (89.2%).
On the Tuesday night after the semi final loss to Sydney the Jayco Rangers held their WNBL Awards night, during which five awards were presented, with Taylor winning two of these awards, the MVP award, and the Janine Fielder award for being the players player. When accepting the Janine Fielder award Taylor was emotional and very thankful to all her team-mates and all other staff at the Jayco Dandenong Rangers for the support they provided and for the release being able to concentrate on basketball for a few hours each day provided for her during a difficult time.
Throughout her basketball career Taylor has played as a swingman, spending time playing as a forward and also a guard, however with the Dandenong Rangers having an under-sized line-up 185 centimetre tall Penny predominantly played as a forward in 2014/15, her versatility remained a great strength, having short bursts playing as a point guard on offense and playing defense on post players.
2014/15 was Taylor’s seventh and final season in the WNBL. During her seven season WNBL career Taylor played a total of 137 WNBL games, comprised of 83 for the Jayco Dandenong Rangers and 54 for the Australian Institute of Sport. During Penny’s illustrious WNBL career she averaged 17.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, with an outstanding field goal percentage of 48.2%.
Taylor returned to Dandenong Stadium on 14 January 2017 for a function celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Jayco Dandenong Rangers joining the WNBL. During the function the Dandenong Rangers announced who their top 25 players of their first 25 years were. Taylor was one of three members of the Rangers 2014/15 team included in this select group of 25 players along with MacLeod and Pondexter. Several of Taylor’s teammates from her first three seasons with the club from 1999/2000 to 2001/02 were selected in the Rangers top 25 players including Lucille Baillie (nee Hamilton), Emily McInerney, Allie Douglas and Caitlin Ryan. During the function Taylor spoke about her experiences playing for the Jayco Dandenong Rangers.
In the video Penny Taylor returns to Dandenong for 25 Year Anniversary Taylor told Basketball Victoria in January 2017 “It feels good, it feels like a home. It was many years ago that I was here the first time and then I was so lucky that Gerry brought me back the last time a couple of years ago. To have that experience and get to play one last time in Australia in front of basketball fans that may not have ever seen me play in Australia, that was really special to me and I am glad that I was able to do that.”
In the episode SBS Courtside 1v1 S2 EP 4 – Penny Taylor in March 2022 Taylor expanded on Gerry Ryan, commenting “I can’t say enough good things about Gerry. It’s become fashionable maybe to invest in women’s sport now, but he has always done it and I can’t thank him enough for the effort and the care that he has put into it, not to mention the dollars.”
2016 WNBA season with Phoenix Mercury
Taylor didn’t play during the 2015 WNBA season and fellow Australian Phillips joined the LA Sparks in the-off-season. Two other members of the Opals bronze medal winning team from the 2014 World Championships where Taylor was the captain joined Phoenix for the 2015 season, point guard Leilani Mitchell who was selected in the 2013/2014 WNBL All-Star five whilst playing for the Dandenong Rangers and Cayla George who had a dream return to the WNBL in 2014/2015, being part of the Townsville Fire championship winning side and also being selected in the WNBL 2014/2015 All-Star five alongside Taylor.
After missing the 2015 WNBA season Taylor returned in 2016 for her 10th season with Phoenix Mercury and 13th season in the league. Taylor played the Mercury’s first 15 game of the season and in a home game at Talking Stick Resort Arena against Minnesota Lynx on 25 May scored a team-high 25 points in 30 minutes court-time. Against the Lynx Taylor shot the ball proficiently to make eight of 13 field goal attempts at an accuracy of 61.5%, made three of six three-pointers and six of seven free-throws.
Due to a hip injury Taylor missed nine games for Phoenix from 29 June to 19 July. The WNBA had a mid-season break in which the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio were played. Up until the 2016 mid-season break Taylor played 15 of a possible 24 games for Phoenix and averaged 13.3 points per game, her highest output in the WNBA since averaging 16.7 points per game in 2011.
Less than a week before the start of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games 35 year-old Taylor told The Associated Press “My focus is on the Olympics, but definitely it’s my last year. Worked really hard to get back and still be good. I want to go out on a good note. My health is something I really had to work hard at, and to be fit and stay out on the floor, I’ve done that really well. For me, it’s the right time.”14
After Taylor announced her basketball retirement her partner and Phoenix Mercury teammate Taurasi commented “She has done so much in her career and when people finally get a chance to see her resume, how much she’s done for the WNBA, for the Phoenix Mercury – we don’t win any of those championships without her – there’s a reason why when she’s on the court, she always wins. Everyone knows how good she is as a basketball player, but she’s always been the best teammate, the most unselfish teammate.”15
In Phoenix’s first game after the 2016 Rio Olympics on 26 August Taylor scored at least 20 points in a game for the last time in her regular season WNBA career, scoring a team-high 22 points, took three rebounds and had an equal game-high three assists at home against the Dallas Wings in just 22 minutes court-time. In the Mercury’s 98-72 victory Taylor shot the ball exceptionally to only miss one shot for the entire game, making all six two point shots, four of four free-throws and two of three three-pointers to have a field goal accuracy of 88.9%.
In their final home game of the season on 15 September the Phoenix Mercury held Penny Taylor Tribute Night and had a 86-62 victory against Seattle. Phoenix had 16 wins and 18 losses in the 2016 regular season to finish eighth overall and fourth in the Western Conference. During the 2016 regular season Taylor played 25 games and averaged 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 25.7 minutes per game.
The top eight teams progressed to the WNBA play-offs, the first two rounds of the play-offs were single elimination games, the top two seeds got byes to the semi finals. In the first round Phoenix on the road at Bankers Life Fieldhouse defeated Indiana Fever 89-78, Taylor scored 12 points, took five rebounds – ranked second for Phoenix, made a team-high four assists and had a team-high two steals.
On the road in the second round of the playoffs Phoenix defeated New York Liberty 101-94 at Madison Square Garden. Taylor scored 20 points shooting the ball at 66.7% from the field, making two of two pointers and four of six shots from behind the arc. Taylor also took five rebounds and made all four free-throws. In the WNBA semi finals Phoenix were defeated by Minnesota Lynx three games to nil with each loss being by at least 10 points. During five play-off games in 2016 Taylor made 23 of 24 free-throw attempts at an accuracy of 95.8%.
During her 13 season WNBA career Penny played 355 regular season games including 277 as a starter, averaging 26.8 minutes, 13.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.3 blocks per game. Penny averaged more than 10.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 10 of her 13 seasons, with the exceptions being her debut season in 2001, and injury impacted 2009 and 2013 seasons.
Taylor played her first 3 WNBA seasons with the Cleveland Rockers from 2001 to 2003. After Phoenix selected Taylor with the first pick of the 2004 dispersal draft she played 10 seasons for the Mercury in 13 seasons form 2004 to 2016. Fittingly the only player that was a teammate for all 10 of Taylor’s seasons with Phoenix was Taurasi.
For regular season career leaders at Phoenix Mercury during the clubs 26 year history from 1997 to 2022 Taylor features in the top five of in many statistical categories, ranking second for total assists, third for steals, three-pointers made and field goal percentage (48.6%), fourth for points and minutes played, and fifth for rebounds. One of Taylor’s greatest strengths was her shooting accuracy, ranking first for free throw percentage (87.8%), second for three-point percentage (40.0%) and third for field goal percentage (48.6%), Taylor is the only player that ranks in the top eight in all three categories.
Taurasi is the Phoenix Mercury regular season career leader in a host of categories, including points, assists, steals and minutes. Taurasi is the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, having scored 9,693 points in the regular season.
On 22 July 2022 Taurasi became just the second player in WNBA history to reach 500 regular season WNBA games, fittingly reaching the milestone in her last regular season game against close friend, Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird who is the WNBA games record holder with 580 regular season games and retired at the end of the 2022 season. As part of the WNBA’s 25th anniversary celebrations the WNBA announced on 10 October 2021 that “Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi has been voted by fans as the league’s greatest of all time (GOAT).”16 Bird finished in the top five of the fan vote.
As well as being a pivotal member in Phoenix Mercury’s three WNBA championships in 2007, 2009 and 2014 Taylor also ranks in the top 35 on several regular season WNBA all-time lists at the end of the 2022 season including points – 28th, assists – 29th, steals – 24th, three point % – 33rd, free-throw % – 24th, offensive rating – 11th, player efficiency rating 19th, win shares – 17th and true shooting percentage 13th.
Phoenix Mercury retirement ceremony
On 9 July 2017 Taylor became just the fourth Phoenix Mercury player to have their number retired, with a ceremony held after Phoenix defeated New York Liberty 81-69 in a home game. The Phoenix Mercury team included three of Taylor’s teammates from the Australian Opals 2016 Olympic Games team – Leilani Mitchell, Cayla George and Steph Talbot. During the Penny Taylor retirement ceremony a banner with Taylor and 13 on it was unveiled from the rafters at Talking Stick Resort Arena, joining banners for three players from Phoenix’s inaugural roster in 1997 – fellow Australian Michele Timms (number 7, 1997-2001), Jennifer Gillom (number 22, 1997-2000) and Bridget Pettis (number 32, 1997-2006). Inaugural Phoenix Mercury head coach and general manager Cheryl Miller also has a banner hanging from the Talking Stick Resort Arena rafters.
During her speech when her number 13 was retired by Phoenix Mercury Taylor spoke about the role her late parents Denna and Michael played in her basketball journey, saying “They encouraged my passion, they sacrificed their lives to drive me all around Melbourne in order for me to do something that I loved and they were exceptional people. They were unique and they had a great sense of humour. They loved that I got to do what I love around the world and I know that they would think this is extremely special today.”
During Taylor’s retirement ceremony Michele Timms commented “You have just been a wonderful player not only for Australia, but especially for the Phoenix Mercury. You are one of my favourite players of all-time. You have always handled yourself with such class on and off the court. Both organisations, Australia and Phoenix have been so lucky to have you involved. You have left a wonderful legacy for Phoenix, congratulations and have a wonderful night.”
Sandy Brondello commented “I’ve known Penny since she was 18 years of age, she first attended the Opals training camp, as an Opals player that had played from the age of 18 I knew how she was feeling going into that camp and I kind of took her under my wing and its amazing now that we have this lifelong friendship and that’s very special too me. But people always ask me ‘What was Penny like at 18?’ Well, I can tell you this, Penny was the nicest person that you’ve ever met, she was extremely skilled, not the fastest player but she was a silent assassin. And really throughout her whole career nothing has changed. When her team needed to score Penny would rise to the occasion. It shows a lot about her, about her character, regardless of how much she has achieved and she is one of the best basketball players in the world, she never, ever changed and for me that’s pretty special.”
Brondello went on to say “I had the pleasure of playing with Penny for four years, she was one of my all-time favourite teammates, we had so many great times on the court, but also off the court, like lifelong memories that will always stay dear to me. Obviously coached against her, I coached her. Jim had mentioned this but in 2014 when I was signed on to coach this team, thank-you Diana and Penny because I am pretty sure that you guys had a big impact on that, so appreciate that. Penny is not only coaching with the Mercury which I am very, very happy about but she also coaches with me on the Australian national team. She’s not on my coaching staff on both teams because she is my mate, she is on the coaching staff because she is great at what she does. She is starting her coaching career but I love her interaction with the players, she has so much respect because she has a great legacy. Why wouldn’t you want to learn from the best players ever to play this game. (Penny) I hope you realise what a great impact you had on so many people not just in America but in Australia. People look up to you, young and old it doesn’t matter because you played the game in the right way, but most of all you are a great, great teammate, and to bet you are a great person so I am very privileged to call you one of my friends and I look forward to what the future holds for you moving forward.”
Taurasi commented “Penny’s been the rock of this franchise from the day she got here. You just knew when she walked into the gym that something was different. She commanded respect, she commanded greatness from everyone on the court. I have been so lucky to be a part of this since 2004 with Penny, we came in the same year and I automatically knew we were completely different. Penny was smart, Penny was beautiful, Penny was calm and cool and I was none of those things. Every day I came to the gym I learnt from Penny. How to handle a situation, how to work through things and I always knew that she has something about her that not many people do. The way she is selfless on the court. The way she treats people every single day whether it’s in this arena, whether it’s at CBS, she treats everyone with respect and dignity and I didn’t do that.”
Taurasi concluded her speech by saying “Penny was about every single person in this arena but herself. I’ve got to know Penny obviously now that we are married, happily by the way (Taurasi smiles, then laughs and the crowd cheers loudly). I’ve never met a stronger human being in my life. Like Sandy touched on earlier Penny went through some very tough times with family, with injury and there were some times where the basketball court was the last thing on your mind. I don’t know how you found the strength, the confidence to get back on this court and make sure that we put another banner up, that meant more than a championship, it meant who you are and I have never respected or been around a person like you in my whole entire life. Like BG said yesterday ‘if we can be one per cent of what Penny Taylor is you’ve lived a good life’. I love you baby.”
At the start of her speech after her retired number had been unveiled from the rafters Taylor said “Of all the amazing things that basketball has given me I just want to acknowledge how special this is. It’s a special level of significance. I have been part of this city, this franchise and a part of your lives and that has always been such a privilege for me.”
During her speech Taylor spoke about the transition from the Cleveland Rockers to Phoenix Mercury, commenting “Oddly as it may seem I am going to mention LeBron James because when he was drafted to Cleveland that was when they decided there was to be no more WNBA team, so that’s how I come to this point where I really want to thank Seth Sulka for drafting me in the Dispersal Draft. He brought me home, he brought me here to Phoenix and every summer since 2004 almost, this has been my base.”
“Now to the players that I played with over the years, I really want to touch on this because everyone that came here that committed to the selflessness and the competitive drive and they sacrificed sometimes individual accolades for the greater good, these banners and these trophies are all a result of their sacrifices and wanting to do something special. Every one of them I want to thank, I enjoyed playing with you.”
“To Diana (loud cheers from the crowd), it’s been an honour to compete and to fight with you and to be able to play with the greatest player of all-time, it’s been so special to me. Your passion for the game is infectious and I have learnt so much from just being on the court with you. You’re always striving to be better, your leadership, but even more than that, your lack of ego is the reason for our success and I love you (more loud cheering from the crowd).”
Late in her speech Taylor commented “If I am proud of anything it is the knowledge that every time I stepped on the floor I gave everything and I fought my hardest and I feel like you always appreciated that.”
Marriage, motherhood and off-court roles with Phoenix Mercury
Phoenix Mercury announced on 10 March 2017 that Taylor had been appointed as Phoenix’s Director of Player Development and Performance. Phoenix Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman told Mercury.wnba.com “As we have always tried to make clear, our organization owes a great deal to Penny Taylor and our hope was that her post-playing career would keep her here, as well. After playing her final season in 2016, it was important that she took time to consider the next stage of her career, and we couldn’t be happier that she has decided to join our basketball staff in this newly-created player development role. Who better to learn from than a WNBA Champion, an Olympian, a World Champion, an All-Star, and one of the best people you’ll ever meet? We will always have a place in our organization for Penny.”17
On Saturday 13 May 2017 Taylor married Taurasi in Phoenix the day before the Mercury commenced their 2017 WNBA season with a home game against the Dallas Wings. Taurasi commented on the wedding to People magazine “It was the most amazing and beautiful day of our lives. To be able to share our love with family and close friends meant the world to us.”18 Taylor told azcentral.com the wedding was “a beautiful day and everything we hoped it would be. We had all our favorite people in the world from all over the world there. It was the perfect timing and real celebration of everything we’ve been through and how we’ve been professionals and supportive of each other through some really tough years and challenging careers.”19
Taurasi commented to azcentral.com on her and Taylor having kept their relationship private “That was our special thing. We never kept it secret, we just didn’t want that to be an issue ever. We knew when we walked through those doors, it was time to put work in and be professional.”20
Whilst it was possible for Taylor and Taurasi to get married in America and many other Western countries, in May 2017 same-sex marriage was not legal in Australia. Speaking about the lack of marriage equality in Australia Taylor told The Sydney Morning Herald “I felt like it was important for me to say that I’ve been a valued member of the community. I’ve contributed to my country, I’ve always done my best to represent Australia in the best way possible and I’ve been congratulated by politicians and the public. But in this one area I am not treated as an equal, I’m not given the same rights as anyone else and there are many other people who are in my shoes that aren’t treated as equals in this issue. So I felt it was important for me to take a stand and to voice something that people take for granted. In many ways Australia is so progressive and I love my country yet in this one area we have fallen behind, quite frankly.”21
In December 2017 same-sex marriage became legal in Australia however it was a drawn out process. Politicians could have voted to legalise same-sex marriage, however a postal vote of Australians was held to determine if a change should be made, and this change was implemented after 61.6% of people in mid-November 2017 voted to legalise same-sex marriage.
Taylor and Taurasi’s son Leo Michael Taurasi-Taylor was born on 1 March 2018. Taylor didn’t have an official role at Phoenix Mercury during 2018. In April 2019 Taylor was appointed as a Phoenix Mercury assistant coach. Taylor spoke to azcentral.com about her change in priorities after becoming a mum “As much as I love basketball, something replaced it at the top of the list. That was the biggest concern — how do we make this work and how does it affect our family? We got that all under control.”22
The entire 2020 WNBA season was played in a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Taurasi travelled to Florida to play for Phoenix in the 2020 season and Taylor stepped away from her role as a Mercury assistant coach to stay in Phoenix with two year old son Leo. Taurasi told Arizona Republic “It literally was an hourly decision of coming or not coming. Ultimately we decided it would be safer for them to stay in Phoenix. For four months now, we’ve quarantined in the house with just us. As safe as the bubble is, you’re automatically exposed to 200 plus people. Just for the safety of Penny and Leo being so little, it was probably the best decision, but a hard decision. It’s a long time to be away from your family.”23
Taurasi and Taylor’s second child, daughter Isla Taurasi-Taylor was born on 9 October 2021. The day before Isla was born Taurasi scored 24 points in Phoenix’s 87-84 victory over the Las Vegas Aces in game 5 of the WNBA semi finals which booked Phoenix a berth in the WNBA Finals. In the post-game interview Taurasi commented to Taylor who was past the due date of her pregnancy ‘Hold it in babe, coming.’ On how quickly Isla was born after that game Taylor commented in SBS Courtside 1v1 S2 E4 Penny Taylor published on 24 March 2022 “I was in labour, during that game I am not sure if it was the game, I was overdue anyway so it was an exciting game for sure and I was in labour watching it with the doctor by my side and it was a lot of fun seeing her again rise to the level that she did in that series. She hopped on a flight got back to Phoenix and a few hours later Isla was born, she made it just in time yeah, actually she walked in when I was getting the epidural so she could have arrived a little earlier but it worked out ok.”
During the interview with Megan Hustwaite on the SBS program TAB Courtside 1v1 S2 E4 Penny Taylor, Penny commented on her family “It’s a very beautiful phase of our lives and something that we have looked forward to and wished for and we are very, very happy with having that family, it’s our family, it’s finalised, that’s it for us so we are very happy to have two very healthy children and once we get some sleep we will be able to enjoy it even more (laughs).”
Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on 11 June 2022
At a ceremony in Knoxville, Tennessee on 11 June 2022 Taylor was one of the eight people inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in the class of 2022 with the class comprised of one veteran player – Alice ‘Cookie’ Barron, two players – Becky Hammon and DeLisha Milton-Jones, one international player – Taylor, three coaches – Doug Bruno, Paul Sanderford and Bob Schneider, and one contributor Debbie Antonelli. During the ceremony each inductee received their Eastman Trophy and Baron Championship Induction Ring.
During a video Australian player joins class of 2022 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame published by Wate 6 On Your Side on 10 June 2022, days before the induction ceremony in Knoxville Elizabeth Kuebel asked Taylor “You are a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2022, how does that feel?” Taylor responded “It feels amazing. It seems almost like, well it is another lifetime ago for me. I retired five years ago now and since then I have had two children and I am in the thick of motherhood so it’s a very surreal feeling almost and one that I am really grateful for because it allows me to really reflect on my career and the things that I was able to do and appreciate it on a whole nother level now.”
During her speech after being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Taylor commented on former Phoenix Mercury teammate Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia “BG is our family. She’s yours too. The entire global sport community needs to come together to insist that she be a priority.”
Taylor’s wife Taurasi and two children, Leo and Isla attended the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. During her speech Taylor commented ‘I’m so grateful for basketball and all the experiences that it’s brought me, but mostly for introducing me to my love.” Penny then joked about Taurasi, “If you continue to work hard, you, too, may be up here.”
Inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame on 1 July 2022
On Friday 1 July 2022 Taylor was one of three players inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame along with two Chris Anstey, and Michelle Brogan. Dr Peter Harcourt was also inducted into the Hall of Fame and Andrew Gaze was elevated to Legend status.
During the SBS Courtside 1v1 S2 EP 4 – Penny Taylor published on 24 March 2022 host Megan Hustwaite asked Taylor “What did it mean to be an Opal for so long?” Taylor responded “That was always the dream, the dream was to compete for your country. It was something that I think on another level made me proud, but it made my parents proud, it made my extended family really proud to go out there. I think there is also a level of responsibility with being an Opal, like the people that have gone before you are watching and you want to make them proud and you want to compete the way that they always did and that’s a big responsibility but one that you have got a roadmap for because you have watched them and I watched them so closely for so long. Wearing those colours and being able to compete for my country was super special and to this day that is up there with anything I have done.”
Taylor maintained a high standard representing the Australian Opals throughout her career, in all seven major championships averaging more than 10 points per game. Highlighting Penny’s outstanding all-round skill-set, consistency and high level of performance she was the only player to rank in the top 25 per game at both the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in all four of the following categories; points, rebounds, assists and steals. Another of Penny’s greatest strengths was her phenomenal shooting from all over the court and at more than one major championship Taylor was the only player ranked in the top 10 overall at the tournament in all three of the following categories; field goal %, three point % and free-throw%. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio Taylor led the tournament for free-throw percentage at a perfect 100%, making all 18 attempts and averaged 5.5 assists per game, ranked second overall at the tournament.
A common theme throughout Penny’s decorated career has been the ability to adapt her versatile game to whatever her teams most needed her to provide, which was largely dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of her team-mates. Taylor had a wide-ranging skill-set, with exceptional shooting, a high basketball IQ, passing skills and rebounding ability which enabled her to easily tailor her game to whatever the team required most from her.
Very few people in the world, male or female have:
a) played on championship winning teams in five different national basketball leagues
b) played for their national team at seven major championships and won five medals including at least one gold medal, and
c) been named Most Valuable Player at one major championship (Olympics or World Championship) and in the All-Star five at another major championship.
Penny Taylor is one such player in this extremely select group. It was much deserved recognition of Taylor’s magnificent career and versatility to perform a number of different roles that she was inducted into both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Article by Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
Milestones and Misses
Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) and Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey sportspeople have had during their career.
A link to Milestones and Misses homepage and WNBL category is below:
The Milestones and Misses website was set up in December 2015. From 2020 onwards articles have been published on the following sportspeople:
Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin