Mercury trying to live up to championship expectations

The Phoenix Mercury went through some really lean times last season. At 7-27, they had the second worst record in the WNBA.

The great thing about sports is that you always have the following season to look forward to, and there’s always opportunities to bolster your team through the draft and through free-agent acquisitions.

Phoenix did just that by adding center Brittney Griner with the first overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.

In her first few days of training camp, she learned how to do the pick-and-roll for the first time in her life. She had never done it before she arrived in Phoenix.

“I said ‘That’s okay, that’s no problem,'” head coach Corey Gaines said. “She picked it up fast.”

Gaines had to teach Griner how to dive and set the pick and defend the pick.

“She’s done a great job, she’s definitely on a learning curve right now, but she’s picking it up,” Gaines said.

If you want to win a championship, these are the types of things you iron out in training camp, which the Mercury are doing.

The team is having their first full practice together on Saturday, which will give Gaines time to get everyone acclimated with each other.

He’s got a veteran team, which should make the “getting to know each other” phase a little easier because they’ll all come in with the same exact mindset, which they can impart to Griner and their other rookie, forward Nikki Greene.

“I think their goals have always been the same, to win championships,” Gaines said. “It’s not about who scores the most, it’s not about who gets that shot. I’ve never had that problem, because they’ve always wanted to win that championship first.”

Guard Diana Taurasi is heading into her 10th season with the Mercury. Her 2012 season was pretty much wiped out after she strained her left hip flexor during training camp.

Taurasi says she’s healthy and ready to go again this season and be the impactful player she’s always been for the Mercury.

“There’s something to be said for an uncontrollable energy,” Taurasi said. “The minute you drive into the arena, just driving into the city again, there’s that energy you can’t control. Sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not. I think this year, it is there.”

Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Candace Dupree and DeWanna Bonner arrived in Phoenix on Thursday night, so their first chance to meet with the rest of the team came on Friday just before their Media Day session.

Taurasi of course met with Griner, and from her initial meeting with her, Taurasi is impressed by her new center.

“She’s a young kid, but she’s very mature in a lot of ways,” Taurasi said. “She handled a lot at Baylor, she’s been in the spotlight for a long time and I think it’s gonna be exciting to see her to grow as a player and personally to get to know her and be on the court with her.”

“She’ll be just fine,” Taurasi added.

Griner’s been on Taurasi’s radar ever since her days at Baylor. What caught Taurasi’s eye was the fact that Griner improved each and every season she was with the Lady Bears.

“That’s really hard to do,” Taurasi said. “I think this summer, you’re gonna see more development with the coaching staff and looking at basketball a different way.”

“The sky’s the limit for her,” Taurasi said.

The first few days of training camp for Griner were pretty hectic. What stood out to her was “how physical it was,” in her words.

“That let me know, ‘Hey, [I’m] at a different level,'” Griner said. “No easy buckets, you go up, you go up strong.”

Coming to a new team, especially a professional team, it’s all about creating a bond with your new teammates and developing chemistry in the locker room, which Griner’s been working on in the first couple days on the job.

“It’s crazy, I’ve been having fun back there in the back with everybody here, just talking to them, getting to know everybody’s personality,” Griner said. “When [DeWanna] came in, it was over. Everybody just started feeding off each other.”

Griner can already feel the “motherly” influence Taurasi has in the locker room, being that she has a lot of seniority among the Mercury players.

Taurasi was the Mercury’s No. 1 draft pick back in 2004, so she and Griner share that in common.

“I feel like she can help me out [with] any questions I may have, I feel like I can go to her,” Griner said. “She knows what it takes, so I’m ready to be that sponge [and] absorb up everything and just learn from her.”

Up and down the roster, the Mercury are strong. Adding Griner, in many eyes, made the Mercury instant championship contenders.

Taurasi pumped the brakes on those thoughts.

“Those are lofty expectations, and we haven’t even had a full practice together yet,” Taurasi said. “You look around the locker room and we have some of the best players in the world, [but] all that doesn’t mean much if we don’t start building something early.”

“As we grow, we’ll get better, and hopefully four months from now if we’re talking about a championship, then we did the right things,” Taurasi said.