Mercury's Diana Taurasi details lingering back issues, work it takes to play

PHOENIX -- The days of Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi showing up at the gym to practice or play and stepping right onto the court without stretching are long gone.

Taurasi, who returned Sunday after missing three games with a strained oblique in her back, said it takes her about two hours to get her body prepared to play. The WNBA's all-time leading scorer, who made her first comments Tuesday since the injury at the league's bubble in Bradenton, Florida, during a video conference call, said she needs about an hour of treatment and an hour in the weight room to get ready to take the court.

"I used to be the kid that when we got to practice I didn't even stretch," Taurasi said. "And now I'm not that person anymore. Now, the work to get on the court is so much more time-consuming and it's definitely one of those things that's more mental than anything, having to do all the things just to get ready for the game. So, it's a battle. It's something that I've enjoyed and I'm just trying to be as healthy and in the best shape I can be when I get on the court."

Taurasi, 38, said she felt a "little strange pop" in her back when the injury happened in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Seattle Storm on Aug. 8. She pulled up grimacing during a drive to the basket and then left the court.

Having returned from back surgery in early 2019 that kept her out of all but six games last season, Taurasi said the worst immediately went through her head when the injury happened.

"I was just like, 'Not this s--- again,'" Taurasi said. "That was my first reaction, like, 'You gotta be kidding me.' And then I went and got MRIs and did the whole medical car wash which everyone does, and there was no structural damage, everything looked the same as far as my back and everything post-surgery so that was good."

Taurasi said she couldn't get out of bed for the two or three days after the injury and was in "pretty bad shape." But through rehab and recovery, which was mostly done on-site in the bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, with a combination of the Mercury's athletic trainer and strength coach (both of whom are certified physical therapists) as well as doctors and a massage therapist the Mercury share with the Minnesota Lynx, she was able to start feeling better quickly after those first few days.

"It's one of those things that you just gotta rest and rehab," Taurasi said. "Unfortunately, it was in a week where it was three games, and I'm back now and I'll just keep forging forward."

Coach Sandy Brondello said Taurasi is still having spasms in her back but overall is "feeling good" and "moving well."

The next step for Taurasi, who missed a week's worth of games, is to get her wind back, Brondello said.

"She's almost back to where she needs to be," Brondello said.

But Taurasi has figured out how to deal with back pain.

She said she has been living with chronic back issues for more than 20 years and that it's not rare for her back to bother her after doing even the simplest of tasks like trying to pick up her 2-year-old son, Leo, sometimes keeping her off her feet for 24 or 36 hours at a time.

"It's nothing new to me and it's happened to me various times throughout every year that I've played," Taurasi said. "Just in these circumstances, it's a little bit harder to hide when you have so many games at once.

"It's happened in the past but it's happened in times where you've had a little bit of rest. So, this one, this one happened at inopportune time. So, feel better now."