When Penny Taylor left for Europe in 2002, few would have predicted she wouldn’t play a minute in her home league for the next 12 years.
We all knew Taylor was a world class talent and she left the WNBL as a two-time league most valuable player – but still most players return home for one reason or another and play a season or two in the national league.
What has become apparent to both WNBL players and to Taylor herself is her long overseas tour stripped an entire generation, and Taylor’s nieces and nephews, the chance to see one of our best ever players perform at the height of her powers.
All this will end when Taylor runs out with the Dandenong Rangers against Townsville Fire at Dandenong Stadium this afternoon at 3pm.
If you are in Melbourne you should head to the game, if you are interstate or otherwise indisposed watch the game live on ABC or later on ABC iview.
As long as her health holds up, Taylor will play out the season with the Rangers and then decide what to do with the rest of her career.
She is 33 and looking to settle the jet setting lifestyle which she has lived over the past 12 years switching between Phoenix in the WNBA and the biggest sides in Europe.
Taylor told News Ltd’s Boti Nagy she wasn’t sure exactly how the next few years will play out but she had bought a house in Los Angeles.
She also said during her return press conference she still has the 2016 Rio Olympics as a goal.
But there is no certainty she will play in the WNBL anymore after this season,
Taylor gets offers from all over the world and her value is so high many clubs would offer her the reduced training schedule she needs to keep healthy along with the high wages she is accustomed to.
So this season in the WNBL has to be seen as possibly our last chance to see Taylor in action and in full command of her imposing game.
It’s vital our best young players take this opportunity and our best WNBL players take on the Opals captain and learn major lessons firsthand.
All of Taylor’s Rangers teammates, except for import Cappie Pondexter, have never played with her before this week and the same could be said for almost all her Opals’ teammates at this year’s world championships.
Opals forward Rebecca Allen was wide-eyed at the prospect of playing with Taylor, Melbourne Boomers guard Tess Madgen said during this week she was playing against her idol.
But just as Taylor would do, Madgen immediately took the conversation back to her team and how they had to play to beat the Rangers.
This might be the most satisfying part of Taylor’s impact, from distance, on our rising Opals players.Those who have watched her battles in the WNBA and Europe and with the Opals, have seen the steely eyed approach needed to succeed against the games’ very best players.
Superstars like Lauren Jackson and Liz Cambage have natural height and athletic talents which are rare and should be celebrated.
Taylor is 185-centimetres which makes her tall but no giant. She’s athletic but no high flyer. She made herself into a world class player by getting her body to peak condition and taking her mind beyond what many consider their best.
She is as rounded a player as there is in the WNBL and hopefully other players will see how she defends off the ball, how she passes and moves and, most importantly, how she beats weaker opponents.
Rangers coach Mark Wright, who coached Taylor at the club before she moved overseas, said he was impressed to see his star come home with so many additional skills.
“It’s incredible having her back, it’s like an old friend coming home,” Wright said after seeing Taylor back at training this past week.
“Her game is much more rounded and polished; she can defend, pass and just understands the game.
“She was offering advice and taking on that leadership role straight away.
“It will be good for our established players as well to have her around; she is another scoring menace and someone who will take attention away from Kathleen Macleod, Alice Kunek and Tegan Cunningham.”
The crowd at Dandenong is expected to be up tody and again when the Rangers play Melbourne Boomers at the State Basketball Centre on Sunday at 1pm.
But I hope there are thousands more supporters out in all WNBL stadiums to see her play this season. If the injuries to Jackson and Cambage have taught us nothing else – it’s that you truly don’t know what you’ve got until it stops playing in front of you.
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