Retired Australian basketball player Penny Taylor was recently named a finalist for the the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2022, which will be announced on February 14. There are only currently two other Australian players in the Hall of Fame – Lauren Jackson and Michelle Timms.
Taylor, who played her last professional game for the Phoenix Mercury in the playoff loss to the Minnesota Lynx in 2016, was arguably one of the best Australian players ever to play overseas.
Her greatness as an Australian athlete doesn’t quite get the plaudits it deserves, one of our most overlooked female athletes. She’s now firmly in the conversation as one the greatest Australian basketball players and Australian athletes of all time.
In her early career she played in the WNBL, winning the title in 1998-1999 with the famous young talented AIS team, which included star players such as Jackson, Suzy Batkovic and Sandy Brondello. She then played three more seasons for the Dandenong Rangers, where she won back to back league MVP awards in 2000/01 and 2001/02.
She played 13 seasons in the the WNBA, ten of those for the Mercury, and spent several years in Europe. It was in her time at the Mercury though where she elevated her game and become one of the best guards to play in the league.
In her prime she would have been a social media highlight reel. She averaged double digits in points in all but two of her thirteen seasons in the WNBA. Her shooting percentage for most of her career in the league sat just below an incredible 50 percent.
Arguably her best season was the championship winning season of 2007, where she averaged 17 points at 50 per cent from the field, six rebounds, and just under three assists per game.
In the same season fellow Aussie Lauren Jackson was named MVP, Taylor won the championship with Phoenix defeating Detroit three games to two. It was Taylor’s first WNBA championship. She would go on to win two more with the Mercury.
Throughout her career she represented the green and gold at three Olympic Games, winning silver twice in 2004 and 2008, losing both years to the USA. Taylor played in a generation of great Australian players, including Jackson, Timms, Belinda Snell, Rachel Sporn, Brondello, and Erin Phillips.
Between the two Olympic campaigns, Taylor was pivotal in the World Championship title the Opals won in Brazil in 2006. The Opals went undefeated in the tournament, beating Russia in the championship game to claim the gold medal (avoiding the USA who lost to Russia in the semi-finals). Taylor was named MVP of the tournament.
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A sweet shooter from mid range and beyond the arc, she loved taking on her opponents one on one to the basket using her footwork and ability to cross over and attack the lanes. She was damaging in transition and difficult to stop coming off screens – happy to catch and shoot or cut to the basket.
She was known as a clutch performer, scoring when her team needed her most. In game five of her first championship in 2007 she scored 30 points. A strong bodied guard that could finish either hand in the paint with contact, it was this offensive prowess that saw her become a three-time WNBA All star.
In 2017 her Phoenix Mercury number 13 jersey was retired. It was at this ceremony that we learnt just how special a player she was to not only the organisation, but the league.
Previous COO of WNBA, Jay Parry said at the ceremony, “what sets you [Taylor] apart is how you relate to people and how you make people feel special. You make people feel like they matter”.
Taylor’s wife and former teammate – one of the greatest of all time – Diana Taurasi spoke at the ceremony on Taylor’s incredible impact she had on the organisation.
“Penny has been the rock of this franchise from the day she got here. She demanded respect as soon as she walked into the locker-room.”
You don’t often get such a great insight into the impact an athlete has on the people around her.
There’s no doubt she was a great basketball player – the highlights don’t lie. But what’s more impressive was what type of person she was and how she represented herself, her family and her fans.
From the early days of playing for Nunawading Spectres to the AIS to the WNBL, Taylor’s pathway to greatness is there for all young female athletes to see.
The nomination is a reminder how lucky we were to have Taylor represent Australian fans overseas in the best women’s basketball league in the world. She was a great athlete, and along with Jackson, inspired many female athletes to pursue their dreams of playing professional basketball.
Although being accepted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame won’t define Taylor’s career, the nomination itself helps shines the light on Australian women’s sport and shows other junior female athletes what you can achieve with talent, dedication, hard work, and ultimately being a good person.
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