On court of public opinion

Ex-UConn star faces her mistake

Diana Taurasi (left), goofing around with Tina Thompson at All-Star practice, looks comfortable back in Connecticut. Diana Taurasi (left), goofing around with Tina Thompson at All-Star practice, looks comfortable back in Connecticut. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)
By Ben Collins
Globe Correspondent / July 25, 2009

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. - Three weeks after Diana Taurasi was pulled over in Phoenix, allegedly drunk, her car said to be speeding and weaving in and out of lanes, she bumbled out of the tunnel and onto the basketball court at Mohegan Sun Arena and gave Cappie Pondexter a long hug.

The last time the Phoenix Mercury teammates had been on a basketball court together, July 15 against Sacramento, Taurasi scored 22 points in a 19-point victory. The next day, she was suspended two games for conduct detrimental to the team. Police say she was driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit in Arizona, hours after the Mercury’s July 1 win over Seattle.

Her first game back will be today’s WNBA All-Star Game.

“This thing is not going to define me,’’ Taurasi said yesterday, surrounded by reporters at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Taurasi smiled as she talked. After the first question pertained to her arrest, a Mercury representative asked that all questions be basketball-related.

Taurasi shook her head, said, “No,’’ and continued to field questions.

“It hasn’t been an easy month. I’m embarrassed and it’s a bad situation,’’ she said. “But I’m going to use it to become a better person and a better basketball player. I consider it a life challenge.’’

On the day of her arrest, the WNBA coincidentally released All-Star fan voting totals showing Taurasi led all players with 32,921 votes. Her closest competitor, Seattle guard Sue Bird, had 11,000 fewer votes. When voting closed last week, Bird and San Antonio’s Becky Hammon each jumped past Taurasi by more than 13,000 votes. As a result, Taurasi will not start today.

“It’s just like anything. If you do well, they’ll praise you. If you do badly, they’ll scorn you,’’ said Taurasi. “But I’m here.’’

Her return is a homecoming, as well. It’s the first All-Star Game held in Connecticut, where Taurasi won two Naismith College Player of the Year awards (2003, ’04) and three NCAA championships (’02, ’03, ’04) with the Huskies.

Her stature took on superheroic proportions because of it. In 2003, the middle of her UConn championship spree, state Senator Thomas Gaffey proposed legislation to name her the state heroine.

Six years later, she returns having to explain herself.

“[Connecticut] is the most comfortable state for me, and it’s also the state that’s going to take [the arrest] harder than most,’’ said Taurasi, 27. “This changes everything in every way.’’

Alyssa Waters, now 8, grew up watching Taurasi with her dad, Greg. They brought a sign to the open All-Star practice. It read “Terrific Taurasi.’’

“My daughter has always looked up to her. It’s amazing to see her this close,’’ said Greg.

He said he admired how Taurasi’s demeanor - she smiled and waved toward the sign before practice, he said - and how she’s dealing with the adversity.

“People make mistakes,’’ said Waters. “The important thing is, she hasn’t made any excuses. It shows the strong points of her character.’’

The WNBA declined to punish Taurasi further. In 2007, Detroit forward Kara Braxton was suspended two games by the league for her first drunken driving arrest. Braxton was suspended six games last month for another DUI arrest.

Taurasi vows to not make the mistake again.

“There are obstacles in life and I made a mistake this time. But if I make it again, that’s just plain stupid,’’ she said. “Everything is 20/20 now. This will change your life.’’

Taurasi continued to field questions and make jokes - “What, and you’re a little angel boy?’’ she quipped to a reporter about her wrongdoing - until the crowd petered out and it was just her and two reporters in an arena in Connecticut, again, asking how her team is in first place.

WNBA All-Star Game
Today, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.
TV: Channel 5

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story about WNBA all-star Diana Taurasi in the July 25 Sports section misstated the number of times Connecticut has hosted the WNBA all-star game. The game was also played in Connecticut in 2005.

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