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WNBA players support Taurasi's decision to sit out 2015 to rest

Western Conference All-Star Diana Taurasi, of the Phoenix

Western Conference All-Star Diana Taurasi, of the Phoenix Mercury, is introduced to the WNBA All-Star Game at US Airways Center on July 19, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. Credit: Getty Images / Christian Petersen

Eleven days after leading UConn to a third straight national championship in 2004, Diana Taurasi was drafted No. 1 overall by the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.

The next 11 years' worth of calendars came pre-printed with one word on them: basketball. The only question was in which city or country her next game was. In that time span, Taurasi won three WNBA titles, three Olympic gold medals, two world championship gold medals and four Euroleague titles.

Earlier this month, Taurasi announced she will sit out the 2015 WNBA season in accordance with the wishes of her team in Russia, UMMC Ekaterinburg.

UMMC actually is paying Taurasi to not play this season in the United States.

"I don't think a lot of people are aware of how us women athletes, we play all year round, and how it's taxing on our body to do that," the Liberty's Tina Charles said. "So the fact that she has an opportunity to do that, and her team is going to financially compensate her, I think it's wonderful. It's a big blessing and opportunity for her."

Taurasi is one of the most recognizable faces in a league that had a maximum salary of $107,000 last season, and her decision could have far-reaching ramifications.

"I think if anything, it's going to help the league in the long run, to be honest," said Sue Bird, a 12-year WNBA veteran and former college teammate of Taurasi's. "I think it just brings some things to the forefront."

Salaries overseas can reach seven digits. Salaries in the U.S. barely reach six -- for a select few. Taurasi, 32, reportedly is making about $1.5 million with UMMC. Bird, 34, plays on the same Euroleague team as Taurasi.

"The WNBA has been very successful thus far -- [the WNBA's 19th season coming up], that says longevity," said Bird, who hails from Syosset. "But something like this could really kind of turn us in the right direction to keep that going. And I think it's a good thing. It points out some issues and makes people aware of some things, and maybe some good things will change from here."

Some of the younger WNBA players understand Taurasi's decision. "Diana's a great veteran in our league, and she's somebody that really looked out for me ever since I've been in the league," Skylar Diggins said. "I really support her . . . and it just brings attention to the forefront of what some of the issues that we have in the WNBA and steps that we still need to make."

Diggins, 24, starred at Notre Dame before being drafted No. 3 by the Tulsa Shock in 2013.

Atlanta Dream guard Shoni Schimmel, 22, sees it as an opportunity for herself. "She's one of the veterans, so for her to choose what she wants to do, it's understandable," Schimmel said, "but at the same time it opens the door for younger players like myself to go out there and kind of show what we're about."

Tamika Catchings has been in the WNBA since 2002, has played overseas since 2005 and was on the same three gold medal-winning Olympic teams as Taurasi and Bird. She's not concerned about Taurasi's decision having a negative impact on future players.

"We talked about it at the last Olympics, just kind of how she's kept playing, like 'I don't know how you do that. My body is broken down just thinking about you!' " said Catchings, 35. "But I think for her, it's an opportunity right before we get into the Olympic Games next year and all of the tournaments that we'll probably play before, for her to be able to have a chance to rest. I think it'll be beneficial long-term for her and even the league, depending on how many more years she decides to play."

Taurasi said she plans to return to the WNBA for the 2016 season.

"The year-round nature of women's basketball takes its toll, and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down," Taurasi wrote in a letter to fans. "They offered to pay me to rest and I've decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing."

With Nick Klopsis and Casey Musarra

New York Sports