- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Phoenix in the summer. Temperatures routinely above 100 degrees, and no assurances that it's a "dry heat" can hide the fact that it's just plain blazin' hot.
Too hot to go outside most days. The streets in downtown Phoenix are not particularly well-traveled during the dead of summer, even as the office buildings are full of people, who move from air-conditioned space to air-conditioned space. Restaurants that feature outdoor dining also feature huge misting machines, spraying microscopic droplets of water, trying to take the edge off the relentless desert sun.
The Phoenix Mercury players who spend their summers in Arizona during the WNBA season have to figure out ways to adapt, to stay cool and rested and busy during the days as they while away in one of America's hottest cities.
Diana Taurasi has spent more time with the Phoenix organization than any player on the Mercury roster. Sometimes the best idea is just to get out of town.
"I make more short trips to Los Angeles than I used to," said Taurasi, a Southern California native. "It's nice to just get away from it."
What else does the superstar do with her free time?
"Sit on the couch and … sit on the couch," Taurasi said. "And watch every TV show that's on."
Jasmine James, the rookie point guard from Georgia, is still figuring out her first summer in Phoenix.
"I go shopping," James said. "I end up at the mall a lot."
Where she just might run into teammate Charde Houston.
"I shop, and if I'm not shopping, I'm indoors making bracelets," Houston said. And every once in a while, she will venture out to take a dip in the pool. Sunbathing, however, is not really an option.
During the WNBA season, players live in corporate apartments for the summer that come pre-furnished. Often players live in the same complex. They get together for team barbecues or just to hang out. But everyone has her own way of beating the heat during off days, after practice and during long stretches between road trips. Candice Dupree said she likes to stay in her air-conditioned apartment searching the Internet and watching home improvement shows on the HGTV cable network. DeWanna Bonner joked that she does "absolutely nothing."
"I stay at home in my air conditioning, because it's so hot," Bonner said.
Alexis Hornbuckle is part of a group of players who burn their free time playing video games.
"Xbox, PlayStation," Hornbuckle said. "Playing against [Lynetta] Kizer or B.G. [Brittney Griner] is what I like to do."
Briana Gilbreath is killing her downtime in a variety of ways. Having grown up in Houston, she knows all about hot summers.
"In Houston, you have to deal with the humidity," said Gilbreath, who attended the University of Southern California. "Here, it's like an oven just baking the back of your neck.
"I think I desensitized myself to the heat when I lived in California because the weather was so perfect all the time. I wasn't used to it anymore. So coming here was just like, 'Wow.'"
Gilbreath said she loves to cook at home, making breakfast for teammates or preparing her personal specialties -- baked chicken with lemon pepper and spaghetti with homemade sauce.
"Or we go out to eat," said Gilbreath, who is also an avid reader. "We are always finding a new restaurant in town."
Another thing keeping Gilbreath busy these days? Planning a wedding. She will marry fiancé Brice Butler, a wide receiver the Oakland Raiders drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft, next April. The couple met when both were athletes at USC.
"It seemed like [the wedding] was so far away, but now it's right around the corner. I hired a wedding planner last week," Gilbreath said. "But I'm always looking at wedding magazines and putting things in my wedding book."
For Taurasi, her summer experiences in Arizona aren't that different from winters spent playing in Russia for so many years -- a lot of hiding from the harsh weather outside.
"At least in Arizona, you don't have to get all bundled up just to go outside," Taurasi said.
17dBonnie D. Ford