Diana Taurasi speaks about “the greatest sigh of relief” and clearing her name of doping allegations

Around the world, students were on vacation, workers were looking forward to having at least a day or two off during the Christmas holiday and many U.S.-based professional women’s basketball players were enjoying time away from playing overseas as they returned home to their families during the break. In the women’s basketball news world, it was also downtime. The week of Christmas gives everyone a reprieve from headlines and deadlines, yet this past year, everyone was thrown a curveball. Shortly before the holiday, according to the Turkish Basketball Federation, a urine sample taken from Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi “after a game between Istanbul University and Fenerbahçe … tested positive for modafinil, one of the illegal substances on WADA’s banned stimulants list, according to preliminary test results.”

The drug is a stimulant is used to treat narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder and prevents excessive sleepiness according to the National Institutes of health. News outlets, that hardly ever write more than a tweet of characters about women’s basketball, ran the story from the wire about the positive test results. The news originated from a leak. The source of the leak is still unknown.

The federation slapped Taurasi with a provisional ban and Fenerbahçe terminated her contract at the beginning of the year. Then the waiting game began. Taurasi started mounting her defense including the results of a polygraph test against the claims of the World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Ankara, Turkey.

Taurasi’s fans and supporters – from fellow players to her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma – supported her at every turn. Fans tweeted, blogged, posted on Facebook, made signs and held a constant virtual vigil for Taurasi.

To the relief of women’s basketball fans, players, coaches and anyone else associated with the sport, Taurasi managed to clear her name after maintaining her innocence and denying any wrongdoing. On Wednesday, the federation lifted the ban. The lab that first reported that two of Taurasi’s samples had tested positive for modafinil retracted their findings.

“The Federation has decided to lift the precautionary ban imposed on player Diana Lorena Taurasi,” said the federation in a statement, “to prevent the club and the player from being aggrieved further.”

Fenerbahçe called the entire doping spectacle involving Taurasi “a scandal.”

Thursday, the star spoke out in a call to media from Phoenix. These are her words:

On having a sense of relief and feeling vindicated

I definitely had the greatest sigh of relief yesterday and today I just feel like I can finally start putting it behind me. You know I do feel vindicated. I feel like the facts came out and all the information got put on the table. And it’s like I said from day one, it’s a road I never crossed and I’m just glad that it came out.

On how events transpired, the vagueness of information revealed and the language barrier

Part of that was the language barrier and that always affects things. But the whole situation I think was handled poorly. From information leaking early…and that’s unfortunate. But at the end of the day the facts come out and the lab and all the things that we were weary of from the beginning are the things that were obviously were the determining factors.

On retribution and legal recourse

We’ll get to [that] in the next couple of weeks. I feel like someone has to take the responsibility for this. It can’t just happen and just get washed away You can’t just say sorry and walk away because it’s going to affect athletes throughout the world and it’s not fair.

On affirming the stigma on her career of what transpired in the past few months

Yes, not only because it can ruin your career but your reputation…I’ve always worked tremendously hard on the basketball court to be where I’m at. And for that to be put on me unfairly, it’s just not fair. But you know like everything in my life I’m going to look forward and stay positive.

On Monique Coker (Old Dominion, former WNBA), another American women’s basketball player in Turkey who tested positive

I got into contact with her when it all transpired and I know she was feeling very, very down and you know two other soccer players actually got cleared too. So this was more than just about me. This was a group of people that were unfairly put in this situation. I’m just glad that everyone got justice at the end.

On her immediate action and dealing with the situation on an emotional level

I was in true shock for those first couple of days, I really didn’t know what to think, what to feel. You know you really don’t know how to feel because your voice and your truth seems to not have any validity at that point and people jump on the bandwagon of doping and you know the stigmatism that comes along with that which is completely unfair when you go over all of the facts. So, I’m just going to look forward to the WNBA season.

On the timeline of events in her mind

I played in a game on November 12, I think it was a Saturday and I got drug tested after the game, like I have you know at least 50 times in the last eight years easily. And then after about two weeks…l had the letter of the positive test from the doping association and that’s when I was feeling that state of shock, where I was in complete shock. I was really numb from what the paper said because I knew I’d never taken it and then from then on it was very hard and getting everything prepared with Howard, and getting all the facts and the details straightened out and like I said with the language barrier it was hard and I came back for Christmas I went back to Turkey after that and the B sample came out and that really was a big issue. And then came back to California to try to get things settled…

On the support of her college coach and other coaches

It was huge. It was coach Auriemma. It was Donovan, coach Gentry, Corey Gaines, Robert Sarver, teammates of mine who have known me from day one of my professional career like Penny. And Sue Bird was one of the first people that I heard from. You know I got a lot of support from other athletes not only in the WNBA but from across the word and from the fans – and that meant a lot to have their unwavering support.

On the lab’s mistakes

You know sometimes the easiest explanation is the hardest to follow. I think this was scientific wrongdoing in their chemistry in the lab and it not only showed in my test but in other people’s too…

On possibly being a target

I would like to think that that had nothing to do with it. I really think it was just a mishap from the lab not doing the right process of the testing methods that they’re supposed to.

On her defense and the polygraph test

My defense wasn’t based on my word that I didn’t do it….this was facts, this was details in the chemistry, in the process that wasn’t done the right way. And at the end of the day that’s what they look at and like you said the lab had been suspended in the past for not following protocol and this was just another example of them not following protocol on the testing methods that have to be up to par for WADA. And that’s just the problem, they have a lot of athlete’s careers and reputations on the line.

On waiting

It was very difficult and to be honest it never is this quick…these processes take a long time but you know when everything came out that was the decision to be made

On WNBA players wanting to play overseas again

You take a better and closer look at where I’m going to pursue my basketball career. And you’re automatically supposed to trust these different doping agencies and trust that they are doing the right thing at all times. I just hope no other athlete goes through this again. I hope for myself and for the other players that went through this that we can put this on the forefront because it’s very serious.

On the lab’s reaction

They should feel guilty. Just like if you do test positive and you actually do it you get punished. Your careers, your reputation and everything, it gets put on hold and I think it’s the same if they make a mistake….Like I said whoever is responsible for this needs to come out and go through their repentance.

On hearing from the lab and the federation

We got a letter of declaration from the federation but they don’t go into much detail but I think in the next week or so we should be getting more details from them.

On what she’s lost

I could easily say I’ve lost three months of my basketball career that was actually going really well in Turkey….You lose a little confidence in the system that you’re supposed to have so much faith in. You know not only that there were two sides, there was the side of people judging you on the drop of a dime but then there was the other side, where the fans were great, my family, my friends, people who’ve known me for a long time and their unwavering support. So it was two-fold

On holding out hope for a favorable outcome and fear that the truth would not be an adequate defense

It was a big question mark because I knew the truth and I knew what had already happened to me so to have faith and say now the truth will get you out of this – if you think about it, it truly doesn’t work like that. It’s a long drawn out process and Howard’s one of the best in the world and there are not too many people that will take cases like this cause there’s a lot of details in the chemistry and doing the testing the right way. I think that’s how much of a mistake they made. I don’t think anyone can really question that.

On support from the WNBA

I got a lot of support from Renee Brown….It really felt good that they were in my corner and that they could understand the situation that I was in…It could be any one of us that falls to this we all go overseas…and hopefully they treat us the right way and this one time…it was me.

Effect on players going to Turkey

From here on out you have to take a real close look at where you go overseas and make sure it’s the right spot for you. I don’t have any bad feelings towards Turkey and their federation and their players and the fans have been great. But I think going over there you have to take a very close look and from here on out I think…I’m going to have to go somewhere where I feel safe and go from there.

On staying positive throughout the hard events in her life in the past year and finding personal strength to persevere

It hasn’t been easy….Like I said there were two sides…I kind of relied on the side of people that had my support. Things happen in life, they never go according to plan, there’s never a good time for things in life. Every morning I wake up I try to see the positive in things and enjoy it and this was just another example of how grateful we all are really and the end of the days we’re all human and things happen and you know I really relied on the human sensitivity of people to get through it that’s where I’m at.

On the next couple of months

I’ve been in the gym for the last three weeks, been in the weight room, on the court. It’s just something that I’ve never had before and that’s to get myself in the best physical shape that I could be in and work on something and record that. Throughout the last seven years I haven’t had the opportunity to do that because I’ve gone from the WNBA to Europe to USA Basketball so I’m looking forward to it.

How she feels about the fan support

The fans have been great, here in Phoenix, in Turkey for the little time I’ve been there, my fans in Russia and Connecticut has been great. It just makes you feel really good that people have their unwavering support sometimes. And you know athletes sometimes we get treated unfairly and a lot of things are said and its unfair but the fans have been completely on my side and it feels really good. It feels really, really good.

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