NEW YORK — WNBA standout and former UConn star Diana Taurasi tested positive for modafinil while playing in a professional women’s league in Turkey, the country’s basketball federation said Friday.
Neither her lawyer nor her team, Fenerbahce, would confirm that Taurasi tested positive for the stimulant, which has been involved in several major doping cases, including that of U.S. sprinter Kelli White.
Modafinil is used to counter excessive sleepiness due to narcolepsy, shift-work sleep disorder or sleep apnea, according to the website for the prescription drug Provigil, which contains the substance.
The Turkish Basketball Federation statement cited a report from the lab at Hacettepe University and said: “… the urine sample taken from Diana Taurasi as a part of the regular process, after a game between Istanbul University and Fenerbahce … tested positive for modafinil, one of the illegal substances on WADA’s banned stimulants list, according to preliminary test results.” WADA is the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“We’re not going to confirm what the drug is,” Taurasi’s lawyer, Howard Jacobs, told The Associated Press Friday. “We’ll revisit it after the “B” sample returns. They shouldn’t be speaking about it at all.”
White won the 100- and 200-meter races at the 2003 world championships in Paris, but both her medals were stripped after she tested positive for the stimulant.
Jacobs said Taurasi’s “A” sample came back positive last week and that the substance “was not a steroid or recreational drug.”
Taurasi has been provisionally suspended pending the testing of her “B” sample, sometime early next month. She has already missed three games with Fenerbahce. The team’s website said she and another player were asked to submit to a test on Nov. 13, following the game against Istanbul. It said they were selected as a result of a draw. The other player tested negative.
Fenerbahce said Taurasi was upset that the doping claims broke before the testing process was finalized.
“She is extremely disturbed that her right to confidentiality has been breached and doping claims have been made even before the results of her test are out,” the team’s website said.
If the “B’ sample comes back positive, it could put her 2012 Olympics status with the U.S. national basketball team in jeopardy. She has helped the team win gold medals at the past two Olympics and was the leading scorer at the women’s world championships, which the Americans won in early October.
The International Olympic Committee bars any athlete given a doping penalty of six months or more from competing in the next games.
“At this point we’re aware of the situation and we’re monitoring things and letting the process take its course,” USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller said. “Until that happens we can’t comment.”
Taurasi’s test came to light two days after the top-ranked Huskies won their 89th straight game, surpassing the UCLA men’s winning streak from 1971-74. Taurasi helped lead UConn to three straight national championships as well as 70 consecutive victories from 2001-03. She was the AP Player of the Year in 2003.
UConn’s Geno Auriemma, who coached Taurasi and will lead the 2012 Olympic team, couldn’t be reached for comment by telephone Friday.
At the WNBA All-Star game last summer, Taurasi said the grind of playing basketball continuously for seven straight years was beginning to wear on her. At the time, she indicated fatigue could eventually force her to skip either the WNBA or European seasons.
Taurasi is one of many WNBA stars who play overseas in the winter because of higher salaries. The best players can make up to 10 times their WNBA salaries, which top out at about $100,000.
She led the WNBA in scoring for a league-record fourth straight year, averaging 22.6 points per game. The five-time All-Star and two-time WNBA champion signed a multiyear contract extension with the Phoenix Mercury in August.
Taurasi served one day in jail and was suspended by the team for two games in 2009 after pleading guilty to a DUI charge.
She played in Russia for four years for powerhouse Spartak before joining the Turkish League this season. That league also features WNBA stars Sylvia Fowles, Penny Taylor and Seimone Augustus.
Taurasi is leading the league in scoring this season with 24.6 points a game.
Associated Press Writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Erol Israfil in Istanbul contributed to the report.