WNBA players on the benefits of playing overseas

WNBA

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Imagine being just 21 or 22 years old and getting the job of your dreams. Apart from preparing for it every day, you’ve been dreaming about it, praying for it, manifesting it and finally… it happened. You are a WNBA player.

There are expectations, commercial flights, fatigue, more expectations, social media mockery and then, after a hectic five months, you’re at home, wondering what to do with your time until you get another go at it. There are seven months until the next season starts. A good time to pick up a new hobby or read those books you’ve always wanted to, right? Or maybe instead of putting down the rock, you move to Europe for the next couple of months so you can keep balling?

In much of women’s basketball discourse, playing in Europe is still described as a by-product of the inadequacies of the WNBA. Players must go overseas due to low salaries and a lack of roster spots in the W. Is that actually the case? Or, does playing in Europe offer players too-often overlooked benefits?


Without the possibility of moving to Europe and learning from experienced coaches and teammates, a bonafide international star like Yvonne Anderson would not play in the Olympics for Serbia—first in 2021 and for a second time this coming summer—or earn recognition as one of the best point guards outside of the W. Prior to the EuroLeague Women Final Four in April, Anderson spoke to Swish Appeal about playing for the back-to-back EuroLeague Women champions, Fenerbahçe Alagöz Holding. She said:

Playing at Fener is a special experience. It is an amazing club that, because of the serious investment, has continuously been at the top of European basketball. They’ve chosen to invest in players and coaches, and the results continue to show that this will lead to a winning club, year after year. They’ve been at the highest level of most of the sports that they participate in honestly, and that shows how much they care about putting forth an excellent product.

Her teammates in Turkey included Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride of the Minnesota Lynx. McBride was named the EuroLeague Final Four MVP and their play, along with that Anderson and former WNBA All-Star Emma Meesseman, elevated Fenerbahçe to new heights this year, which is really something for such a decorated club. On how playing in Europe could help the Lynx this season, Collier shared with Swish Appeal:

I think as far as us, building that chemistry even more was very good. In my opinion the game is very different when it comes to the W and overseas, but in the sense of getting better, when you can get more reps, you can try new things… but overall I think the game is quite different, so I don’t know how translatable that part is.

Galatasaray Cagdas Faktoring v InvestInTheWest Enea Gorzow - FIBA Women’s European Cup

NaLyssa Smith averaged 22 points and 10.4 rebounds per game for Galatasaray in EuroCup Women competition.
Photo by Esra Bilgin/Anadolu via Getty Images

NaLyssa Smith of the Indiana Fever played in the same city, but for Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe’s biggest rival. She doesn’t get into the details of her experience because she was there to work. She simply said:

Turkey was a great experience for me… Going to a foreign country and just being accepted by your teammates and your coaches and stuff like that, it makes it a lot easier.

Her Fever teammate, Victaria Saxton, played for Castors Braine in Belgium, appearing in some EuroCup games. She noted:

When I first got there I was lost, but my teammates did a really great job at making me feel like home. I got to see different cities around Belgium… try different foods. I tried chocolate and their Belgian waffles… there we go, those are the ones.

She smiles and nods her head at the memory of the unique taste of those sweet treats. Here in Poland, we don’t have those, but our apple pies and yeast cakes are nothing to sneeze at either. However, it was not those sugary masterpieces or our world-famous pierogi that keep Fever vet Erica Wheeler coming back to Poland. She told Swish Appeal:

Polkowice is a second home to me. I love Poland and the people love me. We also win championships there so I’m never trying to run away from that. And the head coach, he probably will be one of my lifetime friends… when I can have a coach that allows me to be myself and allows me to control certain things in certain moments and be a leader without always having his guidance, I’m my best self and I thrive off when a coach trusts me. And he really does trust me a lot, that’s why I keep going back.

Here in Europe, we’re crazy about basketball. We appreciate hard work, teamwork and effort. Moving overseas is risky and bold, but if you check all three boxes, the people in the stands will make you feel like the queen that you are.

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