WNBA Gamers Skipping Russia, Selecting Different Locations to Play

By DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer

SYDNEY (AP) — Brittney Griner’s extremely publicized authorized woes in Russia and the nation’s invasion of Ukraine has the highest WNBA gamers opting to take their skills elsewhere this offseason.

For the previous few a long time, Russia has been the popular offseason vacation spot for WNBA gamers to compete due to the excessive salaries that may exceed $1 million and the assets and facilities groups supplied them.

That all has come to an abrupt finish.

“Honestly my time in Russia has been fantastic, however particularly with BG nonetheless wrongfully detained there, no person’s going to go there till she’s house,” stated Breanna Stewart, a Griner teammate on the Russian crew that paid the duo tens of millions. “I feel that, you already know, now, folks wish to go abroad and if the cash shouldn’t be a lot totally different, they wish to be in a greater place,”

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Griner was arrested in February, then detained and later convicted on drug possession prices amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Griner was sentenced final month to 9 years in jail.

Now, Stewart and different WNBA All-Stars, together with Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot — who even have made tens of millions of {dollars} taking part in in Russia — are going elsewhere this winter. All three performed for Ekaterinburg, the identical Russian crew as Griner. That membership received 5 EuroLeague titles previously eight seasons and has been dominant for practically twenty years with former greats DeLisha Milton Jones and Diana Taurasi taking part in there.

Nearly a dozen WNBA gamers competed in Russia final winter and none of them are heading again this 12 months.

After the World Cup event, Stewart goes to Turkey to play for Fenerbahçe. Top gamers could make a couple of hundred thousand {dollars} taking part in in Turkey, a lot lower than their Russian salaries. Playing in Turkey additionally permits Stewart to be nearer to her spouse’s household in Spain.

“You wish to have a greater way of life, a greater off-the-court expertise, and simply proceed to understand different international locations,” Stewart stated.

Like Stewart, Vandersloot additionally is not headed again to Russia, selecting to play in Hungary the place she obtained citizenship in 2016.

“I’m Hungarian. I believed it might be particular since I have not performed there since I acquired the citizenship,” Vandersloot stated.

The 33-year-old guard stated quite a bit must change earlier than she’d ever think about going again to Russia to play despite the fact that she has many fond reminiscences of the Russian folks.

“The factor about it’s, we had been handled so nicely by our membership and made such robust relationships with these folks, I’d by no means shut the door on that,” she stated. “The complete scenario with BG makes it actually onerous to assume that it’s protected for anybody to return there proper now.”

Jones will probably be becoming a member of Stewart in Turkey, taking part in for Mersin. The 6-foot-6 Jones stated she would think about going again to Russia if issues change politically and Griner was again within the U.S.

The Griner scenario is also weighing closely on the minds of younger WNBA gamers.

Rhyne Howard, the 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is taking part in in Italy this winter — her first abroad expertise. She stated was cautious when deciding the place she needed to play.

“Everyone’s going to be a bit cautious seeing as this example is occurring,” she stated.

It’s not simply the American gamers who’re not going to Russia. Chicago Sky ahead Emma Meesseman, who stars for the Belgium nationwide crew, had performed in Russia with Stewart, Jones and Vandersloot. She is also headed to Turkey this offseason.

The WNBA has additionally been making an attempt to make staying house within the offseason a greater possibility for gamers. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert stated on the WNBA Finals that high gamers might make as much as $700,000 this 12 months between base wage, advertising agreements and award bonuses. While solely a choose few gamers might attain that quantity, roughly a dozen have determined take league advertising agreements this offseason.

AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this story.

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