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WNBA Players Overseas: Keeping Tabs on Basketball’s Stars

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After the “Wubble” season triumphantly concluded in mid-October, with zero positive Covid-19 cases and a 68% increase in viewership, a large portion of the W’s players began their annual voyage to leagues across the globe, where they earn the bulk of their annual basketball income.

Surprisingly, the ongoing pandemic had little effect on the total number of athletes who went overseas this “off season.” Both this year and the one before, roughly 90 WNBA players took their skills abroad. It appears the substantial income (relatively speaking) and valuable court time were too important to pass up. As the WNBA’s reigning points leader, Arike Ogunbowale, explained to Breanna Stewart on a recent pod episode of Stewie’s World, “I’m still young and I need to make money and there’s a lot of money overseas for me.”

 

STEWART AND OGUNBOWALE: WNBA STARS GETTING BUCKETS IN RUSSIA

Both Stewart and Ogunbowale are playing in Russia this winter. While Stewie feels much the same way as her counterpart, she also emphasizes the need to get minutes on the court since her 2019 Achilles rupture.

“For me it’s like, coming back from an injury, I can’t imagine not playing basketball just by choice,” she tells her listeners. “I want to be able to play as much as possible. In the situation where in our country so many people are unemployed, if we have a job, we need to take that job and go and do what we need to do.”

Someone may want to tell Stewie her “recovery” appears well behind her given the outstanding season she had in Bradenton, Florida. She placed fourth in the league in scoring, fifth overall in blocks, and won her second WNBA Championship in three years with the Seattle Storm.

Unfortunately for Stewart, and all her colleagues abroad this year, the risk of Covid-19 is very real. Stewie tested positive within a week of arriving in Russia despite strict travel precautions and safety measures from her UMMC Ekateringburg team. Luckily, she had no symptoms and was able to return to play after a thorough quarantine period. Alongside the contagion risk is a wide disparity in players’ confidence in their team’s testing protocol.

“It’s pretty much up in the air for us to be honest. There was like weeks and weeks I went without getting tested and another week I got tested like three times,” Ogunbowale laments to Stewie.

Within Russia, Stewart’s UMMC Ekateringburg has been a ridiculous gold mine of WNBA talent. Alongside Stewie, who has a claim to being the best player in the world, is Brittney Griner (6x WNBA All-Star), Emma Meeseman (2019 WNBA Finals MVP), Jonquel Jones (2x WNBA All-Star) and WNBA power couple Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley (aka The Vanderquigs).

Quigley, a three-time WNBA All-Star and two-time 3-point contest champ, and Vandersloot, an assist queen who set a new single game assist record (18) this past season, both play stateside for the Chicago Sky.

Even with all that talent, it’s actually Ogunbowale’s Dynamo Kursk squad, which includes NY Liberty center Amanda Zahui B, that has the best record in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League. They sit at 12-1, while UMMC, though undefeated, is only 11-0.

 

WNBA PLAYERS’ NEW FAVORITE DESTINATION: TURKEY

Russia’s track record of recruiting some of the best WNBA talent goes way back. (For an entertaining look inside the world of Russian women’s basketball, check out this 30 for 30 podcast featuring Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi discussing their years playing together for a kind but crooked team owner in Moscow.) But while Russia attracts some of the WNBA’s biggest stars, it’s the aptly-named Women’s Basketball Super League in Turkey that attracts the largest number of WNBA players.

This year almost 30% of all those playing overseas are in Turkey. With roughly three WNBA players per team, it’s the place to go if you want non-stop competitive minutes on the court. Second overall 2020 draft pick from Oregon, Satou Sabally, and her stacked Fenerbahce team, which includes Kayla McBride, Kia Vaughn, Jasmine Thomas, and Kiah Stokes, currently hold the top spot in the league with a 17-0 record.

In the WNBA, both Sabally and Ogunbowale play for the Dallas Wings. (If you’re a fan of young, talented teams which have the potential to make the jump to serious league contender will before anyone really expects it, then keep your eyes on Dallas.) Several of Sabally and Ogunbowale’s Wings teammates are likewise honing their craft internationally this year. Allisha Gray, Bella Alarie, Ty Harris, and sharp-shooter Katie Lou Samuelson are all WNBA players currently hooping overseas.

After not following in her two older sisters’ Stanford footsteps and playing for rival UConn instead, Samuelson and her older sister Karli are finally able to play some family ball this year on Team Avenida in Spain.

LIZ CAMBAGE LOOKS READY FOR HER WNBA COMEBACK

Hopping down to the southern hemisphere, Australian-born Elizabeth Cambage spent 2020 putting on a clinic in the Australian Women’s National Basketball League after receiving a medical exemption for the WNBA 2020 bubble season. Cambage and her Melbourne-based Southside Fliers won the league championship in mid-December on the shoulders of the 3x WNBA All-Star’s 23.5 PPG and 8.7 rebounds per game.

The Las Vegas Aces 6’8” center is one of a handful of Australians in the WNBA. Alongside last year’s league MVP, A’ja Wilson, Cambage looks ready to help lead the Aces to another Finals run in 2021.

Fellow Aussie and Seattle Storm back-up guard Sami Whitcomb left the Wubble prior to the Finals in order to make it home to her wife in time for the birth of their first child. A week or so later, she watched from her hotel room as her teammates beat Cambage’s Aces in three straight to win their fourth WNBA Championship, tying them with the Minnesota Lynx and the legendary Houston Comets for most all-time league titles.

 

SOME WNBA PLAYERS TOOK THE OFFSEASON OFF

Whitcomb, who usually plays the off-season either in Europe or Australia, is taking a break this year to be with her new family of three. She isn’t the only veteran player sitting this international season out.

While the total number of players abroad held steady, there are several athletes who went overseas last year but decided against it this season. Among them are DeWonna Bonner, Jewell Loyd, Sydney Weise, Teira McCowan, Ariel Atkins, and Bria Hartley, to name a few.

 

AND SOME COULD STILL HEAD ABROAD

If you’re a Minnesota Lynx fan, keep your nose to the grindstone to hear whether 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield and 2019 Rookie of the Year (and co-host of a gem of a podcast) Napheesa Collier head overseas later this winter or spring.

There are also mumblings that number one overall 2020 draft pick, Sabrina Ionescu, is considering going abroad soon to get some playing time. Ionescu missed most of her rookie season after severely spraining her ankle in just her third professional game. The injury robbed us all of the dream of what Ionescu’s rookie WNBA season could have been, especially after she dropped 33 points in her second game. It was also salt in the wound of 2020 after the pandemic first robbed us of watching Ionescu and her Oregon Ducks compete for a NCAA Championship.

Then there’s a long list of vets who have closed the book on their year-round playing days: Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Candace Parker, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Elene Della Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Skylar Diggins-Smith, etc. But the one vet we’d love to hear any and all whispers about getting back to the court? The one and only Maya Moore.

If 2021 is going to redeem the dumpster fire that was 2020, re-gifting the world the honor of watching Moore do her magic on the hardwood would be a fantastic start.

That may just be a pipe dream, the result of too many hours in quarantine. But while the pandemic has turned normal life upside down for most Americans, the year-round grind of the WNBA’s biggest stars remains a constant. And though we love catching highlights on Twitter, we can’t wait to see them all stateside for this next WNBA season.

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

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