Unofficial teams of WNBA players, salaries change with Russia, UMMC Ekaterinburg no longer an option

Chicago — Brianna StewartAnd the Jonquil JonesAnd the Emma MesmanAnd the Courtney Vanderslot And the Ali Quigley Be sure to grab a picture together after the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago. Not all quintet was on Team Stewart or Team Wilson. In fact, Quigley was not an all-star star. But their shared experience playing together in the past two seasons for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg team prompted them to snap a snap.

“A special place in my heart is #ekat,” Quigley commented on the Instagram story of these five — plus Stewart’s baby, Robbie — before adding “The Lost BG.”

Britney GreinerThe eight-time WNBA star and her former teammate in Yekaterinburg, were held in Russia for 166 days after Russian officials said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil while entering the country in February to play for the team. Grener’s trial began July 1 and sources expect a verdict and sentence later this week as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken continues to urge Russia to accept a deal to release Grener and Paul Whelan, another American the US government considers an illegal detainee. .

For decades, Russian clubs like Yekaterinburg have been the jewel in the crown of the experience playing abroad for the WNBA and other world stars, where giant teams were formed, dominate and won trophies, and where some players earned seven-figure salaries and got the right amenities and resources from the best basketball players. professionals in the world. Between 2013 and 2021, Yekaterinburg won five Euroleague titles.

That won’t be the case in the next WNBA season. Given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, strained relations between the United States and Russia and Griner’s prolonged detention, returning to play in Russia was not a viable option for the former Ekaterinburg players captured in that photo, some of the sport’s most recognizable faces and teammates of Griner, Griner, and friends. Where are they heading, how has the salary structure changed and what challenges loom for WNBA players looking to spend their spare time competing and earning salaries overseas?

Where will they compete this season?

Players uniformly said they had positive experiences playing in Russia. Vandersloot, a 12-year WNBA veteran who helped lead Chicago Sky To her first title last year, she was aiming to end her career abroad with Yekaterinburg before the war started. Connecticut Sun Jones, WNBA Player of the Year, re-signed with the club earlier this year.

But the travel advisory for the United States continues to set it Russia Level 4 “Do not travel”. As well as the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the sport’s governing body Punishment of Russian teams To participate in international events.

Stewart, Jones and Mesman have signed with Turkish clubs for this coming season – Stewart and Mesman with Fenerbahce, Jones with Mersin – while Vanderslot will play for Hungarian Sopron. All three clubs are part of the FIBA ​​Euroleague, from which Russian teams such as Yekaterinburg are currently banned.

United State Turkey travel tips is level 2 “more caution”, while Hungary is listed as Level 1 Exercise normal precautions.

“Honestly, my time in Russia has been great, but especially with BJ still being unjustly held there, no one is going to Russia until she gets home,” Seattle Storm’s Stewart told ESPN in Chicago. “And then I don’t know what happens with basketball.”

“I don’t see a lot of people going to Russia while the war is still going on,” added Messman of Chicago, a Belgian national.

How much will they earn?

With the French, Spanish and Turkish leagues booming, Russian teams outside of Yekaterinburg have not dominated the world basketball scene in recent years, at least in terms of the quality of play. But there is no doubt that the salaries of Stewart, Jones, Mesman and Vandersloot in Turkey and Hungary will be much lower than his salary with Ikat, which like many Russian teams are backed by large companies controlled by the oligarchs.

Jones – who previously said she would take a full WNBA salary, $205,000 in 2022, in one month playing in Russia – said she took a “huge” pay cut when she signed with Mersin but still made “really good money”. “

Salaries in Turkey for top-tier WNBA players range in the $300,000 to $400,000 range – in what is largely a bear market at the moment – while other countries usually pay less. The market has also been affected by a lack of competition, as Russian teams are only able to compete domestically, and China, according to several longtime WNBA agents, is still not accepting international players amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are other opportunities for other clubs to step up and take that leap [financially] Being at that level Ikat was,” Stewart said.

Vanderslott, who is married to Quigley, also plays for Chicago. “But it’s also just an opportunity to play… I love to play all year round.”

Why Turkey and Hungary?

Stewart, who was a regular season in the Euroleague and best player in the Final Four, said signing with “strong” Fenerbahce made sense for her family, as it is not too far from Spain, where Marta Xargai’s wife Casademont has a family.

Sopron was a logical choice for Vanderslott, who acquired Hungarian citizenship in 2016. She won’t play Quigley, but will accompany Vanderslott with their dog to Hungary.

“I can only hope that Russia will be accepted again in the future,” said Messman, 2019 WNBA Finals MVP during the Washington Mystics for the title. “Because basketball there is really separate from politics, and I think all of these players deserve to show their talent because they have some great players.”

With Ekat off the table, WNBA stars still want to find clubs where they will have the opportunity to play with and against high-ranking competitors, ones that will still treat their players right.

“I just wanted to go somewhere where they genuinely care,” said Jones, who consulted with his Sun teammate. Bonner’s office before committing to Mersin. Jones will play alongside Bonner and fellow WNBA star Tiffany Hayes This next season.

Vanderslot added about the Hungarian team, which – backed by a few WNBA stars, such as Gabe WilliamsAnd the Stephanie Dolson And the Brian January – Defeated Fenerbahce last April to win the 2022 Euroleague. “They take care of you, they do it the right way. You can’t say that about every club.”

Would they play in Russia again if that was an option?

Former Yekaterinburg players do not know if they watched their last basketball in Russia.

“I can never say, but I would be lying if I said it was something I would care about,” Vanderslot said. “It’s hard to say. The whole situation with BG makes it really hard to think that it’s safe for anyone to go back there now.”

When asked if she would consider playing in Russia again upon Greiner’s release, Stewart said she would take things “one season at a time”.

However, Jones revealed that she would consider returning to Russia if the geopolitical situation improved.

“In my professional career, playing with Ikat has been the best I’ve ever experienced professionally,” she said. “I would definitely be open to going back there, with the people there, because it was a real experience for me.”

How will prioritization affect future external commitments?

WNBA prioritization is another wrinkle in players’ decision-making process about their overseas commitments. The Euroleague kicks off on October 12, with the fourth final taking place in mid-April, but domestic tournaments can run until April – usually when WNBA boot camp opens – or until May – when the season is over.

Starting in 2023, players will face penalties if they arrive late to a WNBA training camp, starting with fines, and eventually reaching all-season suspensions. Stewart said that prioritization was largely the reason she signed a one-year deal with Storm in off last season.

But with the big money still being earned abroad – no matter what happens with Ekat – and no massive WNBA salary bump in sight in the near future, the allure of playing in Turkey or Hungary may still be strong for the best WNBA talent.

“Prioritization is, like, the biggest topic of conversation in the WNBA for me, especially for the next couple of years,” Stewart said in February. “With prioritization, you’re cutting out one of my sources of income.”

ESPN’s Michelle Voebel contributed to this report.