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WNBA gamers skipping Russia, selecting different locations to play

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 abilities elsewhere this offseason.

For the previous few many years, 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 sources and facilities groups provided them.

That every one has come to an abrupt finish.

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

Griner was arrested in February, then detained and later convicted on drug possession costs 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 workforce as Griner. That membership gained 5 EuroLeague titles up to now eight seasons and has been dominant for practically 20 years with former greats DeLisha Milton Jones and Diana Taurasi taking part in there.

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

After the World Cup match, Stewart goes to Turkey to play for Fenerbahçe. Prime gamers could make a number of hundred thousand {dollars} taking part in in Turkey, a lot lower than their Russian salaries. Enjoying 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 nations,” Stewart mentioned.

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

“I’m Hungarian. I assumed it will be particular since I haven’t performed there since I received the citizenship,“ Vandersloot mentioned.

The 33-year-old guard mentioned lots must change earlier than she’d ever take into account going again to Russia to play although she has many fond reminiscences of the Russian individuals.

“The factor about it’s, we have been handled so effectively by our membership and made such sturdy relationships with these individuals, I’d by no means shut the door on that,“ she mentioned. ”The entire scenario with BG makes it actually onerous to suppose 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 mentioned she would take into account 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 Yr, is taking part in in Italy this winter — her first abroad expertise. She mentioned was cautious when deciding the place she wished to play.

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

It’s not simply the American gamers who’re not going to Russia. Chicago Sky ahead Emma Meesseman, who stars for the Belgium nationwide workforce, 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 residence within the offseason a greater possibility for gamers. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert mentioned on the WNBA Finals that high gamers may make as much as $700,000 this 12 months between base wage, advertising and marketing agreements and award bonuses. Whereas solely a choose few gamers may attain that quantity, roughly a dozen have determined take league advertising and marketing agreements this offseason.


AP Sports activities Author Jay Cohen contributed to this story.


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