Same Faces, New Places
Just as Katie Douglas is re-acquainting herself with the Indianapolis winter, most Indiana Fever stars are getting acclimated to new surroundings this year. In fact, only Erlana Larkins and Shavonte Zellous are playing in the same location this year as they did in 2011-12.
When the topic is women’s basketball pro leagues overseas, there is fluctuation from year to year with where America’s top stars will go play. Usually, that fluctuation has mostly to do with economics. This year, 2012-13, is no exception. Economically, some European countries (Spain, for example) have struggled to find the sponsors and advertisers to warrant paying foreign players’ premium salaries. Others, like China, have gone to greater lengths to attract some of the world’s best talent.
Besides the Fever’s Tamika Catchings, top WNBA stars playing in China this year include Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), Elizabeth Cambage (Tulsa Shock), Jayne Appel and Sophia Young (both with San Antonio). One difference between playing in China and playing throughout Europe or Australia, besides the dramatic contrast in culture, is that only one foreign player is allowed on each Chinese roster. There are 10 teams and therefore only 10 foreign players in the league. The money was good this year for those mostly American stars. But the competition is likely not as strong as in other leagues. Players have to frequently weigh the pros and cons before signing contracts in different countries each year. FIBA.com recently published a telling article about the contrast presented by the Chinese WCBA this year.
The world’s best pro leagues for women, besides the WNBA, are usually found in Russia and Turkey. The Fever has annually had players in both countries, though this year is the first in many seasons without representation in Russia. Jessica Davenport, who spent the past two years with Vologda-Chevakata in Russia, is now with Istanbul Universitesi in Turkey. She is joined in Turkey by Larkins and Zellous who have remained teammates not just with the Fever, but for the past two years with Mersin in the Turkish League. In fact, the Larkins-Zellous twosome is having quite a fine winter. Following their WNBA championship in Indiana last summer, they are both among the top players in Turkey, with Zellous pacing all scorers (20.9 ppg) in the Turkish League and Larkins leading all rebounders (14.3 rpg).
Turkey has been the destination of a great number of Fever players in recent years, including Catchings, Douglas, Briann January, Jeanette Pohlen, Shannon Bobbitt and Tammy Sutton-Brown. I used to joke with Tammy that her residence was split three ways between Canada, Indiana and Turkey as she played five straight seasons with the same club (Fenerbahce) in Turkey. Fenerbahce won championships and Tammy loved the westernized culture of Istanbul.
Israel is another European country that has had quality leagues in women’s basketball. Presently, January and Karima Christmas are competing in the Israeli League, their teams battling for third and fourth place. Israel had a unique circumstance in 2011-12 however, as domestic players went on strike, leaving the foreign players to find teams elsewhere. January played in the league in 2010-11, prior to her ACL injury.
The other Fever player competing overseas is rookie Sasha Goodlett who can be found in France. Ironically, she was among the small cast of foreign players originally signed to play in China, but she left her team in Asia to join a team in Arras, France, in early December. It is her first year overseas.
Where else can you find Fever players this winter? Erin Phillips has taken a winter off from competition, choosing to heal and relax in her native Australia where it is summer in the southern hemisphere. She played last year in Poland on the same team (Wisla Can-Pack) that originally signed Katie Douglas. Sutton-Brown, too, is not playing this winter, choosing to travel and concentrate on her Cree & Scooter series of children’s books. Jeanette Pohlen also is not playing overseas, spending her time between Indianapolis and Southern California to rehab the ACL injury she sustained in the WNBA Finals. She was in Turkey at this time last year.
If you have interest in following Fever and WNBA players overseas, a great resource to use is EuroBasket.com. It is one of the most comprehensive sites for worldwide basketball information and results.