The WNBA players seemed to have no trouble adjusting to playing with their European teams, as 11 of the 12 averaged over 10 points per game in EuroBasket. Great Britain’s Temi Fagbenle (who plays for Minnesota in the WNBA) was the tournament’s leading scorer at 20.9 points per game.* Belgium and Washington Mystics teammates Emma Meesseman (19.8 PPG) and Kim Mestdagh (14.8 PPG) weren’t far behind, ranking third and fifth in the tournament, respectively. Sweden’s Amanda Zahui B. (New York) and Russia’s Maria Vadeeva (Los Angeles) were the only two players to average at least 9 rebounds per game over at least 4 games. Zahui B., Meesseman, and Vadeeva were some of the leaders in blocks per game, while Montenegro’s Glory Johnson (Dallas) ranked among the top three in steals per game.
However, the players varied in their assessment of how they performed individually. Two WNBA players, Fagbenle and Astou Ndour (Spain/Chicago Sky), made the tournament’s All-Star Five team. Fagbenle told High Post Hoops, “Individually, it was great. Obviously, I made the All-Star Five team and that was a big accomplishment. … I’m happy to have been able to help the team succeed.” On the other hand, Belarus and Atlanta Dream point guard Alex Bentley averaged nearly 12 points per game, but her team finished 13th and Bentley said she “could’ve done better.” Yvonne Turner, who plays for Hungary and the Phoenix Mercury, put her performance somewhere in the middle after averaging 10.8 points and 3.6 assists per game and helping Hungary make a surprising quarterfinal run. “For the most part, I think I did a pretty good job,” she said.
Most of the players said that their team’s goal for the tournament was to finish in the top six. Fagbenle, whose Great Britain team advanced past the quarterfinals for the first time ever, said, “Fourth was a pretty good result for us, so we’re happy with that.” Mestdagh, whose Belgian team finished right behind Great Britain in fifth, had more mixed feelings. She explained, “Our main goal was to get a ticket for the qualifiers for the Olympics, and … we did that. But yeah, I felt that we could have had a medal at this tournament, so there’s a little bit of disappointment, but the main goal is achieved.” Zahui B., whose Swedish team finished sixth, also expressed disappointment about not medaling but satisfaction about securing a bid to an Olympic qualification tournament.
Turner was one of the few players who did not reference the Olympic qualification tournament as a specific goal. Instead, Hungary’s goal was “just to play our best, to try to do what we can.” This is perhaps because Hungary was picked to finish 15th out of 16 teams in FIBA’s pre-tournament power rankings. However, Hungary managed to finish 7th, surprising even its coach. Turner said of Hungary’s quarterfinal run, “We’re a young team … So our expectations weren’t set too high for us going out to start. But after we got there, we won the first game, we got a little bit of momentum and a little bit of hope and faith. And then we just carried that over … [and] advanced to the top eight.”
Some players claimed that they did not have to make much of an adjustment from the WNBA to European play. For example, Bentley said that her roles on both teams are “pretty much the same”: facilitate and make open shots. Turner explained, “I don’t think it was any difficulty. … I’m a basketball player, so I’ve been doing it for so long. So it’s quick for me to adapt to different plays, different systems, and things like that.” And Bria Hartley (France/New York) told High Post Hoops’ Jackie Powell, “Coming back here, I think I feel pretty comfortable … The only thing is like remembering plays and not mixing them up with plays from a different team, and just getting back into a flow with these teammates.”
For other players, however, the transition was more difficult. The challenges they cited ranged from playing different roles to adjusting to a different style of play to battling jet lag. For good measure, there were even some travel difficulties involved. Many of the players emphasized that being adaptable and taking challenges in stride is part of being a professional women’s basketball player, but it’s also important to recognize what these women are overcoming in order to perform at their best.
Let’s look at each of these challenges in turn.