WNBA Players Avoid Playing in Russia As Brittney Griner Remains Imprisoned, War in Ukraine Continues

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(L-R) Kelsey Plum #10, Chelsea Gray #12, Jackie Young #0, Riquna Williams #2 and A’ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces react in the second half against the Connecticut Sun during game four of the 2022 WNBA Finals at Mohegan Sun Arena on September 18, 2022 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(L-R) Kelsey Plum #10, Chelsea Gray #12, Jackie Young #0, Riquna Williams #2 and A’ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces react in the second half against the Connecticut Sun during game four of the 2022 WNBA Finals at Mohegan Sun Arena on September 18, 2022 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

I’m sorry. Did you think that just because the WNBA season is over, I was done talking about women’s basketball? I will never be done shouting out these amazing athletes.

For women’s basketball stars, playing overseas during the WNBA offseason is where they make their real money. However, the wrongful detainment of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have led the majority of the league to pass on playing in the country where they traditionally get paid the most.

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“Honestly my time in Russia has been wonderful, but especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody’s going to go there until she’s home,” Seattle Storm superstar Breanna Stewart told ESPN. “I think that, you know, now, people want to go overseas and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place.”

As such, Stewart and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones will play in Turkey this year, while 2022 Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard will make her overseas debut in Italy. None of the players who competed in Russia last season are returning this year.

“Everyone’s going to be a bit cautious seeing as this situation is happening,” Howard said.

However, before decisions about overseas play can become final, Team USA has business to handle at the 2022 FIBA World Cup in Sydney, Australia. Per NBC Sports, with many of its gold medal-winning team from the Tokyo Olympics returning, the United States is favored to win its fourth straight title and 11th overall.

Fresh off winning the 2022 WNBA championship, current MVP A’ja Wilson, Finals MVP Chelsea Gray and teammate Kelsey Plum will play alongside the Connecticut Sun’s triple-double machine Alyssa Thomas. They will be joined by Stewart, her Seattle teammate Jewell Loyd and New York Liberty standout Sabrina Ionescu.

Since the tournament is in Australia, that means the games will stream live in the U.S. on ESPN+ in the evenings. Team USA begins preliminary round play against Belgium on Thursday morning in Sydney, but it airs on Wednesday evening at 9:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. women’s basketball roster for 2022 FIBA World Cup:

  • Ariel Atkins - Guard - Washington Mystics

  • Shakira Austin - Forward/Center - Washington Mystics

  • Kahleah Copper - Guard/Forward - Chicago Sky

  • Chelsea Gray - Guard - Las Vegas Aces

  • Sabrina Ionescu - Guard - New York Liberty

  • Brionna Jones - Center - Connecticut Sun

  • Betnijah Laney - Guard/Forward - New York Liberty

  • Jewell Loyd - Guard - Seattle Storm

  • Kelsey Plum — - Guard - Las Vegas Aces

  • Breanna Stewart - Forward - Seattle Storm

  • Alyssa Thomas - Forward - Connecticut Sun

  • A’ja Wilson - Forward - Las Vegas Aces

Coaching Staff:

  • Head coach: Cheryl Reeve - Minnesota Lynx

  • Assistant: Mike Thibault - Washington Mystics

  • Assistant: Kara Lawson - Duke

  • Assistant: Joni Taylor - Texas A&M

Team USA Preliminary Round Schedule:

  • Team USA vs. Belgium - Wednesday, Sept. 21, 9:30 p.m. ET - ESPN+

  • Team USA vs. Puerto Rico - Thursday, Sept. 22, 8:30 p.m. ET - ESPN+

  • Team USA vs. China - Saturday, Sept. 24, 12:30 a.m. ET - ESPN+

  • Team USA vs. South Korea - Monday, Sept. 26, 12 a.m. ET - ESPN+

  • Team USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina - Wednesday, Sept. 28, 12 a.m. ET - ESPN+