Russia crowned its domestic-league champion Tuesday morning. Shortly after C Maria Stepanova accepted the silver trophy for UMMC Ekaterinburg, one of my Twitter followers posted:
@JaydaEvans I wonder how many months off these players get.
— WNBA Jones (@WNBAJones) April 29, 2014
I’m confident in assuming the tweet oozes of sarcasm. Ekaterinburg swept the best-of-five series against Nadezhda Orenburg, ending the overseas seasons of Storm All-Star Sue Bird and her fellow Ekaterinburg teammates Sandrine Gruda (Los Angeles), Candace Parker (Los Angeles), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix), and assistant coach Sandy Brondello (head coach of Phoenix), who also are part of the WNBA. Then there’s Orenburg’s Temeka Johnson (Seattle), Glory Johnson (Tulsa), and DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix).
But them hopping a charter back to Ekaterinburg to collect their things after the road win Tuesday and report to their respective WNBA training camps by week’s end might be unrealistic. Bird has rushed back to Seattle in the past. It was after the 2012 London Games, taking a moment to celebrate her third gold medal and then leading the Storm to a postseason appearance.
Bird won her fifth Championship of Russia, third with Ekaterinburg. This time after rehabilitating from a surgical procedure involving a cyst in her left knee. She posted a photo of the championship cup on her Instagram account with the hashtag #cominghome. She could return to Seattle early next week at the soonest, but may take time to join camp as further precaution for the knee.
Johnson reportedly suffered a back injury overseas. She started for Orenburg during the playoffs, however, and Storm coach Brian Agler is expected to give her time to return, too. Seattle’s only exhibition game is May 11 against Los Angeles at KeyArena. The season opener is May 16 at home.
The team is playing the Australian national team in a closed scrimmage on Saturday. The Opals released its official traveling roster, which does not include any players with WNBA ties due to a new rule in the ratified collective bargaining agreement.
For now, the Storm is only expecting returning starters G Tanisha Wright and F Camille Little and free-agent C Angel Robinson this week. Robinson’s Spanish team lost its defense of the domestic-league title on Monday. Robinson had 18 points and eight rebounds in the Game 2 loss of the best-of-three series.
Wright and Little played together in Turkey, losing in the league’s semifinal round.
Bird joins Storm F Noelle Quinn has the only players in camp who won a championship overseas. In addition to the title Monday, Bird helped UMMC Ekaterinburg with the European SuperCup last winter. Quinn helped Woori Bank Hansae win the Korean League championship in March. Her team beat Storm F Shekinna Stricklen’s Shinhan Bank S-Birds 3-1 in a best-of-five series.
Quinn and Stricklen said the experience helped them prepare for the WNBA season. Stricklen said playing with G Alana Beard (Los Angeles) was especially helpful. For Quinn, the title is the first in her professional career.
“That was six tough months over there,” Quinn said of the first-time experience in South Korea, her team was located outside of Seoul. “To win a championship felt very rewarding because of that…Practice was more than I expected. I knew they practiced a lot, but it was three-hour practices and two-a-days. Sometimes we had mornings off or days off, but really we were in the gym all day. My translator kept the atmosphere light. Without her, it probably would have been more difficult for me.”