Chasing the WNBA dream or staying out? It is not a simple choice for many Americans

For the first time in her career, Rebecca Gardner She deals with the lack of a break between her professional seasons. The 32-year-old winger spent last winter playing for Spar Girona in Spain before turning in a training camp invitation from Chicago Sky inside it first WNBA roster spot and All-Rookie season. Gardner is now back with Girona. This winter, she says, “everything is a little different.”

“I feel like maybe my opponents, maybe even my teammates, respect me a little bit differently,” she said. “I feel like the same person. I had a different experience over the summer.”

After getting out of the game in 2012 and playing in four European countries, that experience — playing 35 regular season games with Chicago and appearing as a regular off the bench — has established Gardner as an example among her peers of the talent out there can help a franchise. WNBA. It didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere.

“Rebecca has always been a professional,” said Chelsea Hopkins, an American goaltender who played in Israel for a decade and was a teammate of Gardner’s in 2015. “She’s been in and out of (WNBA) training camp. … You’d think her time was up, but no rookie was providing as much value to her team as she was.”

The WNBA has over 144 spots on its roster. In reality, though, teams are listed in the range of 134 to 138 players, with some teams having only 11 players due to salary cap restrictions. How and why a player manages to hold on to one of those places could be more than just ability.

“There are a lot of great players out there,” Gardner said. “It’s just about finding the right situation, at the right time. It’s not always about whether you’re a great player or not.”

Hopkins added, “There are a lot of factors that don’t always relate to basketball.”

Gardner seems to have found a situation in which she can thrive. But for a number of overseas veterans, the choices are complicated. Among the biggest considerations is how an outside contract might affect a player’s chances of making it to WNBA training camp in the first place.

Take Taya Raymer, the 27-year-old center who played collegiately at Notre Dame and Michigan State. In the fall of 2021, she started her season with a Polish team, Enea AZS Pozna. However, she was given the opportunity to play for a French club, Charnay, which was a leap in the quality of the competition, but also meant a move to a league with a schedule that conflicted with the WNBA calendar.

“It was a better opportunity for me, more money and a good chance of getting an exposure,” she said. “But I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to (WNBA) camp. It was just out of the question.”

I went to France anyway.

But this year, Remer, who plays in Istanbul for Besiktas, says she would “at least love to get into the camp and have that experience.” While her presence in and of itself is attractive, it has the potential to benefit financially as well.

“Even coming overseas,” she said, “if you have a spot on the WNBA roster or even a training camp experience, your money can go up exponentially.”

Reimer isn’t alone in pondering these questions — about finances, league quality, exposure and personal growth — that might affect her ability to even attend training camp. told her agent, Mike Cound, President of Cound Sports Global the athlete In November, he stressed when the offseason would end with clients, especially as a result of the WNBA’s new prioritization rule, which would Punishment of league veterans who missed the start of training camp and the regular season.

He said Maya Caldwella 24-year-old goalkeeper who played nine games for the team Atlanta Dream Last season, “I think it just depends on the person and their goals and what they really want for themselves.”

Caldwell will attempt to return to the WNBA this summer. She started the outdoor season in Israel with Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan, but suffered a foot injury and left the club over the past few weeks. When she decided to play in Israel, her agent, William Clay of Shark Sports Management, asked her what she wanted to do. Her response: “I want to be in training camp.” This was one of the main reasons I went to Israel.

Caldwell’s Ramat Gan teammate Jillian Allen has spent time in the WNBA before, playing five matches with Minnesota Linux in 2019 and two games with Sophia Washington in 2021. Alleyne says she has had offers this year from clubs in Turkey and Italy, but turned both down because seasons are longer.

“I had to make the decision to play in a season that would allow me time to come home and prepare for training camp,” she said. “For me, it was more important to be ready for camp and to be available, so I chose to go shorter season over more money and a longer season.”

For overseas veterans, the decision to sign a contract that can make them available to camp sometimes comes down to another question: Do they actually have a chance at being rostered? Forward Brianna Richardson, for example, is in her sixth season on Abroad. In 2017, it was one of Lynx’s final cuts. A year later, she attended pre-training camp and injured her ankle. Her “growth as a player from year one to now is insane,” says Richardson, and she has been featured as a regular part of NBA’s three-on-three program. But on trying to make it to the WNBA, she said, “The only way I’m going to make it to the WNBA (boot camp) is if there’s an actual chance I can make the team.”

Gardner participated in two WNBA training camps — in 2014 with the Dream and in 2017 with Chicago — before joining the Sky last season. Halfway through her career, she was weighing the financial implications of outside decisions more. Now other major factors determine where you will play.

“I wanted a certain lifestyle, a certain city, a certain environment,” she said. “I’m starting to pick more of it.”

With Girona, she says she earned less money than she could have made elsewhere because it was a Euroleague team in a city where she wanted to live. She enjoyed her experience last year so much that she signed a one-plus-one deal with Girona in March before becoming a Chicago roster.

Gardner is glad she did because that’s where Sky general manager and coach James Wade discovered, “And that’s what eventually got me to the WNBA.”

Now in the middle of her third year in a row with Girona, she is trying to find ways to “maintain that freshness”. She makes a different kind of decision outside, like figuring out how to really relax on her days off, to work “smarter, not harder.”

This story was reported from Istanbul, Turkey; Mersin, Turkey; and Tel Aviv, Israel.

The “No Offseason” series is part of a partnership with Google. the athlete Maintains complete editorial independence. The partners have no control or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories prior to publication.

(Illustration: John Bradford / the athlete; (Photo by Brianna Richardson: Courtesy of Oded Karney)

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