Persistence pays off for older WNBA rookies

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Yvonne Anderson understood that making a WNBA roster as an undrafted rookie was going to be tough, and getting that chance a decade after leaving college would be even tougher.

But the former Texas star, now 32, was invited to camp this spring by the Connecticut Sun, which was tracking his international career. She played in many countries, eventually became a Serbian citizen and made a name for herself on that country’s Olympic team last summer. She averaged 14 points and scored 15 in a loss to the United States at the Tokyo Games.

“If you’re not watching basketball overseas, if you’re not scouting specifically for me, you may not have heard of me before the Olympics,” Anderson said. “But, being seen in the United States and playing against the United States and having, like, a good performance, it didn’t hurt at all.”

And despite her late arrival from overseas commitments, she impressed the Sun enough to make the roster, becoming the WNBA’s oldest rookie since Marion Jones entered the league in 2010 at 34.

“Right now I’m just trying to fill a role with my team and show them I know how to play,” Anderson said before making his season debut in the Sun’s home opener on Saturday. “But knowing that I’ve reached the top league is another milestone for me. It’s one of the last things I haven’t done and it’s an incredible feeling to be able to play at home. .

Anderson, whose father is St. John’s men’s coach Mike Anderson, is one of many older WNBA rookies, most of whom have also made a name for themselves playing professionally overseas or for national teams.

These include Anderson’s teammate for Serbia, Tina Krajisnik, and Rebekah Gardner, who are both 31-year-old rookies with defending champion Chicago Sky. The Washington Mystics have 29-year-old Rui Machida of Japan, who, like Anderson and Krajisnik, raised his profile at the Tokyo Olympics. She led Japan to a silver medal.

“Obviously at the Olympics I had confidence playing against Team USA,” she said through an interpreter at her introductory news conference in Washington. . “I never thought I’d play in the WNBA until I got the offer from the Mystics. It’s going to be the best experience I’ve had for sure.

Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said the 5-foot-4 guard had been on his radar for several years but knew he wouldn’t be able to get him away from the Japanese national team before the Olympics.

This performance, he said, “confirmed what we already thought, that she could perform on the big stage”.

The four rookies are averaging just over 15 minutes and four points per game, led by Gardner who has averaged 26.5 minutes and averaged 9.3 points in Sky’s three games. That includes a 14-point effort in his debut against the Liberty.

Bringing in older recruits, especially those who have played overseas, has many benefits, according to their coaches.

Sky manager James Wade, who lives in Europe in the off-season, said an important factor for him in his decision to bring in Krajisnik and Gardner was the chance to watch them play against top WNBA talent at overseas, which he can’t do when recruiting college players. .

“They pretty much know who they are right now, and that’s something,” he said. “They don’t really have to prove themselves to people and don’t feel like they have to prove themselves. I think when you come into this league at a young age you try to figure out who you are and so sometimes that can get in the way of team concepts.

Sun’s trainer Curt Miller said it’s also nice not having to worry about teaching his older recruit the little things that come with being a pro, like taking care of his own nutrition and show up on time.

“We’re excited about (Anderson’s) confidence and her ability to lead and I think it’s a fun story that she’s a rookie in her thirties and finally made this league,” a- he declared. “But she’s going to have to scratch, claw and fight to continue to maintain her role and stay in this league now that she’s finally made it.

“She can’t let go.”

It’s not a luxury any of the older recruits can afford.

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