In No Offseason, The Athletic follows the paths of women’s basketball players after their WNBA seasons end and their travels begin. From Turkey, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic, Mexico and even here in the U.S., our reporters tell the stories of these players as they chase their dreams and try to shape the future of the WNBA.
A hotel room with water that “stayed brown.” A gym’s lights suddenly turning off. A gas station pitstop almost leading to an arrest. When many WNBA players head overseas to compete in the offseason, culture shock, travel hiccups and tangled translations aren’t uncommon. These are just some of the stories that current and former players relayed to The Athletic about how they’ve adjusted to playing professionally overseas.
This winter, The Athletic has produced a wide range of features about what women’s basketball is like abroad in our “No Offseason” series. We’ve touched on the benefits of becoming a naturalized citizen in another country, how Americans can impact a foreign league’s on-court style of play, and about what it’s like to get injured on an overseas club. At each stop — Turkey, Italy, Israel, Czech Republic — on our nearly five-week trip, we also asked players for at least one anecdote about a time that made them realize they were in a new environment away from the confines of home — a “damn, I’m really overseas” moment, as one player called it.
(Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
‘My power is out’
Minnesota Lynx and Fenerbahçe (Turkey) forward
One day in Orenburg, Russia, my power was out for two or three days, and I was injured at the time. That was awful.
Atlanta Dream and Virtus Segafredo Bologna (Italy) forward
I was in a hotel — and I don’t wanna say the country because I don’t want to be rude — and I turned the water on and it was brown. I went in to wash my hands, and it was brown and it did not clear up. It stayed brown. That’s the part that was crazy. I just want clean running water. That’s when I was, like, damn, I’m really overseas. And then I started having to use bottled water to wash my face. My face was breaking out, and I couldn’t figure out why and then I thought … it’s the water.
Dallas Wings and Galatasaray (Turkey) center
It’s waking up and rolling over and looking out the window and being like, I’m really overseas. For one, the bed is small. Like my ankles are hanging out the bed. (Editor’s note: McCowan is 6-foot-7.) I’m like, yo, I’m really overseas. I probably think about that every day. I have a properly fitted bed at home. Here, it’s take it or leave it. On the road, it’s like if I even turn over, I’m falling off the bed.
Dallas Wings forward, most recently overseas with Fenerbahçe (Turkey)
I’m in the hotel on the road somewhere in Turkey, just on the phone and stuff, texting friends and family, and next thing you know the power went out. I’m like, What the hell just happened? The lights were just on. So I went in the hallway, but there’s no lights in the hallway. Some of my teammates come out the door, I’m like, yo, what happened, y’all? We don’t know. We think the power went out. I said, “Man, what, we’re all in the hallway sitting on the floor.” I’m like, bro, this is crazy.
Connecticut Sun and Çukurova Mersin (Turkey) guard
One year, I was trying to cook Thanksgiving, and because I was using so many appliances, the power went out. So we couldn’t even finish.
Planes, buses and automobiles
Connecticut Sun and ZVVZ USK Praha (Czech Republic) forward
I was playing for Yakın Doğu Üniversitesi in Turkey, and at the time we lived in Cyprus, which is broken into the Greek and Turkish side, so we weren’t allowed to play any of our home games in Cyprus because of that dynamic. So we lived on campus in Yakin Doğu, but at the very top of the hill so literally it was impossible to get off of this campus. It was essentially like dorms, but the water there was salt water so taking a shower there was miserable because you had to shower with salt water. Then you’d also literally be on the road for weeks, just three to four weeks, just traveling from city to city because it was such a hassle to get back to Cyprus. We would also play our games in Ankara.
Instead of just moving us to Ankara because we weren’t gonna ever play in Yakın Doğu, we just played there. It was just a mess. I finished the year, but I haven’t played in Turkey since.
Connecticut Sun and ZVVZ USK Praha (Czech Republic) center
We were playing in Kursk, Russia, and they had two teams, the junior team and the senior team in our league. UMMC Ekaterinburg’s playing the younger team, and we’re playing the regular team, but our flight got canceled. We’re sitting the at the airport when they told us our flight got canceled, and Ekat just comes strolling in and says, “We’re about to fly out” anyway. And they get on their plane, their little private jet,and I’m like, “That’s crazy. We were just in the same city. It was snowing last night and we can’t get out.” So instead we get on this 10-hour bus to Moscow, and they just flew home.
Connecticut Sun and Çukurova Mersin (Turkey) forward
It’s definitely when you fly into a city and you don’t have any hot water to take a hot shower and you’ve been flying all day or your bag doesn’t make it and all your stuff is in there. There’s always something happening.
Chicago Sky and Beşiktaş (Turkey) guard
When I was in Hungary, I almost had a heart attack. There, they pump the gas for you, and like I said, where I felt like they didn’t speak any English. So once I was pumping gas, and I felt like my hand gestures were enough. I had a Snickers and a Twix, and I paid for that, but the clerk didn’t ring my gas up. She didn’t charge me for it, but I don’t know. I have a receipt, but it’s all in Hungarian. I don’t know what it says.
The next morning, I’m getting phone calls from one of our teammates. She’s like, you have to go to the police station. And I’m like, what do you mean, the police station? I didn’t do nothing. She’s like, you’re about to get arrested. You didn’t pay for your gas. You’re going to go to jail. I mean, I started going crazy. I was crying. I was panicking. I was freaking out. So I’m sitting there for like five minutes, and she calls me back, and thank God, my other teammate, her husband was the owner of the gas station so he saved my a–. Here was the thing, if he didn’t pay for my gas, I would have had to have gone to jail for that. They take that seriously. I was losing my mind. I was panicking.
Connecticut Sun assistant coach and recent member of Lyon ASVEL Feminin (France) and Çukurova Mersin (Turkey)
When I was in Israel during my second year overseas, I was often flying to Istanbul when we had days off. One time, my visa had expired, and then they looked at my passport and asked, “Why are you going back between these two places?” They took me in the back, detained me, searched everything. Pulled everything out. I was there for hours. I missed practice.
Chicago Sky and Famila Wuber Schio (Italy) wing
In Latvia, in my rookie year when I walked into the apartment, I was like, what the f— is this? The stove was miniature. The oven was miniature, and I opened the refrigerator and there were two little things. That, and when I put my stuff in the wash and I was looking all over the apartment for a dryer. Well, there’s no dryer. I called the GM and I was like I don’t have a dryer and he was like, I know.
WNBA veteran and Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan (Israel) forward
I think the “I’m overseas moment” hits me when I land in the country, and I get picked up and I get sent to my apartment. And you just sit in it and you’re like, I’m really here. I can’t go home or go down the street and see my mom. The first day I get overseas is like mind-blowing to me. It’s just a weird feeling.
Chicago Sky and Spar Girona (Spain) wing
I would go back to my first year in Israel, in 2012. You don’t understand the culture, you don’t understand the language, you don’t understand anything. Once, our coaches told us to stay in for the night, but in Israel there’s a big night life and we noticed that no one was out. We didn’t understand why, and we came to understand that the next day there were missiles being flown to Israel. So when we told them we went out they were scared for us and we were scared for ourselves. That’s when I realized I’m in a foreign country. That was kind of like when I realized I’m overseas. I need to be more aware of my surroundings.
When I was in Israel, this was when the bombs were going off in 2010. S— was popping off, I could literally hear the boom, and then you could hear the bomb sirens. Then I’d go outside and people were at the cafe, having their shakshuka, chilling, like nothing was going on. Of course my parents were like, get out of there. But everybody here is just reassuring us that you’re safe. And me, not knowing, I was freaking out. They were like, you have a bomb shelter in your apartment. And I was like, why do I need a bomb shelter?
Las Vegas Aces and Fenerbahçe (Turkey) center
The bottom two teams in the Turkish Super League are relegated at the end of the season, and in my first or second year, we were playing a team that either needed to win to stay up or somebody to lose. Every game was at 4 o’clock, so nobody could stall. I don’t know what happened, but they cut the lights off in the third quarter and they said there was an electric malfunction. We’re smacking them, they’re not good. Meanwhile, we see the little backboard lights are on. The cafe is still going, just the main gym lights are off. Literally for 40 minutes we waited for another game to finish, then they realized they weren’t going to drop (in the standings), then they cut the lights back on and we finished the game. Only in Turkey would they cut the lights off to make sure they would stay up.
Indiana Fever guard, most recently with Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan (Israel)
We were in practice in Spain, and there’s this outlet drill, everyone knows it, you got one line by the basket, one line by the wing. Throw the ball off the backboard, catch it, turn, outlet pass and take it down the middle and finish the layup. Our coaches told us that we had to throw the ball off the backboard, catch it, and while we were still in the air, we had to do a 180-degree turn and pass it all at the same time, then go down there and run and do a layup.
We were just in the air, looking like a bunch of wild animals trying to catch it and turn. I don’t know why they thought that was OK or normal. I asked my coach, because I was fed up and it was the third time we were doing it, “Are we gonna do this in a game? Get the rebound? Turn around and just throw it out of bounds.” And the whole gym went silent waiting for an answer. And then all I just heard was, “Yeah.” So we were up there doing 180 outlet passes for like 10 minutes. This is over the water for sure. This doesn’t make any sense.
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(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic; Photo of Natasha Howard: Mehmet Murat Onel / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)