With the United States claiming their seventh consecutive gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in addition to Dawn Staley leading a team of varsity athletes to gold at the 2021 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup, it’s easy to see the dominance of women’s basketball in the United States. .
And if these tournaments have shown anything, it’s the global impact and growth of women’s basketball, and how the WNBA has now become the home of more and more international female players.
All 12 Americans on these teams belong to a WNBA roster, but players from Spain, Australia, Belgium, Korea and, of course, Canada are also plying their trade in the league, proving limited places. are even harder to find due to the growing talents and aspirations around the world to enter the league and play with the best in the world.
“When you talk about the rest of the world, of course, they improve. I think it’s the product of a lot of players playing in the WNBA, which is a very high level, ”said Sue Bird after the game after the United States beat Serbia in the Tokyo semi-finals.
“It prepares you for this kind of level, they are going back to their country and they are playing very well in their Olympic teams.”
Other teams such as Nigeria, France and China are home to many players who do not play in the current WNBA season and will be available next year, have been drafted into the league or have played the year before the bubble 2020 season. This includes Iliana Rupert, Gabby Williams, Erica Ogwumike, Xu Han and 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman.
Canada – which had three current WNBA stars in Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton – also showed their bright future in the league thanks to performances from Laeticia Amihere and Shaina Pellington, who are set to compete in the WNBA draft in the coming years.
Canada’s Laeticia Amihere (15) shoots Spain’s Cristina Ouvina (5) and Laura Gil (24), right, in the women’s basketball preliminary round match at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Sunday, August 1, 2021 (Charlie Neibergall / AP)
Even for those who are not currently on a national team, being able to watch their WNBA teammates represent different nations and bring their eyes back to the league after games is also just as important to the league’s global growth.
“There are so many people who proudly represent their country at the highest level, it’s been a lot of fun staying up late to watch the games and see how they represent us,” said Sydney Wiese, Washington Mystics goaltender.
For a team like Australia – whose Olympic dreams were cut short against the United States in the quarter-finals – several WNBA stars were headlining, and even without all-star centralist Liz Cambage in attendance, many others have proven why the Land Down Under has such a strong presence in the sport.
Mystics goaltender Leilani Mitchell led the Opals’ charge in the quarterfinal game, scoring four three points as well as six assists, proving unstoppable with her 14 points – more than a quarter of the 55 in the Australia – while Seattle Storm center Ezi Magbegor added five points despite the loss.
“To be an island halfway around the world and still be in the top three in the world, I don’t think people really respect Australia the way they should. We have so many women in this league, ”Cambage said after the WNBA All-Star Game.
“If it weren’t for (Michele) Timms being the first woman to come here and play in the WNBA, I’m really lucky for Sandy Brondello to be our Opals head coach, she really led the way for us as good. “
France secured a podium at the Games thanks to a stellar performance from Williams, who is currently on hold for the 2021 season due to a Chicago Sky trade, but will prepare for the Los Angeles Sparks upon his return to the WNBA.
Williams had 17 points and eight rebounds in the bronze medal game against Serbia, outperforming France’s fourth at the Rio 2016 Olympics. She felt playing for the national team helped her out. to have fun and become the player she was meant to be before she returned to the United States.
Even in the 2021 WNBA Draft, two of the top eight caps came from outside the United States, with second overall pick Awak Kuier coming from Finland and No.8 Shyla Heal from Australia.
While players like Williams and Mitchell were both born in the United States and are eligible to play for their national teams due to their parents, the visibility and growth of the programs in each country is driving the game’s expansion around the world. whole and more eyes on the WNBA due to these players choosing to play for another country.
And that’s something to celebrate.