WNBA: Foreign leagues keep players sharp
WASHINGTON - Alana Beard is enjoying her offseason.
The Washington Mystics guard is earning lots of money, has a personal chef who makes great fried chicken and pork chops, plays basketball every day and resides in a spacious, two-bedroom apartment - in South Korea.
Mystics forward DeLisha Milton-Jones loves life in the Czech Republic. One of Gambrinus Sika Brno's best players, Milton-Jones has free use of a car and a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a satellite dish so she and her husband can watch ''America's Next Top Model'' and NBA games.
When the Mystics open training camp at Verizon Center today, several top players will be thousands of miles away trying to win championships. Milton-Jones, Nikki Teasley and Crystal Robinson are all contractually bound to their overseas teams until eliminated from the playoffs, which could cause them to miss up to a week of training camp, according to coach Richie Adubato.
''It's something that every team in the WNBA goes through because we understand that players can't go six or seven months during the offseason and not do anything,'' general manager Linda Hargrove said. ''Playing overseas gives them a chance to develop and get something financially out of it. I go on the Internet every day to see what kind of numbers our players are putting up.''
Since the end of the Mystics' season in August, 13 players under contract for the upcoming season have played in Asia, Europe or Australia. It is a growing trend throughout the WNBA, which had 102 players spend at least part of the offseason playing overseas, the highest number since the WNBA's inception in 1997.
And for the first time, all 10 players named to the league's first and second All-WNBA teams have taken their games abroad. The league MVP, Houston's Sheryl Swoopes, played in Naples, while fellow first-team selections Deanna Nolan of Detroit (Israel), Yolanda Griffith of Sacramento (Russia) and the Seattle Storm's Lauren Jackson (Australia) and Sue Bird (Russia) have all prospered playing America's game for club teams on foreign courts.
The top reason? Money.
Beard, Teasley, Milton-Jones and center Chasity Melvin, who played in Korea and Russia before joining the U.S. national team last month, wouldn't reveal their overseas salaries, but all said it was substantially higher than the WNBA pay scale, which ranges from $31,800 to $91,000 for the three-month season.
Camps open - Today
Preseason games begin - May 3
Regular season begins - May 20
Regular season ends - Aug. 13