‘The money doesn’t compare’: WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones says he’ll still play overseas this offseason

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — For the first time in years, the 2021 WNBA Most Valuable Player, Jonquel Jonesstepped onto the floor at Mohegan Sun Arena this week to open training camp with the Connecticut Sun, a marked change from previous summers, when overseas commitments resulted in Jones arriving late to camp, often just before from the start of the regular season.

This preparation for the 2022 campaign has been different for Jones: Instead of getting virtually no time off between her stints abroad and the WNBA, Jones hasn’t played organized basketball in nearly two months, as WNBA players who play in Russia and Ukraine fled these countries in February after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Brittney GrinerJones’s teammate on the Russian super team UMMC Ekaterinburg, remains in Russian custody after Russian customs officials said cartridges of hashish oil were found in her luggage upon arrival in the country.

Jones’s experiences, both while still in Russia as well as as she anticipates how the current geopolitical crisis may affect her future career decisions, offer insight into the realities WNBA players face when playing abroad.

Jones said that she never felt completely insecure in Russia and that nothing really changed in her daily life, even when the invasion began. UMMC Ekaterinburg, owned by a multibillion-dollar metals company, keeps its American players isolated from much of Russian society. While they are free to travel, the athletes have drivers and fly privately to and from matches. Everything they need is in your building.

“In a way, we’re really in a bubble,” Jones told ESPN on Wednesday. “But I never questioned my safety. Even when I lived in China, when I lived in Korea, I never felt unsafe. So, the war was the first time I really felt, ‘Wow, this is a new situation, an unprecedented kind of situation. ‘”.

Being stuck in Russia indefinitely became a major concern for Jones and her teammates — which also included her WNBA teammates. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Breanna Stewart Y Emma Meessemann — especially as other countries began barring Russian planes from entering their airspace as a result of the invasion. The grimness of the situation was also intensified for the players when Griner was arrested on Feb. 17 and when the US State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory in early March.

Working with the team’s travel agency, his own agent and the WNBA league office, which Jones said was “in constant contact and had some flight options before anyone else,” Jones and others decided it was time to go. Jones landed in Turkey on March 2, tweeting at the time, “I just want to cry. That situation was way more stressful than he thought.”

But there was something redeeming when Jones was able to spend some valuable extra time with loved ones in the Bahamas and Atlanta, a welcome effect as her basketball career takes her in many directions. In addition to her duties at Sun and UMMC Ekaterinburg, Jones competes with the Bosnian national team that will play in the World Cup in Australia this fall.

The WNBA announced on March 5 that all of its players who had been playing in Russia and Ukraine had left those countries. Well, except for Griner, who’s still awaiting trial.

“I was looking at these photos on my phone, the last photos I took with her. We were going to Valencia or wherever. We were all joking and laughing and stuff, and it’s crazy how quickly things can change,” said Jones, who He added that he has been in contact with Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, to check on her and ask for updates. “It’s definitely a sh*t situation. It’s tough, but there’s nothing you can really do.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also affected WNBA players’ offseasons abroad. Still, Jones doesn’t think she can do without looking for overseas opportunities in the future, though WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert recently said the narrative that WNBA players still have to play overseas is “a little outdated and inaccurate”.

“I’ll have to deal with that,” Jones said. “Because while the league is taking the right and necessary steps to pay us more and make sure we don’t have to go abroad if we don’t want to, I feel like in my situation, the money is not comparable. I have to think about the financial situation of my family and everyone else, and also in the opportunities that I will miss if I don’t go.

This offseason, Jones reportedly signed a two-year contract valued at $205,000 in 2021, slightly below the WNBA’s super-high salary of $228,094. But what she earns in a season in the WNBA, she earns in a month in Yekaterinburg.

Not all WNBA talent can make the money Jones is making overseas — or in the WNBA, for that matter — but they can still significantly supplement their income by playing in Turkey, China, Australia and elsewhere. With the recent formation of the Athletes Unlimited Women’s Basketball League, some, like Jones’ Sun teammate, Courtney-Williamsthey could look to stay at home and earn money that way.

“I would say probably when I leave the league, players probably don’t have to, players of my caliber who are going to make a fortune overseas, they will have options to stay here and make the same money,” Jones said. “But I don’t think I’ll see it during my career. I hope so.”

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‘The money doesn’t compare’: WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones says he’ll still play overseas this offseason