Dear Los Angeles, Russian center Maria Vadeeva has finally arrived.
The LA Sparks’ first-round WNBA draft pick – No. 11 overall – joined the team for the first time on Sunday afternoon during their game against the Chicago Sky after completing her visa application process and flying to Los Angels over the weekend.
The 6-foot-4 center was set to be ‘activated’ right away to join the bench for her first game of the 2018 WNBA season. However, with Vadeeva only arriving Saturday afternoon, having taken a 12 hour and 10 minute flight from Moscow to Los Angeles, and having to clear a physical examination, the odds of Vadeeva seeing her first few minutes in the league were unlikely.
And to that point, while she was suited up for warm-ups prior to Sunday’s tip-off, Vadeeva did not participate in any team activity. The Russian center sat courtside with Sparks Assistant General Manager, Michael Fischer (and her brother), while observing her new teammates. At one point, the organization’s president Christine Simmons also made her way over to greet and welcome Vadeeva to her new base.
The rookie also took the time to explore her new home stadium, Staples Center, while posing for photos on center court and in front of her new team locker, which conveniently sits next to a familiar face (okay, an empty space over) in Nneka Ogwumike, who played alongside her overseas for the past couple of seasons.
When Will Maria Vadeeva Play?
Sparks’ head coach Brian Agler did confirm that Vadeeva would “obviously” not be playing during the Chicago match-up, and emphasized that the rookie’s integration to the rotation will happen over time.
“Her integration will be slow,” Agler said.
“Depending on how she does, but you gotta remember … we got a lot of good players on our team and I’ve been on this league for several years and I know that at some point, everybody gets their opportunity. Everybody has to be ready for their opportunity, and she’ll get one.”
But could this opportunity come as early as Tuesday, when the Sparks finish their home stance against the Atlanta Dream?
“She’ll be dressed and we’ll see how things go,” Agler said.
Parker impressed with Vadeeva
The 19-year-old already has an impressive resume under her belt having played professionally in her native country since the age of 16. A detail that veteran center, Candace Parker remembers all too well.
“I played against her when she was 16,” Parker said.
“She’s a talent. She moves, she’s mobile, obviously the sky is the limit with her just being 19.”
Sparks guard, Cappie Pondexter also reflects on past encounters with Vadeeva.
“A lot of people don’t know I played in Russia for five years and I remember when she was a little young lady so to be able to experience this season with her, is great.”
Most recently though, Vadeeva played for Dynamo Kursk in Russia, whom she won the EuroLeague title with in 2017 alongside Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, you may now understand the locker reference.
Ogwumike, who is helping Vadeeva navigate through this new chapter in Vadeeva’s life has been a key of emphasis for the young center.
“It’s really helping me now because when you go to a new place, it’s always good to have somebody who can help you, explain to you and relate to,” Vadeeva said about her EuroLeague teammate.
Over the last two years, she averaged 9.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 blocks in 19.1 minutes per game. She’s applauded for her physical presence in the interior and has a foundation that is built off of her proficiency in finishing with her left hand. Vadeeva also has what many describe as a high basketball IQ. And in case you missed it earlier, she’s only 19, and as Parker said it best, the sky is the limit on how far her abilities can expand.
Vadeeva in Los Angeles
Maria Vadeeva did practice with the full squad for the first time this afternoon at USC’s Galen Center.
As for her thoughts on now being a WNBA player on one of the best teams in the league?
“I’m very happy, it was my dream and I cannot wait for the first team.”