UNCASVILLE, Conn. — For the first time in years, 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones took the floor at Mohegan Sun Arena this week for the opening of 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 the start of the regular season.
This lead-up to the 2022 campaign has been different for Jones: Instead of having virtually no time off between her overseas and WNBA seasons, Jones hasn’t played organized basketball for nearly two months, as WNBA players who play overseas in Russia and Ukraine fled those countries in February following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Brittney Griner, Jones’ teammate on Russian superteam UMMC Ekaterinburg, remains in Russian detention after Russian customs officials claim they found cartridges of hashish oil in her luggage when she was entering the country.
Jones’ experiences, both when she was still in Russia and as she looks ahead to how the current geopolitical crisis could affect her future professional decisions, offers a glimpse at the realities WNBA players face when playing overseas.
Jones said she never felt completely unsafe when she was in Russia, and nothing about her everyday life really changed, even amid the start of the invasion. UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is owned by a multibillion-dollar metallurgical company, keeps its American players insulated from much of Russian society. While they can move around freely, athletes have drivers and fly private to and from games. Everything they need is in their building.
“We’re really in a bubble in a sense,” 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 like I wasn’t safe. So the war was the first time I really felt like, ‘Wow, like this is a new situation, unprecedented type of situation.'”
Getting stuck in Russia indefinitely became a primary concern for Jones and teammates — …….