How CT Sun’s Yvonne Anderson earned first WNBA roster spot

UNCASVILLE – Yvonne Anderson could have given up playing basketball after she went undrafted in 2012.

She could have hung up her sneakers after not making an overseas team roster her first year as a professional.

And she could have just as easily walked away from the sport after being waived by the WNBA’S Chicago Sky at the 2017 training camp.

But she didn’t.

She kept playing. She spent 10 years playing overseas. She played for 10 teams in various countries, improving herself not only as a player but as a person. She grew up and matured. And so did her game.

She represented Serbia on her national team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and led the team to a gold medal at the 2021 European Women’s Basketball Championship (EuroBasket).

And it wasn’t until this season that Anderson made her first WNBA roster at age 32 when she earned a spot with the Connecticut Sun.

“This is the best league in the world, playing against the players in the world, so it’s an honor to be a part of that,” Anderson told Hearst Connecticut Media Tuesday. “I had come to peace with whatever was gonna happen with my career like I’m in a good place and I’m grateful for all of my opportunities but I know what level of a player I am and so when these opportunities are coming to me now, it’s like I step into them knowingly and acceptingly. ”

Anderson is not only the third-oldest player on the Connecticut Sun this season but one of two rookies – the other being the team’s 2022 first-round draft pick Nia Clouden. What Anderson lacks in WNBA experience she makes up for in her decade-long overseas career, playing against the sport’s best players on its biggest international stages.

She’s ready to make her WNBA debut this summer and knows playing for the Sun – in quest to return to the Playoff Finals for the first time since 2019 – will only further prove she belongs in the league.

“I mean honestly it felt like a fit,” she said during the Sun’s media day last week. “On this team specifically, you’re playing with some of the best players in the world, the best player in the world. So, it’s a challenge because you have to raise your level but at the same time, I’m not intimidated. Like this is where I feel like I belong and I’m willing and ready to do what they expect out of me to help us get to our goals. ”

Hoop Dreams

Basketball has always been at the center of Anderson’s life. Growing up, her family moved around to various cities following the coaching career of her father Mike Anderson, the current St. John’s men’s basketball coach. She was born in Arkansas, where Mike was an assistant coach with the Razorbacks from 1985 to 2002, and went to high school in Missouri, where her father was head coach from 2006 to 2011.

Yvonne played collegially at Texas and despite not being drafted following her senior season, she continued to train on her own.

She spent the year practicing, training and keeping her body conditioned. She didn’t make an overseas roster that season but knew she had to be ready for when she would.

“In my heart, I knew the player I was had so much further they could go and not everyone is able to have that opportunity,” she said.

In 2013, she signed with the Lady Cobras in Australia before playing in the Swedish league for the Visby Ladies the following season. In Sweden, she was the team leader in steals (3.1 per game) while averaging 16.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

She was the team leader in average points (29.8), assists (6.5) and steals (3.9) for Amicale in Luxembourg in 2015. Anderson was named the All-Luxembourg League’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

Throughout each team, each country, Anderson remained true to her goal: being the best version of herself. She learned how to contribute on both ends of the court, and lead both on and off it as a point guard despite language and cultural barriers.

“You prove at every step, even if it’s the worst market, then fine, average the most steals, average the most assists, do everything you possibly can to show who you are as a player, and then earn your reputation as a professional, She said.

In 2017, the WNBA took notice. The Sky signed her to a training camp roster, but she was cut 12 days into camp. Anderson had proven she could play with and against WNBA talent overseas, yet the timing still wasn’t right. The rejection only strengthened her dream of playing professional basketball.

“It was a lot tougher then because you have these expectations and I had come off a really good season in Turkey and playing against my peers,” Anderson said. “I’m playing Candace Parkers, I’m playing Allie Quigleys, I’m playing (Courtney) Vandersloots, I’m playing them, and I know I can match them in that training camp. It just didn’t work out overseas things and what the team needed.

“It simply came to our notice then. My dream turned into what my goal really is: to play at the highest level whatever that may be and to compete. ”

Three years later she joined the Serbian national team. She got Serbian citizenship and became a European champion in June 2021, leading the team to gold at the EuroBasket Championships.

Less than three months after that, she made her Olympic debut with Serbia at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games. Anderson averaged 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists in six games in Tokyo. On one of the sport’s biggest stages, she again showed she was capable of playing alongside WNBA talent as she played against Team USA in the semifinals.

“I’ve been so grateful for everything that federation (Serbia) and my coaches have allowed me to do but it also kinda gave me more visibility and if you’re gonna play the US in the Olympics, which is always a tough matchup like the people are watching so, what do you show? ” Anderson said. “I just tried to show my best and just tried to compete and if nothing else just tried to show the heart that I have.”

‘Her journey is totally different’

It was likely a combination of Anderson’s performance at the Olympics and her experience overseas that got Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller’s attention. He was impressed with the guard and signed her to the team’s training camp roster.

But with the overseas postseason season overlapping with the WNBA’s training camp schedule, the timing had to work out just right for Anderson to make it to camp. With Umana Reyer’s loss in the Italian League Semifinals, where Anderson was playing this past offseason, she was able to arrive in Connecticut and start camp on April 28 – 10 days after the rest of the team had already started.

“We’ve watched her progression overseas for years, a player that we’ve been interested in for years,” Miller said. “We finally rolled the dice this year and signed her knowing that she could possibly be late.”

Anderson was thrown into the fire. She had three days to learn the Sun’s plays ahead of its May 1 preseason game against Atlanta. Miller played Anderson at the point and helped her direct plays by yelling out some of the team’s key phrases from the sideline.

In 21 minutes (the most minutes for any of the team’s newcomers), Anderson scored 11 points, dished out three assists and pulled down four rebounds.

Miller said one of the main things he was most impressed with in Anderson was her composure.

“She plays with a pace and a composure that you can tell she’s a longtime pro,” he said. “She didn’t get sped up a lot and that’s saying something when you don’t really have total grasp of the system yet that she can keep her composure and play with pace that can be successful. I think it really made an impression on our other veterans that they are here in camp. ”

Three days later, Anderson walked into the team’s locker room at Mohegan Sun Arena to get ready for a yoga session. Her locker is stationed in the middle of a row of others against the wall, making the room feel tight. She was in the middle of getting ready when Brionna Jones told her to go ahead and space out since there were more lockers and space available now that the team had finished its final roster cuts.

It wasn’t until she went out to yoga and counted the remaining players that it all clicked – she made the team. She was one of the 11 players left standing (10 currently while the team awaits veteran DeWanna Bonner’s return from overseas) after camp. She had earned her first WNBA opening day roster spot of her career.

After practice, she called her parents to tell them the good news.

“It was like, ‘Wow,'” Mike Anderson said Wednesday. “It’s something that she’s been trying to do for years and years and now she has the opportunity. She took full advantage of getting into a camp and showcasing to that team what she’s capable of doing. It’s more of a proud moment when you see your kids achieve some of the things of their dreams. ”

Anderson’s Sun teammates were happy for her, especially since many had previously played against her overseas.

“It’s amazing,” 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones said. “It’s a story of perseverance and consistency, so I’m really excited for her. I played against her overseas and like our team was stacked and she was giving us our work so I was excited to see her come into the camp and excited for what she could be on our team. ”

While Anderson didn’t play in Connecticut’s season opener at New York last Saturday, it was the first time her family got to see her at one of her games in person since she was in college.

Since her parents live in New York, Mike says they plan on attending many of the Sun’s home games this summer, starting with Saturday’s home opener against Los Angeles (7 pm, Mohegan Sun Arena).

“She’s one of those that whatever she goes at, she goes with her whole heart,” he said. “Her journey is totally different than a lot of other people’s journey but it’s one that she’s been persistent, and she’s stayed true to who she was. … She’s my baby. That’s my youngest of all my kids and she’s doing what she wants to do, so couldn’t be more happy for her. ”

With the Sun already stacked with a core veteran group including Jasmine Thomas leading at point guard, Yvonne will likely come off the bench this season. But that doesn’t matter to her.

It doesn’t matter that she hadn’t made the team, she’d be resting and on vacation right now ahead of Serbia’s training camp for the World Cup in September.

She knows she deserves this spot and opportunity, and she’s ready to prove it.

“I think my game has just survived,” she said. “I know a lot of players that I started it with, they’re not here. I know players who are younger than me and they’re not still playing. My game has just matured, and I think it came with the timing and maybe that’s just what my journey was supposed to be. A little bit of evolution and a little test of patience, but I’m grateful for it because it has me in this position right now. ”

maggie.vanoni@hearstmediact.com

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