Why Maria ‘The Terminator’ Vadeeva should be 2018 WNBA Draft first pick, but probably won’t
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) – I am no historian of the WNBA Draft, but I am assuming that there has rarely been a more compelling case for a European to be picked as number 1 for quite some time.
Russia ace Maria Vadeeva is the best player in the world of her generation and here is both why she should, but probably won't, be the first pick.
'The Terminator' is head and shoulders above all other contenders
I have said it before, Vadeeva is a precision engineered basketball machine. She does not have the athleticism or flair of many other more exciting players, but the productivity, efficiency, unflappable nature and the way she imposes herself physically is just so exceptional. That now famous stare at her opponents and also referees [when they don't call fouls in her favor] epitomizes her outlook. No trash talking, no over-the-top antics, it's all about stares and smiles – as well as copious amounts of buckets and boards. I was in Chekhov to see A’Ja Wilson win gold with USA at U19 level a few years ago and have seen her up close. She is a great contender, while Diamond Deshields is quality too. But, Vadeeva is durable and a proven performer at the elite level who goes up against WNBA stars every week and produces numbers as part of a championship winning team.
She is a EuroLeague Women champion
It is one of the toughest club competitions in the world, rammed with the leading WNBA and FIBA stars and Vadeeva was part of the Dynamo Kursk team that went unbeaten last year to land the title in 2017. Since then, she has been a central figure in another unbeaten campaign so far, producing excellent contributions. When you consider some of the opponents she has faced [in comparison to her NCAA draft rivals] she is playing on a different planet of basketball every week. In practise alone, she is up against Nneka Ogwumike, Angel McCoughtry and so on.
She destroyed everyone to be crowned FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup MVP
At her own age group, she combined with her compatriot Raisa Musina to destroy everyone at the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2017 in Udine. She carried Russia to the precious silverware and was crowned MVP. To be fair, that is something A’Ja Wilson has already done – although interestingly, Vadeeva was playing against Wilson back in 2015 in the Final as well.
At just 16-years-old she was the best player for Russia at a major FIBA senior tournamentWhen her draft rivals were playing High School games, Vadeeva was posting an incredible breakout performance at FIBA EuroBasket Women 2015 with Russia. In one of the most amazing debuts the international scene has witnessed, she was the most efficient player on her team aged just 16-years-old and was an 'And-1' in waiting during most games. It was spectacular to watch up close and that underlines just how ready she is and also her mentality. She is mentally strong, unflappable and this was several years ago. Now ancient history. She was on FIBA Plays of the Tournament reels when other candidates were getting pats on the back for beating up on other kids in those high school games.
History shows non-Americans rarely take top spot in the Draft
Well, it would be an understandable factor if politics did come into it I suppose. Although wouldn't it really give us something to talk about if she was given the nod? I also note that in recent weeks, Vadeeva has moved up from top six generally to as high as second place on some mock draft channels. Could she do it? You have to go back 18 years until the legendary Ann Wauters was selected, for the last time that a non-American was top of the heap! What about Pokey Chatman taking her for Indiana – after all, she has the Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje connection, the club where Vadeeva cut her teeth?
Will she be able to commit to playing and how risky of a choice is it?
The biggest reason that Vadeeva is unlikely to be first choice is that she may not be able and willing to commit to a WNBA career. I would love her to play and would back her to experience this. Indeed, I am sure that former WNBA champion and Sparks' winger Evgenia Belyakova will be giving her all the advice she needs. Curiously, 2018 is probably the best year for her to make that WNBA debut with Russia's seniors not playing again until the fall. Although, she might be required to land one last gold for her country at the FIBA U20 Women's European Championship in Sopron during early July. I accept that with all of this in mind, it is a risky choice to select her. But, whichever club does select her, they will have one of the top 10 and maybe even top 5 players in the women's game. That is how highly I rate her and why it is time to give the best player of her generation the thumbs up.
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