Maria Vadeeva has yet to complete two full seasons in the WNBA, yet one could argue that she’s already a veritable veteran.
The six-foot-three center first made waves in 2013 as a member of Russia’s national team, competing in the FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship. The following year, at just 15 years old, Vadeeva signed her first professional contract with Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League (WBPL) club Spartak Moscow. She remained with Spartak Moscow for two seasons while also juggling her commitment to the Russian national team. In 2014, during her first professional year, Vadeeva captured first-place with Russia at the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship; in 2015, she earned All-Tournament honors and a silver medal at the FIBA Europe Under-19 Championship.
Vadeeva signed with the WBPL’s Dynamo Kursk in 2016. In her single year with the team, she played alongside future Sparks teammate Nneka Ogwumike and helped Dynamo Kursk to its first EuroLeague title. She signed with WBPL team UMMC Ekaterinburg the following season.
After four successful years in the WBPL, Vadeeva entered the 2018 WNBA Draft as a projected first-round pick. “Her talent is undeniable,” wrote Sean Hurd in a 2018 article for ESPN The Magazine. “She just might be the steal of the draft.”
When the Sparks took Vadeeva with the 11thoverall pick, however, it wasn’t just a steal – it was one for the record books. Her selection marked the first time an international player was drafted in the first round since 2012, breaking a six-year drought. At just 19 years old on draft night, she also became the first player drafted in WNBA history to be born after the league’s founding.
“Her talent is undeniable. She just might be the steal of the draft.”
-Sean Hurd, ESPN The Magazine
Vadeeva appeared in 25 games for the Sparks in her rookie year, joining the team after obtaining her visa in June 2018. She finished the season with an efficient 52.7 percent from the field and connected on 33.3 percent of her 3-point attempts. These numbers, although promising, belie the ease of adjusting to both a new professional league and an entirely different style of play. “Basketball is faster [in the United States],” Vadeeva said, reflecting on her first year in the WNBA. “You need to run all the time. In Europe, we play slow, and we need to pass.”
Vadeeva’s sophomore campaign kicked off with a career-high 24 points in the season opener. Her next game with the Sparks, however, would not take place for another two months due to national team obligations at the FIBA EuroBasket Tournament. Vadeeva returned to court for Los Angeles during the team’s 76-68 victory over the Aces on August 1.