Russian center Maria Vadeeva, the Los Angeles Sparks' first-round WNBA draft selection at No. 11 overall, will be joining the team this weekend. She was in the process of flying from Russia to Los Angeles on Saturday. According to a Sparks official, she was expected to be activated right away and be on the bench for Sunday's 5 p.m. ET game against the Chicago Sky.
The 6-foot-4 Vadeeva is just 19 -- she turns 20 in July -- but has been playing professionally in her native country since she was 16. Her current team there is Dynamo Kursk, which won the EuroLeague title in 2017, and among her teammates there is Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike.
The Sparks started this season May 20 without all three of their centers: Candace Parker was injured, Jantel Lavender was still competing in the Turkish League finals, and Vadeeva was still in Russia. She competed with Dynamo Kursk in the EuroLeague final four in late April. Vadeeva had her work visa hearing on June 1.
Parker returned on May 27, and Lavender on June 3. Now all three centers will be in uniform for the first time for the Sparks, who are 4-2 and coming off a tough 88-63 loss to Seattle on Thursday.
Vadeeva is known as a strong post-up player who has steadily expanded her range. Some thought she might be a lottery pick, but the uncertainty of her consistent availability in the WNBA due to Russian national team commitments is likely what allowed her to drop to No. 11.