UMMC Ekaterinburg is arguably the women’s professional basketball powerhouse team of powerhouse teams. They have won 11 Russian Championships and four EuroLeague Women championships, including two of the last three years.
One of the keys to their success is their willingness and desire to spend on the best women’s basketball players in the world. Their team president/owner, Andrei Kozitsyn, is worth $4.5 billion according to Forbes. He accumulated his wealth from founding UMMC, which is a mining company and where the women’s basketball team gets its name.
Another key to UMMC’s success is the inherent differences between the way professional sports leagues conduct business in Europe versus the United States.
In the United States, professional sports leagues run under some concept of fair play, in particular when it comes to salaries. Teams have salary floors and caps that control how much players get paid. Players can be exchanged for one another via trade. Bad teams receive high picks in drafts, and the season championship is determined in a playoff tournament. The WNBA, like most American professional sports leagues, operates on such a model according to its current collective bargaining agreement. In 2014, the first year of the agreement, the salary cap was $901,000 per team and the floor was $857,000 per team.
In Europe, there are no hard limits set by the leagues. If players are moved, it’s usually when one team buys that player’s right from another team in a transfer market. Ultimately, the best teams remain winners as long as they have a sufficient amount of money to run operations.
The 2018-19 UMMC roster is full of WNBA talent, most of whom are All-Stars. Here is a list of WNBA players who are on UMMC’s team this year:
- Kayla McBride, Guard, Las Vegas Aces
- Jamierra Faulkner, Guard, Chicago Sky
- Courtney Vandersloot, Guard, Chicago Sky
- Emma Meesseman, Forward, Washington Mystics
- Jonquel Jones, Center, Connecticut Sun
- Brittney Griner, Center, Phoenix Mercury
- Maria Vadeeva, Center, Los Angeles Sparks
Of this list, five players made at least one All-Star team in their WNBA careers and all are either in their prime or close to it. Faulkner and Vadeeva are the only players who have not made at least one All-Star team. WNBA juggernauts certainly have multiple All-Stars on their rosters, but it is rare that a juggernaut team would have five WNBA All-Stars in their primes.
Basketball is a game where superstars can single-handedly control a game. UMMC has multiple players who can do that at any time. Currently, UMMC is 5-0 in the Russian PBL, their domestic league, and 3-0 in EuroLeague Women, the continental league they qualified for. It is way too early to hand them the PBL and EuroLeague Women championships, of course. But it is certainly possible that UMMC could go undefeated in both domestic and international play.
Just because a European team could go undefeated doesn’t mean that that team would do very well in the WNBA. But in UMMC’s case, the roster has more WNBA All-Stars than most teams. If they played in the WNBA, how well would this roster play? Could they win the WNBA title? And could they win the championship without a single loss in the regular and postseason? Let us know in the comments below.