5-foot-9 guard Yvonne Anderson is starting at guard for the best team in Europe, Fenerbahçe. On the international stage, she won the 2021 EuroBasket with Serbia and last year, at age 32, she made her WNBA debut. She was kind enough to talk to us about the influence of her father (former men’s college basketball coach Mike Anderson) on her career, her international experiences and her current team.
What is the level of involvement of your dad in your career? Did it change over time? A dad/coach can be a blessing and a curse. Was it a bit of both in your case? Does he still watch your games and give you advice on particular plays?
I’m always grateful to have a father who was a coach because I was always around the game. This created the love for the game and work ethic I have. When I was younger, he was an assistant coach so my mother always brought me to the gym and he would do basketball workouts with me after his practices were finished. Obviously, as I got older and he was a head coach, his involvement changed, but that was me becoming less reliant on him. He put in the foundation and the rest was on me. I would say it was never a curse, only a blessing because I had all the resources available to push myself into becoming the player I wanted to be. He’s never tried to coach me and I appreciate that, because that’s not who he is in my life. He gives some advice when he sees things, but overall he’s just a dad who watches and cheers for his daughter.
You have played in many different European countries. During breaks from practice or playing do you prefer to get the know the place, talk to the people, visit landmarks, etc. or is basketball such a big part of your life, that even in your free time you like to work on your game, watch others play, etc.?
I have been blessed to travel the world and play in all of these amazing countries and as I got older I think I appreciated it more. I started to get closer with my teammates who are actually from the country as opposed to only hanging around other foreigners. By doing that, I started experiencing life more in the way they do. To be able to experience these different cultures and live more closely to how they live, it’s allowed me to really cherish the vastness of the world and to open my mind to all ways of living. I spend a lot of time in the gym, that’s just who I am, but I make sure to balance it and have a life outside of the game as well. I watch a lot of basketball, women’s EuroLeague, EuroCup, men’s EuroLeague, and with the amount of teams in Istanbul it’s also nice to go watch games in person, so I do a little bit of everything.
During the Olympics you gave an interview for USA Today, in which you said that “you win hearts with results”. Did you have to win over many hearts? What was the general response in Serbia to you joining the national team?
When I made the statement, it was really a respect thing for a country that I was going to represent that already had a proud and basketball culture. I stood behind what I said and I still feel that way. Playing for a national team and representing a country where your only tie is basketball shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a responsibility to represent the country in the best way possible and in a way that resonates with the people. My hope was that Serbian people would see how hard I played for our team, and was an asset, but not in a way that took away from what was already established, and accept me through that. And also show how much I respected their country and culture. When they see me, they see someone who would fight with everything in them for my teammates, my coaches and the entire country. And I’ve been lucky that I’ve gotten the response and acceptance that I have. Winning can cure a lot of uncertainty, so I also can acknowledge that success can help in that process.
How special was it to win EuroBasket 2021? Did you go with the team back to Serbia to a hero’s welcome? Or were you so beat, that you just wanted to return to the States and meet up with your family?
Winning the European championship in 2021 was amazing and I went back and celebrated with my teammates and the country. It was an awesome experience that I will never forget or take for granted. Because the Olympics were a month away, I definitely didn’t have time to go home, but that time was for us to celebrate something special together and I’m glad I got to be there for it.
Joining Fenerbahçe must have been a no-brainer for you. Did you immediately jump on the opportunity upon learning of their interest or were you keeping it cool and treating the offer with caution?
Being able to to play for a historic club like Fenerbahçe is an amazing opportunity, and at the time I was offered my national team coach was the head coach, so with that I was pretty set on coming to the club. I took my time signing because we had EuroBasket 2023 and I knew that I had earned the right to really not rush any decisions. But I love Istanbul, I love playing in Turkey and I felt like this was my time to play for a club that could win EuroLeague. That was my priority this off season in choosing a team and Fenerbahçe gives me the best chance for that.
What’s it like to play with Emma Meesseman? Does playing with such a great passing big require a lot of adjustments?
Playing with Emma is awesome. She’s an amazing player and amazing person. She’s actually really easy to play with because she’s such an intelligent player, and she plays the game the right way. She makes the right reads, the right decisions and she’ll talk through situations with you so you can play off of each other better. It’s rare to find a player of that caliber who plays like that. So it’s been pretty smooth to mesh on the court with her.
The way Fenerbahçe is playing right now, you guys are on a tear. Do you think that you will be able to keep that level of intensity throughout the whole season?
We’ve been fortunate to start off the way we wanted to, obviously with the wins and good energy, playing with each other, but we know to be champions we have to take it to another level and we are all confident that we are capable of that. We have only had our full roster for two games, so we are still a work in progress. As the season goes on, we will continue to learn each other and how to play off of each other, and with that we are working to achieve the goals we set out with, which is to win everything.
A year ago you’ve finally got to play in the WNBA. Was the dream to just make it, a sort of bucket list thing, or are you planning a return after a successful campaign for Fenerbahçe?
Playing in the WNBA was an experience I’m grateful for. Playing alongside your peers, at the level you know you have always been capable of playing at, was definitely a checklist thing. My priorities at this time are to win the EuroLeague and then to be in the Paris Olympics. But I am open to all opportunities that God has for me. I’ve been blessed to continue to ascend in my career and I just look forward to whatever is next for me. My job is just to make sure that I am ready, and I will be.
A special thank you to Lorenzo Gallotti of Two Points agency for arranging the interview.