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Interview: Elissa Cunane talks her first years as a pro, playing in Czechia and a WNBA return

The 23-year-old American center is, literally, a big talent. Currently playing for Žabiny Brno in Czechia, the former NC State star intends to return to the WNBA.

2022 Seattle Storm Media Day
At 6-foot-5 Elissa Cunane is a versatile big with a ton of potential
Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

Elissa Cunane’s name is well known in North Carolina, as she starred in her home state on the high school and university levels for Northern Guilford and NC State, respectively. She was drafted No. 17 overall in 2022 by the Seattle Storm. Cut before making her WNBA debut, she was able to play in three games for the Minnesota Lynx during the 2022. This season she’s playing for Žabiny Brno, which competes in the Czech Women’s Basketball League and EuroCup. She’s made quite the impression for the second-best team in Czechia. Her best game so far came on Nov. 18, against Slavia Prague, as she scored 27 points and grabbed seven offensive boards.

The obvious question is how did you get started with basketball? Many tall players are picked by coaches because of their height and then it turns out they have a knack for the sport. Was it the same for you?

I played a lot of sports as a kid, including soccer, softball and basketball. But over time, just loved basketball more and was better at it than the other sports.

Can you tell us about 2022 WNBA Draft? How did you spend that day? What was it like when your name was called?

The draft was a whole weekend spent in New York City with the WNBA and the WNBA Players Association (WNBPA) setting up meetings and information sessions, along with touring around the city. I was there with my brother and my mom, and when my name was called it just felt surreal that I got to be a part of that night and drafted into the league.

Prior to making your WNBA debut, you were cut by the Storm, but picked up by the Lynx and managed to play in the W for them. Was the time in-between filled with anger, disappointment or were you in the gym the next day after being released, with the mindset that you will prove people wrong?

I actually spent the time away from the WNBA playing for a team in Mexico. I wanted to continue to play and get experience, which I did by playing there. No matter what happens you just have to accept it and keep looking forward.

You are the first female athlete to get your jersey retired by your high school, Northern Guilford. What does that mean to you and how special was that jersey retirement ceremony?

My jersey being retired at my high school was such a special moment for me. I loved being able to play there and be coached by [Kim] Furlough. She really taught us basketball on the court and how to live off the court from a young age. The ceremony was during a football game, in which I got to be celebrated by a lot of fans and see some teachers from back in the day. It was awesome.

Can you describe to us the decision process that landed you in Czechia? What did you know about the country prior to getting there?

My agent found me this team in Czechia after I graduated college and, honestly, I didn’t know anything about the team or the country. So I bought some books and started to learn as much as possible! My teammates have shared so much culture and history with me and I appreciate that so much.

Besiktas v Zabiny - EuroCup Women
This season Elissa Cunane plays for Zabiny in Czechia
Photo by Arife Karakum/Anadolu via Getty Images

How is it possible to keep a steady diet with all the knedliki, fried cheeses and a plethora of mushroom sauces that constitute the Czech cuisine? Did you get a chance to try any of those?

I have eaten a ton of Czech food and I absolutely love it. The meals are quite heavy so I cannot eat them every day, but I do enjoy going to restaurants every now and then.

Will we see you in the W after this season or are you taking a patient approach and will just see what life brings?

I do think I will try to play in the W this summer, but we will see how things go. Playing professional basketball in the States or outside them is my dream, so I am already living in them!

A special thank you to Barbora Peštálová of Žabiny Brno for arranging the interview.