Like any WNBA player making her first trip overseas, Connecticut Sun forward Brionna Jones knew there would be adjustments.
The food is different. There is a language barrier. Teams travel internationally. Coaches have different practice philosophies.
But what really surprised Jones, who is playing her first season abroad with Nadezhda Orenburg in Russia, was the expectations that come with being an American.
“When I first got over here, coming in, I didn’t know they expect the Americans to be the go-to people,” she explained. “Coming in I didn’t have that mindset at first. But now I’ve adjusted to that. They expect you to be the leader and I wasn’t expecting that.”
Jones, who is playing with Sun guard Alex Bentley in Orenburg, eventually came to understand her new coaches did not consider deference to be a quality.
“I was the second youngest on the team so it was kind of weird for me to be talking over people who were older than me,” she said. “You can’t come in and learn. You have to jump into everything full force.”
It was a stark difference from her experience as a rookie with the Connecticut Sun.
The eighth overall pick out of Maryland, Jones eased her way into the WNBA. She did not get into the first three games of the season and played a total of 14 minutes in the first seven games. But she had eight points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes at San Antonio last June 3, and found her comfort level as the season progressed.
Jones ended her season on a high note, scoring a career-high 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting at Phoenix on September 1st. She has continued to work on her game in Russia.
“I think my shot is getting better and I’m more confident,” said Jones, who is averaging 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds with Nadezhda. “They just say ‘Shoot it when you’re open,’ so that helps. You don’t have any worries that if you miss a couple of shots, it’s the end of the world.”
Off the court, Jones is also finding her way. Orenburg is a city with a population of just about half a million, just over 900 miles from Moscow, near the border with Kazakhstan.
Jones has made an effort to break down the language barrier – “Learning Russian is hard, but I’m trying!” – and she is even enjoying borscht soup.
“I tried it and I liked it,” she said with a laugh. “It’s good. It doesn’t sound appetizing, with the beets and everything. But how they make it over here is pretty good.”
Jones will have a chance to enjoy a home cooked meal this week. She is coming home for a few days on Thursday, and is excited about watching her sister Stephanie, who is a 6-foot-2 sophomore at Maryland.
She is already looking forward to training camp with the Sun.
“I’m excited to see how being over here and playing over here in EuroLeague helps me,” she explained. “I feel stronger. The speed of the game, it was pretty fast in the (WNBA), and over here, but it’s slowing down.”