Benefield: Bertsch taking hoops dreams to Russia
Morgan Bertsch was going to Russia either way.
Heading into the Dallas Wings’ training camp in May, the third-round pick out of UC Davis, was already committed to playing the WNBA offseason in Russia. It was just a matter of where and for whom.
When the Wings waived Bertsch after the camp, the idea of playing in the Russian League took on a new focus: Use the season to develop her perimeter game and ball- handling skills.
A post player during her record-setting career at Davis, Bertsch learned quickly during her two-week tryout in Dallas that her ability to play in the WNBA rests largely on her ability to transform into more of a backcourt player.
Bertsch, the Santa Rosa High School grad who was also a record-setting high jumper for the Aggies, decided that more than leagues in, say, China, Turkey, or Australia, the Russian League has the highest caliber of competition in which to hone her game. It also has the kind of WNBA names playing there each winter that generate a lot of attention from WNBA scouts and team officials.
“It’s pretty well known that Russia is the best league to play overseas because of the talent,” she said. “Big name people — Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Brittney Griner — have played there. That was something.”
The first team to reach out to her was in Novosibirsk. Siberia.
Bertsch said that the positive is that for the first time in her life, basketball can now take center stage, basketball can be her sole focus — no school, no track and field, no distractions. Siberia might be perfect.
“I definitely had that battle in my head a lot: ‘Why can’t I just have both, the fun, awesome experience as well as having amazing basketball?’ But the reality is that if you want the higher chance of going to the WNBA, this is the best option.”
“It was kind of me weighing basketball and furthering my career,” she said. “Russia was the place to be.”
And yet, Siberia?
Siberia, for those wondering, is home to the world’s coldest permanently inhabited town, Oymyakon (that’s pronounced “Ohmyit’scold”) where lows of 60 below zero are typical in the winter months, according to weather.com. In Novosibirsk the average low in January and February is minus 20.
But just as Bertsch was knee deep in the Wings’ spring camp, another Russian outfit came calling with an offer. This time it was a team from Moscow.
It seemed like a better fit.
“People would actually want to come visit me there,” she said.
“I have never been to Russia, I don’t know a lot about it,” she said. “I have a list of things I want to do there, hopefully.”
On the plus side, compared with Novosibirsk, Moscow is practically balmy. Bertsch, who says she has never lived in a snowy climate, should expect September temps to average a high of 61 degrees and a low of 45. Creeping into winter and things get a mite chillier, though. The average high in February is 25 degrees with an average low of 14 degrees.
If all things had gone exactly according to script, Bertsch would have been heading off to Russia in a couple of weeks with a deal already signed with the Wings. But Dallas brass thought the 6-foot, 4-inch Bertsch needed to work to become more a guard than a post player.