Ask anyone on the Sky who the most extroverted player on the team is, and center Stefanie Dolson probably will be the answer.
Dolson is the definition of a “people person.” She can spark a conversation with practically anyone.
But in China, she feels isolated.
The Women’s Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA) is one of the most difficult leagues for WNBA players to play in during the offseason. As Sky forward Cheyenne Parker put it, China is “a whole ’nother world” compared to everywhere else. The Chinese culture and food is drastically different than what players are used to. And teams put players in hotels rather than apartments.
But the hardest part of all, Dolson said, is the language barrier.
“Very few people speak English, whereas in other countries a lot of people speak English,” said Dolson, who plays for Hebei Win Power in Hengshui, Hebei. “So here, I can’t really talk to anyone.
“I’m always lonely. That is why, I think, people stay away from China. It is probably one of the most lonely countries to play in because you don’t really talk to anyone and you don’t have another foreigner and because of the [14-hour] time difference, you can’t really talk to family a lot.”
Dolson’s lifeline in China is her translator, who goes everywhere with her.
“During film sessions, she sits behind me. If we have a meeting with the coach, she’s there,” Dolson said. “She is really my only way of communicating with the coaches or my teammates.”
Dolson is one of nine WNBA players in the WCBA, which doesn’t allow more than one foreigner on each team.
Knowing that others might experience the solitary feelings she does, Dolson created a group chat with five American players she knows, including Parker.
The group chat serves as a place where they can rely on one another for support. They’re constantly sharing their experiences, some of which, Dolson said, anyone who isn’t in their position wouldn’t understand.
“Our venting session is in that little group text,” Dolson said. “Anytime we have issues, we just text it, and we’re all in this together.
“It’s actually been helpful. And we’ve all kind of said how thankful we are to have each other at least to complain and rely on each other.”
So why would anyone want to play in China?
There are pros and cons to playing anywhere overseas, Dolson said.
The WCBA season is significantly shorter than European leagues, meaning Dolson has more time to rest her body and visit friends and family between seasons.
Most Chinese teams don’t report until late October, and their seasons are finished by mid-March. Meanwhile, most players who play in Europe have to go directly to their offseason teams after the WNBA season and can stay there as late as mid-April.
Dolson’s team also has a chef, who tries to specially prepare more American-styled meals for her.
“I actually got really lucky this season because I’ve been eating a bit better than most,” Dolson said. “The other foreigners on other teams get pretty jealous.”
Dolson passes the time doing jigsaw puzzles and binge-watching TV. Since she couldn’t make it back to the U.S. for Christmas, Dolson watched her family unwrap their presents via FaceTime while sitting alone in her hotel room.
How much longer does she think she’ll be able to do this?
“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” said Dolson, 27. “For me, I like China because it’s a short season. So although I’m lonely and it’s hard, it’s short. So I can have time to be home, and I can have time to be in Chicago, all that stuff.
“I’m just going to play it by ear and see how long my body lasts, really. That’s my main thing, reading my body.”