Maria Stepanova Returns
Maria Stepanova has returned to the Phoenix Mercury after a three-year hiatus. Stepanova last played for the Mercury during the 2001 season and was originally drafted by the Mercury in the first round (8th overall) of the 1998 WNBA Draft.
Stepanova will not play in tonight’s game vs. the Connecticut Sun but will be activated for the July 2nd game in Los Angeles against the Sparks.
“It is exciting to see Maria in Phoenix again,” said general manager Seth Sulka. “With her full day of travel yesterday and the fact that she hasn’t been able to practice with the team, we decided to wait until July 2nd to activate her. We have a break in the schedule this week which will allow us five consecutive days to practice and incorporate her into the team.”
During the 2001 season, Maria played the entire 32 game regular season schedule and started for 31 of those games. She averaged 10.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Maria ranked among the WNBA leaders in several categories: sixth in field goal percentage at .507, 12th in rebounding with 6.3 per game, and fourth in blocks at 2.0 per game.
“It is great for me to be back in Phoenix,” Stepanova said. “The Mercury are my team and I am thankful that they want me to be here. I will work very hard to help my team here so we can be successful.”
Maria has not been idle during the time she was away from the Phoenix Mercury. She missed the 2002 season due to pregnancy and delivered a healthy baby boy Nikolai in January 2003. In 2004, she became a member of the Russian Olympic team. Russia brought home the bronze in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. After the Olympics, Maria was nominated by the Olympic Committee and the Euro Sports Channel for the FIBA Award Star of Sport, which honors the best European athletes who recently participated in the Olympics held in Athens Greece.
The Mercury are currently the only team to acquire the gold, silver, and bronze medalists from the 2004 Summer Olympic games. Diana Taurasi holds the gold for the USA, Penny Taylor and Belinda Snell were apart of the silver medalist Australian team, and Maria Stepanova was a member of the bronze medalist Russian team.