Wirth and Risper to team up in Slovakia

Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper are teaming up again – by mid October, the best friends and Vanderbilt standouts will be together in Prešov, Slovakia playing in the central European nation's third largest city.

But until then, Tina has some business to take care of – helping the Indiana Fever (22-12) toward its first WNBA championship. The Eastern Conference Champions ended the regular season with a loss to the Connecticut Sun, but Tina played 23:09 minutes, her longest pro action to date with 9 points, 7 assists and 2 rebounds. That came on the heels of her previous game with 12 minutes, three rebounds and two buckets against New York's Liberty.

"Coach Dunn put me in during the first quarter which has not happened much during the season," Tina said of the Liberty game. "It was kind of nice because I still felt somewhat warmed up and not so stiff. I haven't shot well all season, but I got some open looks during the game and was able to knock them down. It just felt good to play again."

More recently Tina contributed 14 minutes, eight of which occurred in the crucial fourth quarter with four points to give Fever starters a much needed rest in the team's 88-79 playoff win against the Washington Mystics. The Fever will next play at home September 25 against the Detroit Shock in the Eastern Conference Finals after sweeping the first playoff round against the Mystics.

The extra court time is a good warm-up to the winter season when she and Jennifer will provide the spark for a Slovakian team officially named BK PU Bemaco Prešov.

"We told our agent we didn't care about the money or location, and he said, ‘if that's really how you feel, I'll make it work.' He made it a priority and worked hard to find a place that welcomed both of us," Tina said.

The friends' first order of business was to locate Slovakia on a map. "It was definitely a country that neither one of us had ever imagined ourselves going to so we had a lot to learn about it."

The versatility both players helped with placement on the team. With Jennifer transitioning from a gritty guard to relentless post to earn national Defensive Player of the Year honors, and shooting specialist Tina switching from guard to post to center, the Slovakian team added numerous positions to their roster.

Tina explains that Americans are often the stars on European teams – the moneymakers that bring in fans. "Americans are usually the highest paid. The teams bring you over to improve their team and make them more competitive. It will definitely be an adjustment in terms of playing style. Vanderbilt has a very structured, team-oriented system whereas in the WNBA, there is a lot more one-on-one basketball. Overseas is kind of a combination of the two with Americans having a lot of freedom, especially offensively."

The European game is less physical but more up tempo than the U.S. version. There is also what's called "the European step" when local players are not called for a travel when Americans do the same. "It's a questionable move that would be called a travel in the States but in Europe they let it go – except for Americans. It's a fine line," Tina says, "but we'll just have to get used to how they call it."

Jennifer, who moved to the Prešov in early September, is learning the language by immersion with new friends and with study. She is blogging about her adventures in the area and playing tournaments with as many as five games in a week for the season which ends in late April 2010.

After a flight into Budapest and a taxi ride a few hours northeast to the Slovakian town, Jennifer lunched with the mayor on her first day. The mayor owns the team, and casually mentioned that the first game was that evening! Playing point guard and shooting guard, Jennifer says she also would play post if they need her "because post players overseas don't know how to be as tough as American players."

Tina's last visit to Europe was with the Commodores during the summer visit to Spain in 2007. Now, as she says, "I can't really see a better way than for someone to pay me to travel and play with my best friend. I'm not ready to be done playing for a lot of years. I'm very happy to have the opportunity and grateful for the chance."


Tina in playoff game against Connecticut Sun

Photos courtesy Jennifer Risper, Indiana Fever and Whitney D.

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