Erica Wheeler is back in Turkey to finish up her overseas playing commitment. As with most WNBAers, playing away from the States is more the rule than the exception.
“We just love the game,” declared the 29-year-old guard last week in an MSR phone interview. “You got to go overseas to make the money.” She was back in the country last week to sign her new contract with the Los Angeles Sparks as a free agent after two seasons with Indiana.
Undrafted after her college career at Rutgers in 2013, Wheeler played overseas, then tried out for a couple of WNBA clubs. In a 2015 tryout with Atlanta, she played 17 games before getting cut. A three-game stint with New York took place in 2016 before the 5’-7” guard finally landed in Indiana in 2016.
Wheeler came into her own there, so much so that she became an All-Star in 2019. The MSR was the only local media in attendance that watched her become the first undrafted player to win the All-Star Game MVP in Las Vegas.
The Miami-born Wheeler grew up in what is called one of America’s toughest neighborhoods—Liberty City. There her never-give-up attitude was fostered, along with her mother’s love and support. “My mom was my best friend,” she said.
Wheeler attended Rutgers and played for Hall-of-Famer C. Vivian Stringer. “She is the reason I am the way I am,” Erica said of the legendary coach. “Relentless and don’t take anything from anybody—that’s how she is.”
Stringer also taught her that “if you want to be successful, there is some groundwork you got to put in. I’ve been doing that since I was a freshman.”
She told us she started The Wheeler Kid Foundation for her mom, who died in her senior year. Last weekend it co-sponsored a camp for over 200 kids in Miami.
“My goal and mission for my foundation is to give opportunity…to help kids that don’t have much,” explained Wheeler. “When you are a hometown hero, you try to create avenues for kids to be able to do things. They shouldn’t have to suffer because of their [surroundings].”
Wheeler didn’t play last season after she caught COVID-19. Then doctors found fluid around her heart, and she opted out of the 2020 season. Wheeler said she is fully recovered and not overly concerned about playing overseas where the pandemic still spreads.
“I don’t live in fear,” she stressed. “My mom told me that a long time ago. If you live in fear, you are not really living. I am very careful in what I want to do so I can be prepared and not catch it again.”
Yet, she does fear for her younger brother as he lives as a Black man in America these days. “I’m scared [for him],” she reiterated. “I pray every time he leaves the house.”
Whether we speak with her in person as we did at the 2019 WNBA ASG or over the phone, Wheeler’s confidence overflows. “It will be my first year [in Los Angeles],” she said on joining the Sparks, where her primary goal is “to be a leader. There will be some ups and some downs, but I plan to lead.”
A few months away from her birthday, Wheeler boasted, “The way I feel I think I got 10 years [of playing basketball] in me. I turn 30 in May. Your body starts changing when you hit 30.
“Women are like superwomen,” she concluded. “We figure things out.”