Cadi Le Seu guard Mikayla Pivec, a Lynnwood High School graduate. (Photo by Agustí Peña)

Cadi Le Seu guard Mikayla Pivec, a Lynnwood High School graduate. (Photo by Agustí Peña)

A basketball odyssey: Pivec excelling in Spain after adversity

After a rough 12-month stretch, the former Lynnwood star is enjoying basketball and has her sights set on the WNBA once again.

Mikayla Pivec finally let the tears flow.

For 12 months the hits just kept coming. From the time she was selected by the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA draft in April of 2020, Pivec faced a series of basketball setbacks unlike anything the former Lynnwood High School star had ever experienced before. The one that finally caused Pivec to break down crying was when she found out last May, just 30 minutes before rosters had to be set, that she had been cut by the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

Someone who had known nothing but success in her career suddenly found herself questioning her basketball future.

“At one point I thought it was a sign from God that he wants me to stop playing basketball and do something else,” Pivec said.

Fast forward to today and Pivec is back on track, enjoying her basketball, and setting her sights on the WNBA once again.

Pivec, one of the greatest female basketball players ever produced by Snohomish County, finds herself in the small Spanish mountain village of La Seu d’Urgell, playing in Spain’s top women’s league for AE Sedis Basquet, commonly known as Cadi Le Seu.

Pivec is one of Cadi’s top players, as the 5-foot-10 guard is averaging 11.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists through 14 games of the 30-game season. Cadi is 9-5, good for fourth place in the 16-team league and in position to qualify for the EuroCup Women, despite being one of the league’s lowest-budget organizations.

“I think the last year helped me prove to myself that I can play professional basketball and contribute and be an asset to a team,” Pivec said via Zoom call from La Seu d’Urgell.

But it’s been a long and difficult slog for Pivec to arrive at this moment.

Pivec had a charmed scholastic career. She was a two-time Washington Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year, leading Lynnwood to the Class 3A state championship in 2015. She headed to Oregon State University as one of the nation’s top recruits, and she had a stellar career with the Beavers that ended with All-American recognition. Throughout her career she earned academic honors and served her community.

But Pivec’s luck took a 180-degree turn the moment after she was drafted into the WNBA.

A month after the draft, on her agent’s advice, Pivec opted out of the 2020 WNBA season on the basis that a third-round pick would have a difficult time making a team without a training camp — WNBA training camps were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic — to prove herself.

Meanwhile, Pivec had played the second half of her senior season at Oregon State with a foot injury, and she was unable to get an MRI because the pandemic shut down non-essential medical procedures. Pivec finally had her MRI in May, which uncovered a plantar plate tear in her left foot. Pivec underwent stem-cell surgery in June and needed two months to recover.

After opting out of the WNBA season Pivec received offers to play professionally in Russia, Poland and Spain. She ended up signing with Campus Promete in Spain with the agreement that she would have a roster spot if she was fully recovered from surgery by September. Pivec was ready to go and headed to Spain, but the entire experience ended up being a disaster. Pivec found herself living alone in lockdown because of the pandemic. Promete’s coach spoke no English and would get frustrated when Pivec couldn’t understand what he was saying, even throwing Pivec — a player who’s never had disciplinary issues — out of practice twice. Pivec played sparingly, and she found the environment around the team toxic.

“It was pretty horrible, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Pivec said. “For me it was extremely disappointing and frustrating. I’d never been that far away from home for that amount of time, and the town was in lockdown. I played pretty well in the preseason games, but then I wasn’t getting many minutes at all, and usually if teams aren’t happy with their foreigners they fire them and get new ones. I talked to the coaches and tried to find out what they needed to see more from me, and I never got a clear answer. We had another American, and after two weeks she said she didn’t like this organization and left.”

In October Pivec decided she as going to leave the team, but if she left before December she would have to pay Promete a fine that was more than the amount she’d earned. So she gutted out another two months before returning home at Christmastime. Pivec’s reward for coming home was being informed by the Dream in January that she wasn’t being invited to training camp.

Fortunately for Pivec, she received an invitation from Minnesota to attend the Lynx’s training camp. Unfortunately, she ended up overdoing her training and suffered a left-knee injury that required surgery in February to clean up a dislodged fragment of bone and partially torn meniscus.

Pivec recovered from knee surgery just in time for Minnesota’s training camp, but the injury did disrupt her preparations. Pivec still did enough to potentially make the team, but instead she was one of the last two cuts.

“It’s been my lifelong dream to make a WNBA team, and when you’re so close it’s very disappointing,” Pivec said. “I think I held it together pretty well in the room and had a good conversation with the coach and three assistants on what I needed to improve on. But once I left and was asked how I was feeling, that’s when the tears started coming.”

Pivec needed a reset, so she took a week off to clear her mind. She then found a part-time job, doing administrative work for Bothell-based virtual reality company ReelTime Rentals, which gave her some income while also allowing her to work out twice a day to stay in basketball shape.

Pivec then received another offer from Spain, this time from Cadi. Pivec was wary of going back to Spain, but her former teammate at Oregon State, Sydney Wiese, had played for Cadi. Wiese told Pivec that Cadi was the only overseas team she would play for again. So Pivec decided to give it another try.

This time around has been night and day compared to Pivec’s last time in Spain. She now lives with two teammates, so she’s no longer isolated. The Cadi coaches speak English, so the communication barrier is gone. She’s making less money now — $3,000 per month plus housing — than she did with Promete, but the welcoming environment more than offsets the pay decrease.

A highlight came on Pivec’s 24th birthday on Nov. 18. Cadi hosted Promete and won 68-59, with Pivec leading he way with 16 points, seven boards and four assists.

Pivec is hoping her success in Spain can serve as a springboard to the WNBA. She’s drawing inspiration from players who have taken the European route to the WNBA, such as former Seattle Storm standouts Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb. She’s also working on her 3-point shot, which is what Minnesota’s coaches said was necessary for a player of Pivec’s height to make it in the WNBA.

But however things shake out, Pivec is just happy to be enjoying basketball again.

“I definitely have a healthier mindset now,” Pivec said. “Coming out of college I was like, ‘It’s either WNBA or failure.’ Now I see it’s OK, I still have a really good opportunity overseas and can continue to play the game I want to play.”

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