Yanina Todorova: Eurostepping into the big leagues


Wyatt Bible/The Collegian

Fresno State senior guard Yanina Todorova.

By Valentina Saldaña, Sports Editor

As a kid growing up in the coastal city of Varna, Bulgaria, Yanina Todorova always had the ambition to play basketball professionally. This led her to play for the Bulgarian national team and several club squads. 

Living abroad was the ultimate goal, but she never imagined a part of that would take place in the heart of central California and playing for the last three years at Fresno State.

“I was not prepared to come to the United States,” Todorova said. 

She comes from a family of four, including her parents, Maya and Svilon, and her younger sister, Stefania. Moving to a new continent left Yanina at a crossroads because she wanted to stay close to her family. 

“They were always there for me to support me. They were always at my games watching me play. They’re like my rocks,” Todorova said. 

Her journey with basketball began at the age of 10, playing for Cherno More, a basketball club in Bulgaria. This is where she discovered her love for the sport. 

Yanina playing for the Bulgarian national team in 2019. (Courtesy of Yanina Todorova)

Two years later she began practicing with Bulgaria’s national team, playing for them at 13. Yanina would continue to play for the national team while playing basketball in other places.

After playing in the European Championships during the summer of 2017, she received a call to play for the TG Neuss club team in Germany.  

“I really liked that idea of moving there because I had a plan with my family to move abroad, and that was like a good start for me to get into the system,” Todorova said. 

So at 17-years old, Todorova moved to a whole new country in pursuit of expanding her basketball career. After a season with TG Neuss, Todorova found herself with the decision to move once again. 

She had received a full-ride scholarship to Odessa College, a junior college in Texas. She explored all her options with her family and ultimately opted to move. 

“I expected her to go outside of the country and play abroad, but at the same time I never expected her to go all the way to America,” said Maya Todorova, her mother, by phone in Bulgarian. 

Yanina and her younger sister, Stefania, pose for a picture while playing basketball. (Courtesy of Yanina Todorova)

Yanina’s mom wasn’t the only one adjusting to her being away. Stefania, Yanina’s younger sister, didn’t accept her decision to temporarily move away at first. 

“She misses me and the first time she didn’t accept it because it was hard for her. She was sad. It was emotionally hard for her,” Yanina said. 

Maya told The Collegian that Stefania keeps a calendar to count down the days to when Yanina will return, and she has also started playing basketball because she wants to follow in her older sister’s footsteps. 

Nonetheless, Yanina found herself in a new environment, with a new culture and new coaches, so it took her some time to get used to this new lifestyle. She said her new team was “welcoming” and made her “feel like home,” making the move a bit easier. 

She played two seasons for the Wranglers, where she averaged 10.7 points per game in her final season.

After finishing her time there, Yanina returned to Bulgaria to play in the 2019 FIBA U20 European Championships. The national team took hardware home as they were named champions of Division B. 

Maya remembers how she felt during that championship run. 

“I was extremely proud of her and her team because of everything they have been through. Bulgaria is smaller compared to other European countries, so they [other countries] have more to invest,” Maya said. 

Maya and Yanina after a basketball game. (Courtesy of Maya Todorova)

Her next stop would once again be in the States, but this time in Fresno. She’s spent the last three years as a Bulldog and just concluded her collegiate career, averaging 11.1 points per game. 

Maya shared that she’s a Fresno State fan, and the nine-hour time zone difference doesn’t stop her from supporting her daughter. 

“I always watch her play online. I wake up to watch her play, and I’ve only missed a few games,” she said. 

One of Maya’s favorite memories is when Yanina surprised them with a visit back in August. She had flown into Bulgaria and didn’t tell them until she had landed. The whole family went for a walk, ate ice cream and caught up on the beach. 

Now, Yanina looks ahead to what the future holds. 

Yanina waits to get called for the starting lineup. (Blake Wolf/The Collegian)

She will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics in May and hopes to become a kindergarten teacher. Yanina explained that if she had picked up an education major, she’d need to stay in the U.S. and that’s not her plan. 

She wants to move back to Bulgaria after graduation to spend time with her family and become a professional basketball player. 

“I would like to spend time with my family for a little longer. Because since I was 17, I haven’t been living there. So I feel like I need to build up that relationship with them,” she said.

It’s been Yanina’s life-long dream to become a professional basketball player and be able to explore new places and cultures. So, she plans to pursue that back in Europe. 

Yanina’s family is very proud of what she has accomplished so far and they are excited to see what she does next. 

“People say it’s talent, but it also matters how much time you spend in the gym, and at the same time, it’s important to have this feeling of the game inside of you,” Maya said. “That’s her dream, so I’m always ready to help.”