|13 June 2014|
fibaeurope.com identifies five players who are likely to have a major impact on the U20 European Championship Women in Udine, Italy this July.
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Astou Ndour, Spain and Fenerbahce
There is arguably no bigger hype surrounding a European youth female player than reigning FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year Astou Ndour. One only needs to take a glance at her achievements in the past year to understand why. Two weeks after being named the MVP (17.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game) at this very tournament 12 months ago, the 1.96m center was posing for the All-Tournament Team photo at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women (17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game). The happy-go-lucky naturalised Spaniard then returned to club action with Gran Canaria, where she was once more being named MVP, this time of the Spanish Women's League. New adventures now wait the slender, athletic Senegalese-native who has since been drafted to the San Antonio Stars in the WNBA and signed with European powerhouse Fenerbahce.
Dragana Stankovic, Serbia and UE Sopron
12 months ago, the then 18-year-old Stankovic experienced a certain euphoria that most players go throughout their career without ever feeling. With a packed Borovo Sports Hall urging her on in the final day of action at the U18 European Championship Women, Stankovic rose to the occasion, sinking a buzzer-beating shot from inside the paint to deliver Serbia a 57-56 bronze medal victory over the Netherlands. In doing so, she certified herself as a player for the big occasions with her 23-point, 13-rebound haul on the night her best return in the tournament. It was therefore unsurprising to those in attendance to see her named on the All-Tournament Team later on the same eve. Having since made her EuroLeague Women debut, the 1.95m Stankovic is both literally and figuratively one of the biggest presences here in Udine and a potential clash with Astou Ndour under the hoops could evolve into the match-up of the next 11 days.
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Olivia Epoupa, France and Toulouse
Despite having only recently turned 20, Epoupa has already become an established player at senior level in her native France. The Parisian-born point guard recently completed her second EuroCup Women season with Basket Landes (subsequently her final season with the club), playing a vital role in seeing her team go as far as the competition's quarter-finals with averages of 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Epoupa skipped last year's U20 European Championship Women, instead focusing her energy on the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women. It proved a fruitful decision as she directed France into the gold medal game, whilst on a personal level, joined Astou Ndour as the only other European on the All-Tournament Team (11.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, four assists per game). In her absence, France were underwhelming in last year's championship, but with the return of Epoupa, expect them to be once more pushing for a podium finish.
Merve Aydin, Turkey and Mersin Büyüksehir Bld
Aydin happens to know a thing or two about U20 European Championships. This is after all, her third appearance in the tournament but, unlike her previous two trips, Ayse Cora and Olcay Cakir will not be blocking her path to a starting place in the backcourt, leaving it up to the Mersin-native to assure Turkey a spot on the podium for a third consecutive season. To date, the 1.78m guard has remained close to home in developing her career, appearing in the previous two EuroCup Women seasons for Mersin Büyüksehir Bld. In both campaigns, Aydin has been averaging over 25 minutes a game, using her impressive court-smarts to help her team go as far as the quarter-finals in 2014, where they succumbed to eventual runners-up Dynamo Kursk. Expect the majority of Aydin's points to come inside the paint as she uses her speed to elude guards before driving the lane.
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Elisa Penna, Italy and Reyer Venezia
There is no shortage of responsibility going the way of Elisa Penna, who provided a key part to the mosaic that was the Italian team which won silver in this tournament one year ago. Despite being two years younger than most of her peers on the team (Penna can also return to play U20 Women next year), the small forward from Bergamo left a big impression, finishing the tournament as her team's second-best rebounder (5.4 per game) and the fourth biggest points producer (7.4 per game). Later the same summer Penna returned to the U18 team where her all-round game was once more decisive in getting Italy into the quarter-finals. Now, with the Dotto sisters graduating to full-time senior women's basketball, the leadership of Penna, who has just completed her first A1 season in Italy, becomes crucial. Look for her to employ a penetration game, where the majority of her points production will derive from.