Observers of Natalia Vieru should not be surprised that the Russian center is leading her team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots at the U20 European Championship for Women.
After all, the 18-year-old has been spending her club time practicing against some of the best players in the world at EuroLeague Women champions Spartak Moscow Region.
Vieru worked out last season on a daily basis with and against superstars like Lauren Jackson, Irina Osipova and Tatiana Shchegoleva as well as Verdrana Grgin Fonseca and Ivana Matovic.
"These are the best players in the world. And to be able to practice with them really helps me a lot," said Vieru, who has averaged 12.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 0.7 blocked shots in leading an undefeated Russia team to the semi-finals against Serbia.
Vieru, who was born in Moldova and turns 19 on July 25, said she looks up most to the Australian national team star Jackson.
"Every day is like a new teaching session for me," added Vieru, who arrived at Spartak before last season from B Superleague side Dynamo 2 Kursk.
Vieru played in limited action throughout the 2007-08 season, also playing at Spartak-2 Vidnoe in the Higher League. But the 1.98 center did play a role in Spartak winning the EuroLeague title, averaging 1.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 3.7 minutes of six EuroLeague games.
"(Winning the EuroLeague) was the best. Spartak is the best, and it was a great season," said Vieru.
Russia's U20 national team coach Alexander Kovalev said he is impressed with Vieru's development.
"Two seasons ago, I worked with Natalia at Dynamo Kursk and did not see her last year. She really worked very hard and you can see that. She is a very good player - strong and with a good jump shot. She also has good free throw shooting and plays well in the low post," said Kovalev.
Prior to going to Spartak, Vieru helped Russia to the bronze medal at the 2007 U18 European Championship for Women, averaging a team-high 15.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. And in 2006 at the U18 Euros, Russia finished 11th and Vieru collected 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
"(The U20) is a different level and you can see that the players are becoming much more professional. But it's comforting to be here," said the talented young post player.
After Russia finish their tournament here, Vieru will return to Spartak where she hopes to again have loads of success.
"I want to win everything - the EuroLeague, Russian league and Russian Cup."