When superstar forward Candace Parker touched down in Ekaterinburg earlier this week, the sheer intensity of the fight for EuroLeague Women supremacy will arguably be raised to an unprecedented level.
A week after three-time defending champions Spartak Moscow brought Sue Bird back on board, their arch rivals have finally put to bed the on-off saga of whether Parker was coming to Europe and have belatedly delivered the biggest name in the Womens game.
Or have they? Hang on, that moniker belongs to the one and only Diana Taurasi. Doesn't it?
Indeed that very special Parker versus Taurasi debate in itself encapsulates all that is wonderful about this addition to life in EuroLeague Women. I don't mind admitting that I am preposterously excited about probably the two greatest players of their generation now playing in this seasons competition.
Above anything else, I find the relentless duel between the two Russian powerhouses deliciously captivating and for this seemingly never-ending battle royale to have been raised yet another notch is stunning since I didn't think it was actually possible.
Sure, we kind of knew that Parker was coming but now that she is pulling on the Orange uniform of Ekat, the desire and importance of winning this tournament to these two institutions is again being underlined in no uncertain terms.
Well I say being underlined but perhaps the term underlined is just far too understated to accurately reflect the respective ambitions of the two main protaganists. Let's re-phrase that and say it is less 'underlined; and maybe more like a fifty metre high neon sign flashing the words ‘We Are Going To Win EuroLeague Women.'
A kind of ‘my sign is bigger than yours' situation if you will.
Watching Spartak and Ekat try and continuously trump each other both on and off the court is one of life's little joys. Every bit as intense and important as other great rivalries in the sport and with each twist and turn I am constantly finding myself drawing comparisons with Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Mens game - of course equally as compulsive viewing.
The added domestic dimension always adds to the intrigue and on that particular topic, for those of you who didn't catch the recent match-up between the two clubs, Ekaterinburg beat Spartak in Moscow late last month. Then again, that's not exactly a surprise since we have to remember that Spartak didn't take the domestic silverware in Russia last season - Ekat did. Salamanca was where Spartak reigned supreme and exercised their arms with some trophy lifting. Ultimately that was all that mattered and if we are brutally honest, little has changed in the respect of the silverware wish-list.
There is of course a cautionary aspect to the arrival of Parker, not just for the fans of Ekaterinburg but also people like myself just eager to see her in European club action for the first time. I guess that we have to remember that this is the first time she will be plying her trade outside of the States and will therefore in theory at least, will be out of her comfort zone.
Of course both Ekat and Spartak are renowned for treating their superstar players like royalty and Parker and her young family will want for nothing in terms of comfort. However mentally it will be a test because it will be a major adjustment in her life whether she likes it or not and Parker has to be given time to settle and get back to doing what she does best - even if expectations of her anticipated contribution are likely to be way out of control.
As gloriously talented as she is, there is also the notion that her arrival could be a little bit of a distraction for Coach Vetra and his team who have just began to really move through their gears and get into a nice slick groove.
Then again, that is something that is blown out of the water on two fronts. Not only because any sane coach in the world would want Parker on their roster but also the fact that Ekat are already packed with talent meaning that she doesn't need to or will be expected to produce instant results -certainly not the kind that the likes of Candice Dupree and Angel McCoughtry had to muster when arriving at Good Angels Kosice for example. Rather importantly, time is on the side of Ekat to get Parker back into her stride and delivering not this month but from February onwards when it matters most.
Earlier in the season I made myself look an idiot (again) by hinting that perhaps the powerbase of the Women's game was subtly shifting from East to West and heading towards the Iberian Peninsula. I do wonder what the likes of Ros Casares make of this having been the only team to beat Ekat so far. I guess they probably just recognise that repeating that feat (if given the opportunity to do so) became even more difficult.
Writing off a great champion like Spartak would be foolish and perhaps faintly ridiculous. Then again, never one to fear ridicule (you kind of get used to it), I do wonder if this latest wonderful exchange of impressive basketball ‘one upmanship' means the future of EuroLeague Women is not only bright but also very much orange.
An interesting thought but I suspect that a certain Diana Taurasi and her fiercely competitive and loyal Spartak family might have something to say about that.
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