Paulball: The Big Heart Of The Champion

28.02.2011

Paul NilsenPaul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here badaball@hotmail.co.uk.


There may be a familiar feel to the EuroLeague Women Final Four but the heart of the champions is now even bigger than ever before.

Yes, it will be five Final Four appearances in a row for Sparta&K M.R.Vidnoje and having won four successive titles, what price for a fifth?

Well, before their series with Fenerbahce, the price may have been rather generous. After all, this was supposed to be the year when Fener realised their ambitions and all of that promise of the first few months came to fruition.

Oh but how the defending champs hadn't quite read the script - they tore it up and wrote a different one. Yes, a script which centered around a true champion team with hearts as big as you could ever imagine.

For let's not forget that while Fenerbahce did lose their two most influential players, Sparta&K were also stripped of their prize assets. Not only last summer when the likes of Diana Taurasi, Syl Fowles and Janel McCarville departed but once again when Lauren Jackson headed back to Australia.

31. Taj Mc Williams (Sparta&K M. R. Vidnoje)
Taj Mc Williams had the difficult task to fill in for injured Lauren Jackson and she did so brilliantly,  averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds in the series against Fenerbahce

They couldn't win on the road during the Qualifying Round and after three defeats, it looked like the wheels may have finally come off their glorious EuroLeague Women bandwagon.

How false that notion was to prove and much of that was due to the club making the signing of the season with the acquisition of the forty year old Taj McWilliams. This golden oldie rejuvenated the team and gave them experience in the frontcourt to match the leadership of Sue Bird in the backcourt.

Most impressive of all, when the going got tough, Pokey Chatman and her players really did get going. They showed a superb mental toughness and heart to emerge victorious and reach the promised land yet again.

Their 2-0 quarter-final series win against Fenerbahce was sensational. Their victory in Istanbul was the result of the season as far as I am concerned as they delivered a magnificent fatal first blow which ultimately floored their opponents psychologically.

You really can't give everyone involved with the champions enough credit for securing a fifth appearance. Taking into account the loss of DT, LJ, their inconsistent early season form and potential quarter-final mountain of playing at Fener, this was hugely impressive.

Now what about if they actually go on to win two more basketball games this season and how high would it rank as an achievement in the context of Women's Basketball through history?

Even the handful of haters would have to concede that while they do have more resources than many other clubs, such an accomplishment could not be dismissed as them being ‘the team with Taurasi'.

In a somewhat similar vein, although admittedly to a lesser degree, it's difficult not to be thoroughly impressed with Ros Casares also. I was sceptical after their clear-out last summer and they too have had the double whammy of some pre-season upheaval and things not exactly going to plan during the season itself.

Natalia Hejkova
Many thought that Ros Casares were taking a gamble when they dediced to replace Jordi Fernandez with Natalia Hejkova, but it sure paid off in the best possible way

They had to stomach the rather bitter pill of seeing the likes of Amaya Valdemoro and Elisa Aguilar return to win the Copa De La Reina on their home-floor and then they even had to change their coach - yet here they are. In Final Four once again and having done it in just two quarter-final games, including a terrific road win at Bourges.

I tip my hat in admiration. I am not quite sure whether I should apologise for not believing in the ‘Ros Revolution' since they did have to go to a Plan B themselves with the appointment of Coach Hejkova but I am happy to say be proven wrong is never something I mind - however it happens.

While eulogising about Sparta&K and Ros Casares, I guess it is only fair to congratulate both UMMC Ekaterinburg for making the Final Four again (this time in quite devastating fashion) and also Halcon Avenida who return after a one year's absence having ruthlessly despatched Wisla-Can Pack to help us avoid a repeat of 2010!

Finally, since much of the talk this season has centered around Fenerbahce, I can only imagine how they must be feeling. While I prefer to consider Ekat as being always the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to Final Four, I think Fener might be feeling what it must be like to be jilted at the altar right now.

They dealt with everything fate threw at them with such aplomb during the Qualifying Round and offered so much promise. However, the cold and unpalatable facts are that despite all of that significant investment, they made it just one round further than their arch rivals Galatasaray and have missed out on Final Four yet again.

It will be intriguing to see if Fenerbahce can bounce back next season and if they do, whether they will take the ruthless Ros Casares approach or perhaps more prudently, just accept they came up against a champion team with heart, the kind of which money alone can't buy.


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