Paulball: EuroLeague Women Rising Stars

17 March 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

As EuroLeague Women pauses between the All Star Game and Final Four, there's no better time to assess the impact of the younger players in the tournament.

There are of course, plenty of rising stars right across European basketball and many of us have enjoyed watching them ever since they shone brightly for their respective National Teams at youth level. Some have also since broken through at senior level too and will be pushing for selection at EuroBasket Women 2011.

In addition, many young players have excelled in their respective domestic leagues and also in EuroCup Women - something many have been doing since they were teenagers.

Of course due to the qualifying nature of EuroLeague Women, only a limited number get the opportunity to test themselves at the very highest level in the elite club competition of Women's basketball.

Nevertheless, each season we are fortunate enough to be able to track the progress of those younger players who do get to tread the EuroLeague Women boards as they look to rise to the fore and continue their development alongside the more experienced campaigners.

This year has been no different and, in fact, it has been a pretty good year for those of us who enjoy young players meeting the challenge of EuroLeague Women head on and following in the footsteps of players such as Alba Torrens, Katerina Elhotova and Jelena Milovanovic who have arguably already established themselves despite their tender age of 21.

13. Marija Vrsaljko (Gospic Croatia)
21-year-old Croatian center Marija Vrsaljko averaged 13.2 points and 5.5 rebounds for Gospic Croatia

Here is a countdown of who has caught the eye in 2010-11.

Marija Vrsaljko (Gospic Croatia Osiguranje)

The Croatian center was for me, arguably the stand out breakthrough player of the season with her performances perhaps dropping off the radar because her team weren't winning games.

However, right from the first minute of the season, Vrsaljko really did perform to a great level which resulted in her finishing the season with 13.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game - an excellent return.

Perhaps most impressively of all she did it in a tough group with a combined 30 points in her first two games against Ekat and Fenerbahce worthy of note.

Top of my list however is the fact that she was hugely efficient, each week you just couldn't knock her contribution and consequently she finished the season as the second most potent finisher inside the perimeter of any player in the competition.

That in itself is a really terrific achievement and I have to say I was absolutely devastated to hear she had sustained a serious injury recently, something which has curtailed a memorable season.

Tijana Krivacevic (MKB EuroLeasing)

Having been drafted by Seattle in the WNBA, eyes on both sides of The Pond have been tracking the progress of Krivacevic this season.

Of course it's not as if we didn't know about Tijana since she has now completed four seasons of EuroLeague Women and played at EuroBasket Women 2009.

She also enjoyed a great 2010 EuroLeague Women season but still only 20 years old, her performances during the Qualifying Round really did show she has what it takes to be a big player in more ways than one.

She averaged 12.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and also managed to rack up a score of more than 20 points on four separate occasions.

Another great young player and of course it can't be bad when the only team-mates bettering your numbers are Angel McCoughtry and Amber Holt.

Ana Cata-Chitiga (Tarbes Gespe Bigorre)

Cata-Chitiga played her fourth season of EuroLeague Women with a third different French club and while on face value her numbers might not represent a huge uplift on the 2010 campaign, she did put in a career best 22 point performance against Galatasaray Medical Park.

Overall her numbers have been comparable to last year and this is what I like about Cata-Chitiga, she has now delivered solid back to back seasons in the tournament and at 21 is still learning her trade and could improve further.

She does of course face a big fight to make the multi-talented France team that will head to EuroBasket Women in June but it isn't beyond her reach.

13. Marina Solopova (VICI Aistes)
Lithuanian guard-forward Marina Solopova started the season with VICI Aistes and finished it with Good Angels Kosice

Marina Solopova (VICI Aistes & Good Angels Kosice)

Solopova really has been sensational this year and it has been her fearlessness in games that I have loved the most.

Despite her age and relative inexperience, she has really taken it to the opposition all season long and it's paid dividends, so much so that after her terrific efforts for VICI Aistes during the Qualifying Round she was snapped up by Good Angels Kosice during the post season and still produced there too.

Inside and outside she was consistent and averaged 11.5 points per game in just 21 minutes of action with one particularly memorable game against Tarbes when she poured in 28 points.

She really has delivered against the promise she showed in 2008 when she was a gold medal winner with Lithuania at U18 level and will be hoping to have a big impact at EuroBasket Women this summer with the senior team if she gets the nod from Algirdas Paulauskas.

Giedre Paugaite (VICI Aistes)

Paugaite is another member of the Lithuanian U18 European Championship winning team from 2008 and the VICI Aistes team who won so many admirers for their performances this season.

Having averaged less than 4 points per game during the 2010 campaign, Paugaite finished the current season with a near 11 points and 6 rebounds per game which was excellent and one of the major reasons for the success of the Kaunas based club.

She too will be hoping to play at EuroBasket Women 2011 in Poland and further highlights why the future for Lithuania could be really bright.

She scored double digits in six of her ten EuroLeague Women games and only missed out on what would have been terrific back to back double-double performances by a single rebound during November.

It's little wonder she played more minutes for VICI Aistes than any other player. Not bad for a 20-year-old!

Elina Babkina (Lotos Gdynia)

While the season started off poorly for Lotos Gdynia resulting in a change of coach, the same could hardly be said for 21-year-old Elina Babkina who opened her account with a magnificent double-double of 11 points and 10 assists.

Ever since her first game she has performed really well and flourished in recent months under the tutelage of George Dikeoulakos who encouragingly for Babkina, also doubles up as Latvia National Team coach.

While she was already on all of our radars having played in the Olympics, Babkina deserves to be on this list for the development she has shown this season of 13.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and a super four assists per game.

She now has an All Star appearance under her belt too, which was the perfect recognition of her accomplishments this season and won the Polish Cup Final also.

If selected for Latvia as expected, she will certainly be one of the rising talents to put on the first page of your notebook for watching with interest in Poland.

Yes, the conveyor belt of young talent passing through EuroLeague Women continues to roll and sparkle in the process. Even better, it will soon be time to check out the National Teams at all levels this summer and guess who might be on next year's list.


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