|Carme Lluveras, one of the most influential figures in Women's basketball, insists Ros are not travelling to Ekaterinburg just to make up the numbers|
By Jeff Taylor
Ros Casares are less than two weeks away from playing in another EuroLeague Women Final Four.
The Valencia outfit lost to Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje in last year's title game when hosting the event in Spain and then had a major shake-up in playing personnel, while also changing the coach.
Jordi Fernandez replaced Isma Canto at the helm and a host of players like Marta Fernandez, Rebbekah Brunson, Katie Douglas, Nuria Martinez and Nicky Anosike joined the side last summer.
If it's not been player and coaching signings keeping Ros Casares in the headlines, it's been surprise defeats.
In hosting the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) Final Four, Ros beat Mann Filter Zaragoza to reach the final but then lost to Rivas Ecopolis.
In the two defeats to Rivas Ecopolis this season, former Ros Casares fan favorites Elisa Aguilar and Amaya Valdemoro - two of the players not re-signed after last season - led Rivas to victory.
Even worse is that rivals Halcon Avenida have won all three of their meetings, including the season-opening Supercopa.
There has been twists and turns.
One example is Ros deciding to replace Fernandez after their 2-1 first round EuroLeague Women play-off triumph over MKB Euroleasing Sopron with Slovakian great Natalia Hejkova.
Hejkova immediately led Ros to a 2-0 sweep of Bourges to earn a spot in the Final Four, but the plot thickened when the club lost recent signing Sonia Reis to a season-ending knee injury in training.
A protagonist in the Ros Casares soap opera has been General Manager Carme Lluveras and she spoke to Basketball World News.
|Sónia Reis's injury has seriously weakened the Ros Casares frontline ahead of the EuroLeague Women Final Four|
Having just seen your team suffer a heavy home defeat to Halcon Avenida, how do you assess the status of the team?
Carme Lluveras: "The worst moment. As you know, three interior players have had injury problems. Our signing, Sonia Reis, that was supposed to help us in interior play but she has had knee surgery. Rebbekah Brunson in the (second) game against Bourges had a serious knee injury and Nicky Anosike also has knee problems and we were draining fluid from her knee. It's a horrible time in our journey for our aims."
Defensively you must have concerns before the Final Four, especially considering you're going up against an Halcon Avenida frontline that has your former player, Erika De Souza, and Spain international Sancho Lyttle?
"Our interior play is not very strong but the arrival of our new coach (Hejkova) has strengthened our defense. We are going to the Final Four to win it although now we have so many problems. We've had almost a month to recover, to get the team back, for the new coach to have more time to work with the team. I am convinced that we will be a different team in the Final Four."
The coaching change was like a bolt out of the blue for a lot of people in Europe, and even your players. Why did you replace Fernandez with Hejkova, especially after he'd guided you to victory past Sopron?
"We needed to change the mentality. We were a team that was not convinced of its potential. Nata has brought security to the team, solid work on defense and allowed us to have a lot of confidence to know who we are and to believe in victory. We had a very negative approach before. There has been a leap in quality in the team. We maybe have not played great basketball, but we showed against Bourges that we are a team that fights and that is competitive."
The Sonia Reis knee injury was very, very bad for the player, but also Ros Casares because she had made a nice impact on the team. What is her status?
"Sonia is staying here and we want her to recover well because she is a very interesting and very important player for us in the future. Her injury was a big blow for her and for us. We have to have hope and see if we can recover her for the start of next season. The fact that you cannot sign new players with one month to go means that teams are not able to play at their optimum level in such a great competition as the Final Four is. Maybe this is something that should be considered. This is not good for the Final Four but it's only my opinion."
|Lluveras confirms that Natalia Hejkova's mentality fits that of the club and wants her to continue at her post|
Sparta&K signed 40-year-old Taj McWilliams during the Christmas break after losing Lauren Jackson to injury and she's been magnificent. She was on the books of Ros at the beginning of the season. Do you regret not signing her for the entire season?
"McWilliams is a very good player but she was here for a month and had a lot of problems, with her back. These players don't have time to rest, with the WNBA and European competitions. These players don't stop. They need to rest."
There is always speculation about where players will sign in the summer. Is Alba Torrens on the Ros Casares radar?
"I like a lot of players and Alba has the biggest future in Spanish basketball. But I think she will go to Russia or Turkey. It's impossible for us to pay the money that Sparta&K or Galatasaray pay. In Spain it's very important that we don't lose our heads. In the last five years, we have played in three Final Fours. This is important. If we lose our head, we don't have a future."
What is the philosophy at Ros Casares in terms of signing players?
"Here we have steps in salaries that are very logical. We don't want to pay for one player that has one or two EuroLeagues when we have players that have played in seven EuroLeagues and don't earn that money. We need to have a balance."
What about Hejkova? Why did you just sign her for the remainder of the season? Is she keeping the seat warm for another big name?
"Nata has a contract until the end of the season but Nata will continue with us. We want her to continue and we are happy to have her. She is happy here. We did not want to give Nata a contract for next season, too, because we wanted to see if she would adapt to Ros Casares and to Valencia. It was important for her to like us. She has (participated in) nine Final Fours and won four of them. She is the best coach we could have. We are very happy. I don't think we will have any problems for her to continue for one or two seasons more. She has taken us to the Final Four and changed the face of all the team and she knows a lot of basketball."
You have talked about the attitude of signing players. Anything else for the fans of this club to get excited about?
"We will soon have an arena for ourselves. Our fans love us, protect us and try to come when they can to help us reach victories."