EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|Yelena Leuchanka missed the Qualification Round for EuroBasket Women but will be back on board this summer |
By Paul Nilsen
Some two years after shedding the wrong kind of tears at EuroBasket Women 2011, the bitter taste of disappointment is still lingering for Yelena Leuchanka and Belarus.
Having achieved success in the five years prior to playing in Poland, the wheels came off when instead of pushing for a podium place and Olympic berth, they found themselves with an early ticket home to Minsk, meaning the center is now desperate to make amends.
"Honestly it's crazy - it's been two years now and I still have a bitter taste in my mouth and I'm sure my teammates do too," bemoaned Leuchanka.
"Maybe mentally we just weren't there and maybe pressure played a role - I still really don't know.
"They say it's hard to get to the top, but it's even harder to stay there.
"We now have a lot to prove, but only to ourselves - I know we will be ready this year."
She added, "The main thing is to have everybody healthy. I really hope we have Tatyana Troina back, since she was the key during qualification and we definitely need her.
"When it comes to expectation, I think we expect a lot from ourselves.
"To do better than two years ago and gain back the confidence when we played in previous tournaments! We want a medal and that's what our goal is."
Leuchanka missed out on qualifying and admitted having to endure the torture of dealing with torn priorities, between club and country.
She said, "Yes, unfortunately it remains a painful decision.
"Last year, I was hoping to play with my national team and thought there would be an understanding from my WNBA team, whereby I could play and still come back. But, that was not the case and so I was fully committed to the [Atlanta] Dream last year.
"This year, I was really hoping for understanding and co-operation where the team would allow me to play for my national team and then allow me to come back in July.
"But, not everything works how you want and we didn't come to a mutual agreement."
"Anyway, the girls did a really amazing job last summer," continued Leuchanka.
"I was keeping up with them through the whole tournament and while people outside of Belarus didn't expect them to win, we have proven quite a few times that impossible is nothing!
|"It's definitely a once in a lifetime experience," said Leuchank of her season playing in China |
"I am already familiar with coach [Rimantas] Grigas, from playing for him in Ekaterinburg and with his style of play.
"He emphasises defence a lot and I like that, so I pretty much knew what to expect and what's expected of me."
Last season, she left Russia and ventured even further west, landing in China with Liaoning, in what turned out to be an unforgettable experience.
"Oh man - it's definitely a once in a lifetime experience and it took me some time to adjust to the culture, food and hardly anybody speaking English," laughed Leuchanka.
"But, it truly amazed me just how much people love basketball in China and how supportive they are. The venues are full every game with between 5000 and 6000 fans.
"They also work tremendously hard every single day, most of the time twice a day, with hardly any days off and with 2-3 hours practice.
"So yes, this was definitely a change for me, but life is all about change and it was good for me. I did what I love doing, playing basketball!"
Wherever she is in the world, her love for basketball is inevitably accompanied by a desire to enjoy fashion and modelling - something which shows no sign of slowing down.
"Modelling and doing photo-shoots are like art to me - the different lighting, angles and expressions.
"All this is so important to create a piece and I absolutely love and enjoy doing it - it's my second passion," she said with a broad smile.
"It's not easy for us female athletes in that world. There are so many stereotypes that I really try to break down, so it's very much a work in progress.
"All this involves networking, meeting new people and participating in all kinds of events that allow me to be in a different world outside of basketball.
"I am not completely sure what the post-career move will be, but I definitely have a few things in process that I'm working on!"
Before Leuchanka thinks about swapping the court for the catwalk permanently, she will proudly step out for her nation against Croatia, Czech Republic and Lithuania in Group D.