| ||Paul 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. |
When the draw for EuroLeague Women was made during the summer I suspect a sense of agony was etched on the faces of those who were drawn up against the mighty UMMC Ekaterinburg, even those of Spanish champions Ros Casares Valencia.
With ambitious EuroCup holders Galatasaray now also catapulted into the mix, it is hardly surprising that Group A appears to be as tough as it gets - a daunting task in particular for a young TTT Riga team.
ROS CASARES VALENCIA (Spain)
|Sophia Young will once again lead Galatasaray into Europe.|
Last season was tough for Ros Casares Valencia after failing to make the EuroLeague Women Final Four held in Salamanca. While the Spanish champions did cushion the blow by dominating domestically, they now have their sights set back on Europe again.
Their main quest will be to get over the hump of the quarter-final stage which has bitten them far too many times in recent years and with big talent on the roster as usual including three WNBA play-off finalists and several National Team stars, this should ensure another comfortable passage to the last sixteen.
Delisha Milton-Jones is arguably the biggest name but she is joined by the likes of Brazilian Erika De Souza of the Atlanta Dream and made her first All Star appearance in her fourth WNBA season. Forward Anna Montanana helped Spain secure bronze at EuroBasket averaging over 16 points per game while also making her WNBA debut with Minnesota Lynx. There is also three Spanish Internationals in Elisa Aguilar, Laia Palau and the hugely experienced and talented Amaya Valdemoro. She managed a team high 17 points per game in EuroLeague Women last season while the shrewd acquisition of San Antonio Silver Stars forward Belinda Snell and Serbian Ljubica Drljaca adds further depth, meaning Ros Casares look seriously ready to roll once again.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Finished 2nd place (8-2) in Group C with an 8-2 record and then ended up losing to Spartak Moscow region in the quarter finals
Domestic League 08/09 - Won a Spanish treble with the Championships, Cup and first place during the regular league season.
Star Choice - Delisha Milton-Jones is one of the most instantly recognisable faces of the Womens game. The veteran has seen it all and done it all on both sides of the Atlantic. She averaged over 16 points and almost 6 rebounds in EuroLeague Women last year and has been influential in the usual high class season of LA Sparks in the WNBA. The kind of player that lends the class and experience needed to have a shot at making the Final Four.
Rising Star - Twenty year old Regina Palusna is a big talent. She suffered an injury last year which curtailed her action but she is now back to full form and fitness having made it to EuroBasket 2009 with Slovakia. Has EuroCup experience and her mid range jump shot and abilities in the post are worth watching as they develop.
Did You Know? - Valencia are the only Spanish team to have secured European club championships when they won back to back titles in 1992 and 1993. The second victory came courtesy of the first ever overtime played in a single final.
What They Say
"This season will be very important for us because our club celebrate the 10th Anniversary. Belinda Snell is a player that we have tried to join in previous seasons. She has very much physical talent and a great long distance shot". Ljubica Drljaca can help us both in two positions. She has six seasons of experience in the French League and this is very important for us". General Manager Carme Lluveras
"We have 8 players from the last season and this situation is very important for us because must of the players know the coach and his work. I will be very happy if we arrive to the Final Four" Spanish National Team and Minnesota Lynx forward Anna Montanana.
Last year's EuroCup winners make the switch to EuroLeague Women this season and have approached the step up in class by drafting in the exciting scorer Jia Perkins. The player has had two solid back to back seasons in the WNBA with Chicago Sky and has always ripped it up in Europe. While Perkins will provide the points replacing the free scoring and currently injured Seimone Augustus, it could be the addition of Czech Republic center Ivana Vecerova and the athletic Yelena Leuchanka that could make the difference. Vecerova has been playing in Europe since she was a teenager and joins from Ros Casaras while Leuchanka moves from UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Belarus star hoping to provide the kind of power and skills around the basket she showcased during EuroBasket 2009.
Once again Sophia Young will be a huge player for the team in her third season with the club who also have plenty of Turkey national team players to call on including a host of EuroBasket 2009 competitors including guards Tugba Palazoglu and Nilay Yigit. Backed by their fanatical fans and with a decent mix of talent and experience, they could be dark horses.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Did not participate. (EuroCup winners)
Domestic League 08/09 - Fourth place in the regular league and runner-up in the Turkish Cup
Star Choice -Sophia Young is a classy forward who has enjoyed a superb couple of years. A big factor in EuroCup success last year, she has averaged almost 20 points per game during the summer in the WNBA with San Antonio Silver Stars to underline her capacity to light it up this year in EuroLeague Women.
Rising Star - Turkish guard Yaseman Saylar has only just turned 19 but will play a third season in Europe. She also managed to clinch a place at EuroBasket 2009 with the senior national team during the summer and has big talent but at this level needs to improve her perimeter shooting.
Did You Know? - Belarusian center Yelena Leuchanka has played for three of the teams in the Group having previously been at both TEO Vilnius and UMMC Ekaterinburg.
What They Say - "I have played EuroLeague Women for 12 years so I know what to expect from a very long and tough competition. It's hard to say exactly what we can achieve but I hope we can get good results. It will be difficult to make something better than last year in Europe as being a champion of EuroCup means a lot. Unfortunately we were not lucky in the group and having to meet Ros Casares and Ekaterinburg in the first phase will be hard work but maybe we can make a surprise in these games. We will have to show our abilities in the other games which also won't be easy. I believe that we have a lot of power to do it and also great fans as a sixth player to support us." Czech Republic Center Ivana Vecerova
After we won EuroCup last year, expectations have become really high for our team.
We have a very good history of EuroLeague Women but only from years ago. We know it is very different from EuroCup and is more competitive with stronger teams trying to be successful. Our goal for this year is to get experience and try to maybe reach the quarter finals and domestically to get the Championship and the Turkish Cup. We have a very good team and we have capacity to do that so I hope everything goes well for us and we can get our goals this year." Turkey National Team forward Yasemin Horasan
TTT RIGA (Latvia)
A very young TTT Riga are embarking on a third EuroLeague Women campaign with the first two seasons having harvested seven wins including a memorable overtime victory against 2006 champions Gambrinus Brno. However, four wins during last season still wasn't enough to make it past the group stage, finishing in fifth spot - a repeat of 2007/08.
The club have a solid spine of four current Latvian national team players including young center Aija Brumermane, small forward Dita Krumberga, shooting guard Kristine Karklina and point guard Anda Eibele. In addition, forward Ieva Veinberga participated in the National Team try-outs, before missing the final cut while shooting guard Santa Dreimane played in the semi-finals of EuroBasket Women 2007. They also have two promising young players in center Liga Surkusa and guard Linda Pagrode.
To bolster their roster during the summer, the club have added two new faces with the acquisitions of Spanish center and EuroBasket Women 2009 bronze medal winner Cindy Lima as well as young American forward Lyndra Littles . Nevertheless, a lack of quality, experience and a big time score in a tough looking group means they will do well to finish in the top four and reach the next stage.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Took 5th place in Group B with a 4-6 record
Domestic League 08/09 - Regular season champions
Star Choice - Cindy Lima may not have played for any of the bigger clubs around Europe but has a pedigree at National Team level with Spain. In 14 games during the last 2 tournaments at EuroBasket 2009 and at the Olympics in Beijing she played minutes and got on the score-sheet. That kind of experience in such a young team is invaluable. Solid as a rock at center, she will score, rebound and get some intangibles the team needs.
Rising Star - Center Liga Surkusa is still only 18 but making steady progress and making the transition to the first team. She also hit two unlikely last gasp three-pointers at the U20 European Championships to secure a bronze medal.
Did You Know? - Riga won a phenomenal 16 European titles during an 18 year spell of domination between 1960 and 1977
What They Say
"EuroLeague Women will definitely be a huge experience for us. We are a young team and I think our group is one of the toughest for sure, especially UMMC Ekaterinburg and Ros Casares who are the strong favourites." TTT Riga and Latvia National Team guard Anda Eibele
"The maximum goal is the same - to qualify for the play-offs. At the same time it will be even more difficult than before because Group A is a really tough one. Most of the TTT Riga players generally don't have EuroLeague Women experience so it will take time to adapt. They lack firepower on offence, so defence will be the key. Their tactics will be to win as much home encounters as possible and go step by step, game by game." Sportacentrs.com journalist Maris Noviks
"We have some pretty young basketball players in our team this season and for the most of the girls this will be the first year in EuroLeague Women. Moreover, we have a very strong group and we'll do everything to achieve our goal to get into the next round. Our coaches have some good ideas and we still have almost a month to work on it so I believe we can really surprise everybody." Latvia National Team center Aija Brumermane