By Paul Nilsen
|Not many coaches get to participate in a EuroLeague Women Final and even fewer in their first year in the competition, like Rivas head coach Miguel Martinez Mendez|
For a second season in a row, a Spanish coach will lift the EuroLeague Women title with a Spanish team but even more impressively, they will once again accomplish this feat during their rookie season in the competition.
Last year of course, Lucas Mondelo led Perfumerias Avenida to a glorious Final Four title success in Ekaterinburg during his rookie campaign and now either Miguel Mendez or Roberto Iniguez will follow in his footsteps.
It's quite a remarkable situation and you really have to tip your hat in admiration to not only the individuals themselves but also to the Spanish Federation and in the case of Iniguez, to Ros Casares General Manager Carme Lluveras.
Criticised by some for her seemingly ruthless approach in disposing of Natalia Hejkova earlier in the season, Lluveras didn't go for another big name but put trust in Iniguez to make a successful transition into the hot-seat.
And, while it is far from a case of mission accomplished just yet and while the shadow of the Copa Del Reina failure still looms large, you wouldn't back against a rampant Ros Casares finally getting their hands on the title they crave so much.
I'm sure many people and even his fellow coaches would scoff a little since it's absolutely the case Iniguez has an embarrassment of riches to choose from with such a deep and talented roster.
But, this also brings its own problems and juggling court time for so many bona-fide top level players and being successful in EuroLeague Women is hardly a cake-walk - just ask any coach of UMMC Ekaterinburg in recent years.
Whatever he says outwardly, I am pretty sure Iniguez will be feeling the heat right now because he is so close and yet so far from being hailed as the man who finally did it for Valencia. I have been impressed with the way he has got his team playing right when it matters and his rotations have been very effective so far.
Naturally Ros Casares head into the final as red-hot favourites but if there is one team that seems destined to upset the odds then it is Rivas Ecopolis, so expertly guided by Coach Mendez.
In truth, it's been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for him in terms of the wider landscape since his team endured a slightly disappointing Liga Femenina season but that was hardly surprising in a campaign ravaged by serious injuries.
Nobody is looking at the Liga Femenina standings or their domestic post-season prospects right now though. Quite frankly, at this moment in time, who cares?
Mendez has done a quite unbelievable job in what is also his first taste of coaching EuroLeague Women ball. He will be the first to give credit to his players but when you strip back the various factors in their terrific achievement of even getting to Istanbul and throw in the fact nobody gave them a prayer of getting near to the final - you really have to hand it to him.
He has his players playing the smartest basketball in the tournament, they have showed really great fight, composure and execution throughout. Above anything else, they ooze confidence in what they are doing individually and collectively while all being wrapped up in such strong belief they can be successful. This is something which is inevitably instilled by the coach.
Just like his players, Mendez finds himself in a win-win situation. Without pressure (other than that which he chooses to put on himself) he can tell his team to go out, play their usual game and enjoy the experience in the final. After all. expectation in the Madrid suburbs was surpassed long before the wheels of the aeroplane even touched down on Turkish soil.
The odds are stacked against Mendez being the man to take the baton from Coach Mondelo as a EuroLeague Women winning coach but his team has defied the odds ever since they stepped onto the court at Final Eight.
Watching on rather intently from the wings will be Mondelo himself who can savour his last few hours as the champion coach while I am assuming Spanish national team boss and Wisla Can-Pack play-caller Jose Hernandez will also be staying to watch two teams he knows so well.
There's no doubt Spanish basketball should feel very blessed to have such a glut of quality coaches at their disposal and immensely proud to be the home of successive EuroLeague Women champions.