|Players came and went this season, but Nevriye Yilmaz has been steady value since day one, averaging 16.6 points and seven rebounds so far|
By Paul Nilsen
Fenerbahce head coach Laszlo Ratgeber knows what it feels like to win the EuroLeague Women and yet the club he once led to glory and his former assistant coach are now threatening to ruin his title dreams.
The amiable coach will welcome his former side-line partner in crime Pokey Chatman and Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje to Istanbul next week for game one of arguably the most eagerly anticipated EuroLeague Women play-off series in years.
Having won four successive titles, including that top of the podium finish with Ratgeber at the helm during 2009, the Russian giants are hoping to wreck any chances of the play-caller finishing top of the pile once again and ending their golden run.
Fenerbahce are of course a club that has been lavish in their pursuit of the 2011 title although even after their substantial investment in trying to land the coveted trophy come April, it's hard to disagree with Ratgeber that they will have done it the hard way after being drawn with the reigning champions.
"It's a fantastic game ahead of us, a great series in fact but I think we must be the most unlucky top seeded team ever.
"First our turn was to play Galatasaray, then now it's the four-time defending champion! We stopped Sylvia Fowles and won the duel in the eighth-finals but last Saturday in the Turkish League we were not focused enough and they beat us easily.
"Galatasaray showed how strong they really are and how big a success it was for us to go through them, especially in just two games."
"Now it's Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje," the Hungarian coach says.
While Ratgeber may have parted company and left Moscow a little earlier than he may have wished having won the title, his love for the club has not been diluted and his respect for the coach that replaced him couldn't be more evident as he prepares for a nostalgic trip back to Russia in game two.
|Ratgeber has nothing but praise for Sparta&K head coach and one time assistant of his Pokey Chatman|
"If you ask me about my feelings I can tell you that I have only good memories from Vidnoje. The managerial staff were always nice to me."
"Pokey Chatman helped me a lot to win EuroLeague Women. We co-operated well and she was an excellent assistant coach, a real partner."
"She has also subsequently showed during the results of the last two EuroLeague Women seasons that she is a great head coach, too."
"When I congratulated her personally for winning the title last year, I told her she had deserved it totally because she had helped Natalia Hejková once and she had helped me another time to win the titles."
"In short, Sparta&K M.R Vidnoje are a club with great organisation, coaching staff and roster. They are also a team with lots of experience."
While Ratgeber has nothing but good things to say about his former employers, this has not diminished his determination to put one over on his former club.
In particular the coach is eager to take advantage of the current position they had to fight so hard to get themselves into by having to conquer UMMC Ekateringburg during the Qualifying Round and shrug off some major personnel issues.
"We really want to beat them. We fought the whole season for pole position and for the home court advantage throughout the play-offs. Losing Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor is like the Chicago Bulls losing Jordan and Pippen. Or it would have been interesting to see what Phoenix Mercury could have done had they lost these two superstars.
"Our system has been working. We really changed our game, but the fighting spirit has remained the same.
"We are still working on our chemistry and I think we are ready for a historic result.
"I believe we can stop the four-time defending champion achieving a fifth title in a row, thus making the Final Four for the first time in Fenerbahce history," the Turkish club coach adds.
"Our biggest success is that we did not go down in flames during the storm that struck us. This shows the great character of my players and both the stability and power of the organisation."
"It is going to be very hard but without huge waves there are no good sailors."