| ||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. |
With only a month to go until the tip-off of a brand new Euroleague Women season, its time to assess who can make the Final Four and who will be left treading water in the elite club competition of the Women's game in Europe.
With eight new teams it promises to be a fascinating and thrilling season as the 24 clubs battle it out in the first round for a place in the last sixteen.
In the first part of our preview of Group A, we look at three domestic champions, including one front-runner that did make it to the final weekend last year and will be hoping to go one better this time.
TEO VILNIUS (Lithuania)
|Rebekkah Brunson will be one of the key players for Cras Basket.|
Perennial domestic champions of Lithuania and winners of the BWBL (Baltic Womens Basketball League), the Vilnius club have recently completed ten successive seasons in European competition. They know what it takes to reach the latter stages having reached back to back the EuroLeague Women Final Four tournaments in 2005 and 2006.
TEO have a rich history in Lithuania, once winning a truly astonishing 193 successive games in the LMKL but things will prove a lot tougher in EuroLeague as they re-build a completely new team. Coach Paulauskas coached his country to 11th spot at Eurobasket Women 2009 with several TEO players in that roster but after a summer clean out, they have mostly gone including FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year for 2008 Gintare Petronyte who has signed for BC Athinaikos. The same can be said for the likes of the experienced pairing Ausra Bimbaite and Rima Valentiene.
Despite the departures, there are some really interesting recruits for TEO including WNBA pairing Renee Montgomery and Quanitra Hollingsworth who both played for the Minnesota Lynx this summer. The duo will now make their EuroLeague Women debuts together but perhaps the arrival of Chioma Nnamaka is the best piece of news for Coach Paulauskas. The Swedish International has EuroLeague Women experience, (a rare commodity for TEO this year) having spent last year with Union Hainaut of France.
Euroleague Women 08/09 - Went out in the last 16 against UMMC Ekaterinburg having only just qualified via the fourth spot in Group D with a 5-5 record.
Domestic League 08/09 - Regular league champions in Lithuania and also Baltic lifted a third successive BWBL championship
Star Choice - Guard Renee Montgomery was an NCAA champion, fourth pick in the WNBA draft and has recently made the WNBA All-Rookie Team in her first summer with Minnesota Lynx where she averaged nine points per game.
Rising Star - Quanitra Hollingsworth is a center who at just 20 years old has also just completed a first WNBA season with the Lynx and will provide some real power in the paint.
Did You Know? - New signing Mika Bejilica will join brother Miko Bjelica in Lithuania. Miko is playing with Lietuvos Rytas and so the pair will both be playing their basketball in Vilnius during 2009/10.
What They Say
"I think that our group is the strongest one in EuroLeague Women. We have four champions of national competitions and the winner of FIBA EuroCup (Galatasaray). We so respect them all! Anyway, we hope to get to the second round playing good basketball for us and also for our fans. We have an absolutely new team, a lot of players that have no Euroleague experience but we are sure that if we continue working hard, we'll make ourselves both better and stronger." Head Coach Rutenis Paulauskas
UMMC EKATERINBURG (Russia)UMMC are a European powerhouse who engages in a battle royale each year with great rivals Spartak Moscow Region for both domestic and European glory. They have a team packed with stellar European and WNBA names, all looking to make-up for their Semi-Final exit at last years Final Four in Spain.
They continue to try and find the right formula to land the title they last won in 2003 and have brought in some new faces to compliment those they have retained from last year. Russian legend Maria Stepanova returns as does national team-mate Sveltana Abrosimova having both secured silver medals at Eurobasket 2009.
The core of the team will again be built around established WNBA players such as Cappie Pondexter and Deanna Nolan plus young French sensation Sandrine Gruda and Polish superstar Agnieszka Bibrzycka.
While it was rumoured that another Olympic gold medallist could be lined up in the form of the explosive Candace Parker, that situation continues to bubble away without yet coming to fruition. However the additions of the experienced Ann Wauters and Bourges point guard Celine Dumerc could be the key to their season.
It is also noticeable that the club have signed some good young Russian players this year including Tatiana Bokareva and Elena Volkova and they will be hoping Coach Gundars Vetra gives them a chance to shine alongside the more established names.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Finished in third place having took first place in Group C with a 9-1 rexcord. Lost to Spartak 74-83 in the Semi-Finals. Went on to claim bronze by beating MKB Euroleasing of Hungary
Domestic League 08/09 - Won the Russian Cup, regular season league title and play-off championship
Star Choice - You could pick just about any member of the team but Ann Wauters joining is something to get excited about. A Euroleague and WNBA All Star, the Belgian center averaged a near 18 points and 9 rebounds in Euroleague last year and her move from CSKA to link back up with Stepanova is one of the talking points of the summer.
Rising Star - Like every other young Russian player, Tatiana Bokareva faces a fight to establish herself but the center has the talent to make big strides having made the switch from Vologda-Chevakata during the summer. She enjoyed an excellent World Student Games and made the original senior EuroBasket squad before missing the final cut. A great shot blocker who has European experience having averaged 12.4 points in EuroCup last year.
Did You Know? - , The USA team will compete next weekend in the 2009 Ekaterinburg International Invitational and go up against UMMC in a tournament that will also include fellow Euroleague participants MKB Euroleasing Sopron from Hungary and USK Praha from the Czech Republic.
What They Say
"Ekat will definitely be competing for the EuroLeague Women and Russian league titles again. We know that we have a lot of work to do but I trust that our coach will have us prepared and ready to go." Star guard Cappie Pondexter
CRAS BASKET TARANTO (Italy)
Having secured the Italian championship at the end of last season in addition to making the final of EuroCup, they make the transition to EuroLeague Women hoping that they can reach the last 16 in their debut season. Continuity will be a big positive for Taranto as they have retained the bulk of their roster from the last couple of years and they will be led by WNBA star Rebekkah Brunson who missed out last season with an injury.
The likes of American Megan Mahoney and EuroBasket 2009 gold medallist Elodie Godin will no doubt be providing their usual reliable contributions while Coach Roberto Ricchini has drafted in experienced Italian Sara Giauro to bolster his bench. The only real significant changes come in the backcourt where the play-caller will now have the scoring potential of Jami Montagnino and athleticism of Belgian International Kathy Wambe to call on. Will be tough but they should scrape into the next stage.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Did not participate. Runners up in EuroCup.
Domestic League 08/09 - Regular season and play-off champions
Star Choice - Rebekkah Brunson is a high quality and seasoned WNBA player and bona-fide star of the European game. She has previously won the EuroCup with Dynamo Moscow, been a FIBA All Star player and is capable of racking up some serious numbers. Suffered with a serious injury but was back to her best with Sacramento this summer in the WNBA, and the contribution of the forward will be significant.
Rising Star - Jami Montagnino is a player who brings offensive firepower to Taranto after being one of the few bright spots last year in a disastrous season for Ribera. The guard averaged 16 points per game in the Italian A1 last season as well as double digits in Euro Cup and will provide a potent perimeter threat as she looks to prove she can cut it at this next level.
Did You Know? - Having lost the EuroCup Final last season in an overtime heart-breaker against Galatasaray, they will have to face their conquerors again after the Turkish team were also drawn in Euroleague Group A.
What They Say
"This is the first Euroleague experience for many of us on the team, so we know we have our work cut out. We do have some experience and that will be crucial to our success. We will be undersized compared to most other teams in Euroleague but our goal is to pay attention to the details even more than usual. Things like setting great screens for each other, boxing out as best we can, and just being on the same page as our coach and the rest of our team-mates. If we pay attention to detail and find the right chemistry, it's our only chance of getting past these great Euroleague teams we will be matched up against in this first round group stage." New signing Jami Montagnino