A competition such as EuroLeague Women is, by its very nature, rather cosmopolitan and perhaps no better underlined by those teams that will battle it out in Group C this year.
It is a collection of clubs that really do tick all of the boxes due to a heady mix of contrasting history, experience and ambitions - factors which promise to both intrigue and delight.
The first three teams in our preview underline why this really could be the Group to watch this year in terms of entertainment value. From a young team that ensured a somewhat shock Final Four appearance last time out to Slovakian giants who won't have the use of their top five scorers from last season and a recently formed Spanish club who skipped the crawling and walking stage of their development and went pretty much straight to running at the highest level.
MKB EUROLEASING (Hungary)
It's quite difficult to pitch a realistic outcome for MKB Euroleasing this season. Like it or not, they have raised the bar of expectation after their super efforts last year in rather unexpectedly making the Final Four.
|Jelena Milovanovic and Dóra Horti hope to be celebrating after this year's EuroLeague again|
Basically the same set of players will somehow have to try and emulate that lofty feat and the team will again be packed with young stars and led by EuroLeague Women All Star forward Jelena Milanovic who was sensational last season. Alongside her, American power forward Amber Holt will again muster near double-doubles while young Tijana Krivacevic will want to continue her impressive development. Dora Horti suddenly seems like almost a veteran at center while in the backcourt, Katalin Honti will provide much of the firepower and direction. The club has however acquired Serbian International guard Maja Milijkovic who fits the bill perfectly at 21 years old and hungry to impress.
For certain the big question is whether the players can deliver again. I am sure they will be there or thereabouts when the knockout rounds come but I think that trying to pull off successive Final Four appearances might prove to be a very tall order!
Euroleague 08/09 - Finished second in Group B with an unremarkable 6-4 record but then made it to Final Four before losing in the semi-finals to Halcon Avenida. Were then edged into fourth place by UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Domestic League 08/09 - League champions
Star Choice - Jelena Milovanovic is just 20 years old but already considered as the future of the Serbia national team. She can score and rebound prolifically but her intelligence and ability to make an outside shot means she can prove to be so tough to guard. Drafted by Washington Mystics and after her terrific 15 points and 5.4 rebounds in EuroLeague Women last year which secured a place in the All Star game, the team will need the same kind of contribution again this year.
Rising Star - 19 year old Tijana Krivacevic utilises her quickness and shooting skills really effectively and having looked unstoppable in Division B for the U20's with 16 points per game, she made it to Latvia for EuroBasket Women. Was one of the unsung heroes in her teams run to Final Four last season and can only get better!
Did You Know? - MKB Euroleasing are the youngest team to have reached the Final Four of EuroLeague Women and if you moved their Arena by only a few kilometres, it would be in Austria!
What They Say
"Last year we had the youngest team in EuroLeague Women which will not change this year either. Because of our Final Four appearance, we were in a good position at the draw in July. This means that our group is not the strongest and we have chance to reach a good place after the group games. But we don't think that we have an easy way until the play offs. EuroLeague Women has the best teams in Europe, so all team have chances to win games. We are also a traditionally successful club which has always been amongst the best teams for many years. That means we would like to continue with this and reach another good result again this season. We have aims, but these aims are specifically not for places but instead we would like to see a modern style of basketball from our team." Head Coach Norbert Székely
"Last year we had an amazing season by making the Final Four! We learned a lot but we are still very young so it will be hard to repeat the results from last year. But one thing I can promise to our fans is that we will fight until the end and try to always give our best! We will of course soon see if this will be enough!" National Team Center Dóra Horti
GOOD ANGELS KOSICE (Slovakia)
With sell-out crowds of 2,500 behind them, Kosice can be a daunting place for opposing teams and that home form will again be pivotal. It's all change for Kosice with the departure of four big hitters in Sidney Spencer, Cathrine Kraayeveld, Linda Fröhlich and Liron Cohen. The quartet were responsible for almost seventy percent of scoring in EuroLeague Women last year.
To compound that even further, supporters will be anxious that Slovakia international forward Anna Jurcenkova, their fifth most prolific option offensively last season has went down for the season with an achilles injury. On the subject of fitness worries, it had appeared that the major void would be more than filled with the signature of WNBA and Team USA ace Chamique Holdsclaw. She averaged 13 points for Atlanta Dream in the WNBA during the summer and almost 17 points last year in EuroLeague Women but news has broken in the last few days that this move is now is serious doubt with the club having seemingly terminated her contract due to concerns over her knee.
One big name who has arrived is Russia national team center Ekaterina Lisina from CSKA Moscow who will do a great job while production will also come from Slovakian forward pairing Luisa Michulkova who returns home from a season in Italy after previously averaging over 12 points per game in EuroLeague Women and Lucia Kupcikova who played in EuroCup last year with MBK Ruzomberok. In summary, with a stellar and experienced All Star like Holdsclaw leading the team, Kosice can qualify again providing their new marquee player stays healthy and the new recruits manage to gel quickly.
Euroleague 08/09 - Finished third in Group D with a 6-4 record and then were comprehensively crushed in both games of the last 16 by Ros Casares.
|Lucia Kupcikova will try to carry her good form from EuroBasket Women into the EuroLeague season|
Domestic League 08/09 - League champions
Star Choice - Chamique Holdsclaw by a distance but now the deal looks to have been shelved it looks like we will have to wait and see who will be her replacement since clearly one is very much needed to be competitive.
Rising Star - Ekaterina Lisina is still 21 years old but later this week will celebrate her Birthday and it could be the time for the promising Russian National team center to really show what she is capable of. After a couple of years at CSKA she could find herself handed some real responsibility in Kosice and she has the game to respond positively. Good finisher and quickness for her size remain her best weapons.
Did You Know? - The Angels element of the club's name comes from those depicted on the Kosice ‘coat of arms', Angels which have also been used to successfully promote the city as European Capital of Culture for 2013.
What They Say - "In the case of Chamique Holdsclaw, in terms of name and achievements, she is the greatest player we have ever received in the Kosice team." General Manager Daniel Jendrichovsky (before news broke their best player may not now be kitting up in Kosice)
RIVAS ECOPOLIS (Spain)
To say that Rivas have come a long way in a short space of time would be the understatement of the year. The club are hoping to establish themselves, in time, as a third Spanish powerhouse along with Ros Casares and Halcon Avenida.
Now the ambitious Madrid outfit are also looking to step up their progress in Europe with a first season of EuroLeague Women. Much of that task will be handed to a several new players.
The signature of explosive Spanish International Anna Cruz in the small forward spot is a major coup while young Tamara Abalde, a fellow Spanish International remains in situ and will be hoping for big things this year.
Meanwhile in the backcourt, Rivas completed their roster by signing Begona Garcia, a move that allows Swedish backcourt partner Elin Eldebrink to move to the two spot.
Rivas look really strong in the paint with a new face at center spot. Andrea Csaszar come in to provide some shooting range on the floor and the ability to get out in transition. That will support the work of Petra Ujhelyi and Jelena Dubljevic who were excellent all last season domestically and in Europe.
Much of the firepower and any dominance in the scoring stakes will come from WNBA pair Catherine Joens who averaged almost 20 points a game in EuroCup last year and the recently signed Team USA center Crystal Langhorne.
Euroleague 08/09 - Did not participate. Finished second in Group C of EuroCup with a 4-2 record and lost to Cypriot club KV Imperial AEL in the next round.
Domestic League 08/09 - Finished third in the regular season behind powerhouses Ros Casares and Halcon Avenida.
|Crystal Langhorne is a marquee signing for Rivas that shows their ambitions in their first ever EuroLeague campaign|
Star Choice - Crystal Langhorne made the EuroLeague Women All-Star Game last year after a really impressive season with TEO Vilnius and recently appeared for Team USA in Ekaterinburg. Langhorne will occupy the power forward spot and make the difference to Rivas qualifying for the next round. She rattled off 17 points per game last season in the competition and spent the summer at Washington Mystics where she continued her fine work. Should be a bona fide star of EuroLeague Women again this year.
Rising Star - Young forward Tamara Abalde finished with U20 silver this summer and second top scorer behind the irrepressible Tournament MVP Alba Torrens. She bagged bronze at EuroBasket Women a year after having played in the Olympics at just 19 year old. Having made her Liga Femenina debut at 16, she has never looked back and must now make an impression at the highest level. Decent all round game gives her an opportunity to really push on this year in this competition.
Did You Know? - Rivas have only ever had four campaigns in the top domestic league in Spain! One season in 2003-04 which ended in relegation and the last three consecutive seasons when they have progressed each year.
What They Say
"This season we confront the European competition with a lot of hope after the experience of the past season in the Eurocup. We know that it is going to be difficult but our first target is to overcome the group phase and if we reach the Play Offs, to try to enjoy it and get as far as we can. We have been provided with a wide playing staff to be able to combine both the league and EuroLeague Women and this means we are able to try and do a good role in both competitions." Head Coach Javier Fort
"This is the first year for us to play in EuroLeague Women and we are very excited to start this competition. Even though we are very young as a team, we have experienced players who offer stability to the young enthusiasm. As this is the highest competition for women in Europe, I think it is going to be very tough but we are going to play very hard with a lot of ambition and take it game by game in order to go as far as we possibly can!" New arrival Andrea Csaszar