| ||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. |
It is a no brainer that entering this elite competition means a tough road for all, but teams would be hard pressed to complain too much about being drawn in Group B of EuroLeague Women this year, for it is arguably more unpredictable and perhaps less cut and dry than most other groups.
In part one of our preview we check out an Italian team hoping to bury their EuroLeague Women nightmares of the past, the vibrancy of youth coming out of Hungary and last years finalists who have spent the summer re-modelling themselves for 2009-10.
BERETTA FAMILA SCHIO (Italy)
|Laura Macchi headlines a long list of local talent for Beretta Famila.|
This could be the year when Schio finally deliver a winning season in EuroLeague Women. Still haunted by previous campaigns after winning only 3 of 33 attempts during three seasons ('03, '06 and '07), they were steady enough last season to build a foundation for improvement and progression this time round.
The team is an experienced one and this could get them past the hurdle of the Qualifying Round. Their aim of the Quarter Finals may seem ambitious, but with a host of Italian national team players having helped Italy to a creditable sixth place finish in Latvia, the signs look encouraging.
Free-scoring star of the Azzurri Laura Macchi lines up alongside fellow forward and former LA Sparks player Raffaella Masciadri who enjoyed a superb time at EuroBasket Women averaging almost 13 points and over 5 rebounds per game. Center Kathrin Ress and guard Chiara Pastore are also both essential to the home-grown spine of the team.
The athletic and former WNBA player Bernadette Ngoysa will return to pound the boards while there is some great experience from the likes of veteran forward Nicole Antibe, and center Marlous Nieuwveen.
Young Marissa Coleman arrives from the WNBA and could be a surprise package while the backcourt has been bolstered with the addition of yet another experienced player in French guard Audrey Sauret-Gillespie from Taranto.
It certainly looks like Schio are placing the trust of getting them past the Qualifying Round in the hands of experienced campaigners and you wouldn't back against them.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Failed to pass the Qualifying Round after finishing fifth in Group D with a 3-7 record
Domestic League 08/09 - Regular season league runners-up
Star Choice - Laura Macchi aka "Chicca" was a former WNBA star with the Sparks and averaged 11 points per game last season showcasing her full repertoire of skills at Eurobasket Women with 16 points per game in Latvia underlining her star value to club and country. Very versatile, always evolving and a big player for Schio.
Rising Star - 22 year old Marissa Coleman has arrived in Europe for her rookie season and the versatile guard/small forward will be hoping to make a big impression. The number three draft pick missed the early part of the WNBA season due to injury but helped the Washington Mystics return to the Playoffs averaging 6.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game meaning she was named in the WNBA All-Rookie team.
Did You Know? - In 2006-07, the club finished their EuroLeague Women campaign with a winless 0-10 record before winning EuroCup the following season!
What They Say
"Our group is very difficult because there are two of the most important teams in Europe (CSKA and Salamanca) and also the other teams have a great tradition in this competition. We made a very good job during the pre-season and we feel we have built a team to compete in EuroLeague Women as well as in the Italian League. With this cocktail of players we will try to enter in the final 16 teams and why not even in the Quarter Finals. We need to have the right mentality for EuroLeague Women and that is completely different from the Italian League. We know we have to be concentrated for 40 minutes and to play a high intensity during all the matches. Also we know fortune also has to be on our side." General Manager, Paolo De Angelis
MIZO PECS 2010 (Hungary)
|Dalma Ivanyi will once again lead the MiZo Pécs offense.|
Mizo Pecs have recently experienced something of a silverware drought domestically while in EuroLeague Women, they have fought their way out of the group stages to eventually fall at the Quarter Final hurdle during recent times.
A reliance on youth underpinned by some great veteran players are the main ingredients with the ‘Queen of Assists' Dalma Ivanyi and team leader Anna Vajda providing the main thrust, while skilful guard Zsofia Fegyverneky returns after a season playing for Czech giants Gambrinus.
Andrea Somogyi is a reliable forward while so too is Nora Budjoso who gained experience in EuroLeague Women with Bourges last season. Notably Pecs continue with a raft of young players in particular, the trio who helped Hungary U18 achieve promotion to Division A. Krisztina Raksanyi, Bernadett Balla and Melinda Kesoi are all rising stars to make a note of this year.
Similarly Serbian center Sara Krnjic helped her team finish in fifth spot in Divison A of the U18 Women harvesting a superb 15 points per game. while Hungary U20 pairing Nora Rujak and Lilla Horvath both make up the young core.
With a tradition of throwing talented youngsters in at the deep end, they will probably continue the trend although without those extra couple of seasoned WNBA and top level EuroLeague Women players it could be difficult to make the jump to Final Four and return to the heady days of 2001-2005 when they racked up a trio of top four finishes.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Took fourth place with a 5-5 record in Group A and exited in the Quarter Finals against Halcon Avenida
Domestic League 08/09 - Regular season runners-up
Star Choice - Anna Vajda is arguably the best player in Hungarian basketball having averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in EuroLeague Women last year. The heartbeat of the national team, she didn't enjoy the greatest time at EuroBasket Women, perhaps trying almost too hard but as the leader of this team, she is a forward who possesses class and the ability to win games down the stretch. Expect her to light it up again this season.
Rising Star - Krisztina Raksanyi is 18 and made her debut when she was just 16 years old. With almost 20 minutes per game behind her, she now needs to produce and showed her potential in the U18 Division B tournament this summer helping Hungary to the top of the podium and securing her place in the All-Tournament team.
Did You Know? - Mizo Pecs 2010 opened up their domestic campaign this season with a breathtaking display of power in a 141-67 victory!
What They Say -
"I think we can have a really good team this season as we have many players with EuroLeague Women experience. I hope we can make to the last 8 of the competition." Hungary National Team guard Zsofia Fegyverneky
HALCON AVENIDA SALAMANCA (Spain)
The past 12 months in Salamanca have been pretty dramatic with that thrilling ride to the Final of the EuroLeague Women on home territory and then the resignation of the long serving coach Jose Ignacio Hernandez.
Consequently perhaps it is difficult to pinpoint where expectations should now lie in the wake of their finest European hour. Coach Sanchez does have a raft of talent to utilise - much of it newly acquired including Atlanta Dream center Sancho Lyttle who tore it up in EuroCup last season, grabbing almost 18 points per game for Ibiza. Backing her up in the center spot will be Russian Olga Podkovalnikova who brings experience having suited up for arch rivals Ros Casares and UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The exciting Olexandra Gorbunova meanwhile is still only 23 and arrives after spells at CSKA Moscow and Hungarian giants MKB Euroleasing. She will enter her fifth successive season in EuroLeague Women with her all-round offensive threat and great defence makes her a great addition.
WNBA forward Le'Coe Willingham will perhaps be the most important player to remain at the club along with solid and experienced Belgian shooter Anke De'Mondt whose perimeter threat will keep opponents on their toes.
Silvia Dominguez and Isabel Sanchez Fernandez have also both represented their country at senior level while the hugely talented young players Alba Torrens and Marta Xargay highlight the strength in depth of Salamanca which could help them to make another strong play to reach a successive Final Four.
EuroLeague Women 08/09 - Finished in second place in Group A with a mediocre 7-3 record and yet made it to the Final Four and finished as runners-up
Domestic League 08/09 - Runners up again - this time in the regular league and Championship
Star Choice - Le'Coe Willingham averaged over 16 points per game in EuroLeague Women last season while also really stepping on the gas in the WNBA too. The forward recorded double digits for Phoenix and undoubtedly her strength and athleticism in the paint will be important yet again.
Rising Star - Alba Torrens is a shooting guard with a distinctive style because of her height, athleticism and ability to go inside. Scored 18 points in Olympic debut against China last summer and excelled at Eurobasket 2009 with almost nine points and five rebounds per game. Big talent, big future and a first taste of EuroLeague Women ahead of her.
Did You Know? - The easiest way of stopping star forward Le'Coe Willingham going to the hoop isn't playing textbook defence but to place a cockroach under the bucket- she is absolutely terrified of them!
What They Say
"I think we will start this years EuroLeague Women like we started it during the last two years -with a good team and ready to compete but without putting pressure on ourselves that we have to make it to the Final again. We are realistic and we know this is a very tough competition. We're going to come out strong and be ambitious to pass the first round. From there, we'll see how it goes and how the other teams are. It looks like the Russian clubs (Spartak and Ekaterinburg) are very strong again this year and I think they are the big favourites to win. But you never know, look at MKB Euroleasing Sopron and us last year. This is basketball and anything can happen. I'm really looking forward to starting this new EuroLeague Women season and I'm hoping to go as far as last year!" Belgian shooting guard Anke De Mondt