Paulball: Who Will Be The Odd Man Out In Group D?

26.10.2009

 Paul NilsenPaul 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 badaball@hotmail.co.uk.

In putting the finishing touches to our preview of the forthcoming EuroLeague Women 2009-10 season, it seems fitting that we finish with a trio of clubs who have genuine ambitions of making the Final Four and the very least, the last eight of the competition.

All three teams that complete the line-up in Group D won their respective domestic leagues last year but are looking to improve on their European performance this time around.

However with the reigning champions Spartak Moscow Region in the Group, it is going to be quite a squeeze for these three teams and one of them could be left hugely disappointed or at the very least face a tough match-up in the knockout stages.

11. Taj McWilliams (Galatasaray )
Taj McWilliams joins Brno this season.
FRISCO SIKA BRNO (Czech Republic)

The giants of the Czech Republic have a super tradition in EuroLeague Women and were crowned champions in 2006. However after two very ordinary campaigns during the last three seasons either side of taking runners-up spot in 2007/08, Brno are back on the Final Four trail again.

Having lost the domestic championships to major rivals USK Praha in dramatic fashion and having only made the Eighth-Final round of EuroLeague Women, those two experiences last year left a bitter taste in the mouth during the summer months.

Legendary coach Jab Bobrovsky knows his team have to turn up this season and have shown good signs in the last couple of months. During pre-season their form was excellent after tournament wins in Slovakia and Hungary while they have already chalked up a big win at USK Praha in the opening weeks of the new domestic season.

They decided to jettison the likes of Fegyverneky, Maiga-Ba, Whitmore, Ivkovicne-Beresn and in their place, draft in some new names including WNBA duo Taj McWilliams and DeWanna Bonner.

However the strategy of Brno this year is very much centered around a solid home grown trio of players from the Czech Republic national team in Hana Horakova, Eva Viteckova and Petra Kulichova.

While also making up a really solid looking roster are Slovak star Zuzana Zirkova and former WNBA player Linda Fröhlich. Brno will be hoping to better their performance from last year and the signs so far have been good with the team gelling nicely.

Euroleague 08/09 - Finished fourth in Group B with a disappointing 4-6 record and were beaten by Bourges Basket in the Eighth-Final play-offs.

Domestic League 08/09 - Won the regular season but lost in the championship final

Star Choice - Taj McWilliams has returned to Brno after four seasons playing around Europe. The veteran center has been one of the most dominant players in the WNBA during her All Star laden career and is still going strong after a summer with Detroit Shock. While unlikely to repeat her numbers of her previous EuroLeague Women efforts at Brno, her experience will be invaluable.

Rising Star - Guard DeWanna Bonner has arrived for her rookie season in European basketball. Drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, she went on to have a staggering first taste of pro-basketball as she helped the team to the WNBA championship in a fantastic start to her career. Averaged double digits across the summer and will be looking to make a big name for herself in the next few months.

Did You Know?  -  Since the year 2000, Brno have reached the Final Four seven times - more than any other club in the competition.

What They Say  

"This new team is strong but we need time to work on our tactics and strategy. We have in the squad a lot of young players and they need to pick up the experiences." Head Coach Jan Bobrovsky

"We are in another position than in last season. We had a lot of foreign players and we lost the team spirit. In this new season, we prefer the Czech players with only four foreign players." General Manager Jiri Hamza

LOTOS GDYNIA (Poland)

Once Lotos Gdynia secured an important deal with their main sponsor late in the summer, the work began on assembling a team that can bring the glory days back. It seems like an eternity since they achieved two EuroLeague Women Finals in three seasons back in 2002 and 2004 and particularly in the wake of the last four very disappointing campaigns.

However the last two years have shown a little more promise and with the acquisition of some interesting new faces, they look like they may make an impact again this season. There have a trio of WNBA names including new arrival Shameka Christon who is as reliable as it gets at this level.. She excelled in both EuroCup with Hondarribia-Irun and in EuroLeague Women with Nadezhda last season. Has enjoyed her best WNBA campaign yet with New York Liberty and is ripping it up in the Polish league. Looks in great shape, has real scoring ability and her capacity to step outside with some consistency is a big bonus. A potential All Star this season!

Another new face is Connecticut Suns and Australia National Team guard Erin Phillips will provide a nice athletic and stable touch to the backcourt alongside Alana Beard who remains a stellar name to contend with having averaged almost 15 points per game last year in the competition. She does of course have to get fully fit first after her ankle injuries this year but will provide a welcome boost when firing on all cylinders.

Perhaps the pivotal signature was that of  of Serbian center Ivana Matovic who remains on board and she will be hoping to continue her good work in the paint from last year. Throw in a number of other national team players such as Croatian center Emilija Podrug, Polish pair Magdelena Leciejewska and Paulina Pawlak, there are definite reasons for confidence in the challenge ahead.

Euroleague 08/09 - Finished in third place in Group C with a 4-6 record and crashed out in the Eighth Final play-offs to Fenerbahce

Domestic League 08/09 - Regular season winners and play off champions

Star Choice - Serbian powerhouse Ivana Matovic remains a class act and leader in the team. She is a smart player that will benefit from having better players around her. She might not post the same numbers as the 16 points per game she averaged last season but that is not a bad thing because she won't be carrying such a load scoring wise. The cornerstone of this team and a real rock who just gets the job done.

Rising Star - Olivia Tomialowicz made her EuroLeague Women debut last season when she was 18 years old and more recently put in some really good performances at the U20 European Championships. The guard has continued that form into the new domestic season and has been shooting the lights out from outside. Has the capacity for effective cameos off the bench.

Did You Know?  - Shameka Christon scored with her first six three-point attempts in a recent Polish league game!

What They Say

"As usual we want to achieve as much as possible in EuroLeague Women, so it means that we want to win the Final Four. If you have big aims you usually achieve
more." Mieczyslaw Krawczyk, Club President

"Well all I can expect for my team is we do our best. With the team that we have this year I'm sure we can be second in the group. I then hope that when we cross into the next round that we can go on to reach the best 8 teams. Then, perhaps with some luck we will see what will happen. I'm sure we can go on and be much better than we were during last year." Croatian center Emilija Podrug

FENERBAHCE (Turkey)

The perennial Turkish champions have been knocking hard on the door of EuroLeague Women Final Four in recent seasons after a string of quarter-final appearances but they just can't seem to get over the hump. Can that change?

The hierarchy have ensured the team is as stacked as ever with no fewer than five players on this years roster possessing WNBA experience and able to put up big numbers. Indeed it looks like being an exciting season for the Turkish champions who could be dark horses this year to make a strong play for the Final Four.

Leading the way will be the returning quartet of the free scoring Nicole Powell and Matee Ajavon, the solid Nevin Nevlin and veteran Tamara Sutton-Brown. They will be joined by WNBA champion Penny Taylor who makes the move from UMMC Ekaterinburg in what looks a real coup for Fenerbahce.

With all of that firepower and quality complimented by the likes of the classy Turkish national team trio of Esmeral Tuncluer, Nevriye Yilmaz and Birsel Vardarli, this roster is as stacked as just about any other outside of Russia.

There is however one slight note of caution. Fenerbahce lost the Turkish Presidents Cup to Mersin last week and laboured to their first league success last weekend. After trhe later start of the Turkish season they may be a little under-cooked and don't have time to gel so will have to get down to business quickly in EuroLeague Women.

Euroleague 08/09 - Finished in second place in Group D with a 6-4 record and went out in the last eight to UMMC Ekaterinburg

Domestic League 08/09 - League and Championship winners

Star Choice - The arrival of Penny Taylor is significant. She is a winner who has tasted a gold medal with Australia, WNBA championships and of course, EuroLeague Women Final Fours at UMMC Ekaterinburg. She brings a multitude of assets to the team and that winning habit is priceless for ambitious clubs like Fenerbahce. It will be fascinating to watch her try and utlise her massive talent to find success in Turkey.

Rising Star - At just 21 years old, Yasemin Dalgalar is preparing for her fourth season in EuroLeague Women and while most of that has understandably been bench time, the forward is now at a stage of her career when she needs to step out of the shadows. Will be tough for her on such a stacked roster but has the talent to develop.

Did You Know? - Penny Taylor won a WNBA championship this month but almost lost a front tooth in the play-offs! A club dentist had to perform an emergency procedure to pull the tooth back into place after a stray elbow caught her in the mouth!

What They Say

'With regard to the format of the EuroLeague Women competition, the system allows the teams who will have enough wins to finish the group in the first two positions to be in the first eight if the match ups fit. Therefore our goal is to be in the first two teams in the group stage. Definitely Spartak Moscow seem to be one step ahead of everyone else in our group but this is basketball so who knows? Being at the final four is not a dream for us if we are lucky enough with the match ups.'

Head coach Haydar Kemal Ateş


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