Stepanova A Must For Russia

18 August 2005

There is no bigger player in Russia than Maria Stepanova

That should be taken both literally - Stepanova stands an imposing 2.03m - and in terms of her performances.

Stepanova was one of the best players at last summer's Athens Games. The graceful center excelled in Russia's 66-62 defeat to the Americans in the semi-final, scoring 11 points on four of six shooting, and grabbing eight rebounds in just 23 minutes.

For the FIBA EuroLeague Women's all conquering Samara team which beat Czech giants Gambrinus Brno in the final, Stepanova averaged 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in 18 games.

The quality has most recently been on display with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury where she averaged almost 11 points, five rebounds and a league leading 2.5 blocks per game.

She made sure Phoenix fans would miss her, signing off with 14 points, four blocks, four rebounds and three assists in a triumph over Detroit.

Mercury team-mate Diana Taurasi, one of the USA's gold medalists in Greece, said: "It's going to be hard to lose (Stepanova).

"She's added so much to our team. She might be our most valuable player with what she brings with her size and her ability to score inside."

For her part, the shot-swatting Stepanova is a player Russia know they must have this summer.

Asked about returning for the EuroBasket, she said: "It's the decision of the president of the Russian basketball federation."

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