By Paul Nilsen
There is little doubt that Cras Basket Taranto shooter Jami Montagnino has been one of the rookie stars of the current EuroLeague Women campaign and her devastating perimeter game has thrust her into the spotlight.
Far from revelling in the blistering form she has shown in the first half of the season, the guard is still having to pinch herself after admitting it has been a whirlwind introduction to the elite level of the Womens game since her move from Sicilia to the Italian Champions.
"Taranto has been a great fit for me and I was very excited and honoured to have been given the chance to play with the best team in Italy! We have the best fan support in the country in my opinion, which is always fun! My teammates are great and down to earth people so we have some fun too in the little off time we have!
|Jami Montagnino doing what she is best in|
"I have maybe surprised a lot of people with the way I've shot the ball in EuroLeague Women - including myself. I'm playing with a strong group of players that draw a lot of attention of the defence and maybe other teams just didn't know my scouting report yet. Now that they do however, I imagine that getting three-point shots off will become more and more difficult!"
Taranto have certainly been impressive to date in terms of their nicely balanced inside-outside approach, good decision making and relentless defence while in terms of their perimeter game, Montagnino and Co have consistently knocked down open looks.
Most importantly, while their solid outside game has been slick and effective, they still don't go overboard with dropping bombs and Montagnino doesn't feel as though the team should worry about being a little undercooked in this area by not letting her fire from outside more frequently.
"As far as me getting some more triples up, I just shoot when I'm open. I just don't want to force up any unnecessary shots because that could disrupt the flow of our team offense. Down the road I could probably find more opportunities, but that's something I will keep looking for-- that balance."
"Our good balance and playing a team game is definitely one of our strengths. I wouldn't say that we have the best players in the tournament or even better than some of the teams that we have beaten. Nevertheless, as a group we have shown that we are stronger than others. Adding to that, I love the way we have been finishing games recently.
Taranto have experienced both ends of the spectrum in Group A so far after experiencing mixed fortunes against the big guns. Having got that fantastic home win against Ros Casares they then lost really badly in Ekatrinburg. So what do those two very different results and performances tell Montagnino about how far her team can or can't go in the competition?
"I think it tells us that we can play with anybody when we're at home and that we need to improve our mentality when we are on the road."
She continued "I've already mentioned how great our crowd is, but we can't depend on them for support and energy when we are tired. We need to always be aggressive even in the most hostile of environments on the road. If we can't then we have no chance of going far into the play-offs of EuroLeague Women because other teams are just too strong when they themselves play at home."
It is not just in Europe that Taranto have made a good impression but also in the domestic league where they are looking to defend their title - always a tough proposition. With everybody out to take their scalp as defending champions, it is creditable that they have started with a superb 10-0 winning streak although Montagnino believes it could have panned out very differently.
"We have actually played a lot of tough, close games against some really strong teams, especially this last one on the road against the second best team in our league right now, which went into overtime.We could easily be an 8-2 or even a 7-3 team right now except for the way we have finished games this season, to go along with just a little bit of luck."
"Even when we've had horrible starts (like this last game we were losing by twenty in the first half before we forced the overtime) we have always felt like we were going to win the game in the end. That's just toughness that you can't teach, and I am proud of our team for that."
Having been spoken about as a surprise contender for this seasons All Star game after her fantastic shooting performances, Montagnino is reluctant to even try and comprehend the possibility of such an honour.
Besides, in typically unassuming fashion, she was quick to point out that there might be players in her own team above her in that pecking order and whether she does continue to be mentioned in such terms, she still has work to do on improving her game.
"A year ago, I couldn't even see myself competing for a championship, so to even be considered for such an honour, I can't even really comprehend right now. I'm still young and have a lot of improving to do to become the player I would like to be and that would be a whole lot of fun to be a part of. I think some of my teammates deserve to be there before I do though!"
"I would definitely like to improve on my consistency but I really need to get better with how I penetrate. It's not possible to survive in such a competitive league and only shoot three-pointers."
"If I want to be a complete player, I have to work on my ball handling and develop my one dribble pull-up jump shot some more. Or, maybe on a more positive note, I don't need to develop it so much but just look for it and execute it in the games more!"