Stepanova Embraces Career Switch To Ekaterinburg

21.11.2008

No player has been more famous than Maria Stepanova in Russian basketball for the past decade.

A center that has competed at several Olympics, FIBA World Championships and EuroBaskets, Stepanova was and remains an icon in the sport.

In 2007, she made the All-Tournament team at the EuroBasket Women in Italy after helping the Russians win the gold medal and this summer she played at the Beijing Games and played a vital role in her country's bronze-medal triumph.

Stepanova, 29, was a long-time player at CSKA in the EuroLeague Women, when the team was located in Samara and after they moved to Moscow last season.

She recently moved to CSKA's Russian rivals UMMC Ekaterinburg, a switch that caused quite a stir in Europe.

Stepanova poured in 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds on Wednesday in Ekaterinburg's 100-70 EuroLeague thrashing of Jolly JBS Sibenik - a result that kept Ekaterinburg unbeaten at 6-0.

The Russian great spoke this week to Basketball World News on behalf of FIBA Europe.

FIBA Europe: Maria, congratulations on winning the bronze medal with Russia this summer at the Olympics. Your move from CSKA Moscow, though, to UMMC Ekaterinburg, surprised everyone. First of all, how do you like the city and also what has the adjustment been like for the new team?

Stepanova: At first, I did not want to leave Moscow but now I like it here. I like the city and the team. I don't feel deprived of anything and don't get bored. Everybody around is so friendly and they treat me really nicely. The team is also very good. I have played with most of the Russian girls on the national team. I also don't have any problems with the imports. They all try to help whenever possible. It was a bit hard for me during the first game in France. I had had just one practice with the team prior to that, but now I already remember most of the plays and just need to jell with the rest of the girls.

FIBA Europe: What can you tell us about the reasons for your departure from CSKA where you had so many close friends and so much success?

Stepanova: Unfortunately, CSKA seems to be experiencing some financial difficulties. This became known after I left the club, though. I was approached by the team's sponsor, Andrei Ishchuk, a bit earlier and was told he would like to terminate my contract. I had spent so much time at the club; we'd had a good relationship with him. I'd always had everything I needed, and I was grateful to him for all he'd done for me. So it all came out of the blue - I had a two-year contract on my hands and was not planning to change my club. But since Mr Ishchuk asked me to leave, I agreed (even though I could have stayed) and signed a new deal with Ekaterinburg the same day.

FIBA Europe: Changing clubs is a fact of life for most players, so do you believe that with Ekaterinburg you will continue to have a prominent role since there are so many great players there? Are you over the disappointment of the CSKA exit and now looking at the move as a great opportunity?

Stepanova: Like I said, I had played at CSKA quite long. I also could not show the desired level of play during my last games there, so perhaps I needed the change. Plus here in Ekaterinburg, I need to prove myself. I need to earn my playing time and the trust of the coach. I have a name in the basketball world, but he has his favorite players and his own vision of the game and I need to show him I fit in and can be a leader on his team. Any players that have any self-respect should want to have prominent roles on their teams and I am not an exception. I cannot accept sitting on the bench and just getting my paycheck. My ambitions won't allow me to do that. It's better to quit.

FIBA Europe: What will your emotions be like when you face your former team, CSKA, for the first time?

Stepanova: This is just a game. I'll be doing my job in trying to get my new team Ekaterinburg to win.

FIBA Europe: Next summer, Russia will defend the EuroBasket gold medal in Latvia. Do you expect to lead the national team again and can you imagine what that experience will be like for you if you do play?

Stepanova: We are expected to win any tournament we are participating in, the same as at the Olympics where we had a good shot at the gold. So anything less than the champions' title in Latvia will be a failure. Regarding myself - I am the team's captain so obviously I'm going to try to lead Russia to the title. I have to inspire the team, get the girls together in difficult moments.

FIBA Europe: If you could say something to your fans back at CSKA, and to your new fans at Ekaterinburg, what would you like to say?

Stepanova: I'd thank the CSKA fans for coming over to support us. It's hard to compare CSKA and UMMC. Here the gym is bigger, more fans are showing up at the games and they ignite the team. It's a great feeling. The fans support their team's players. Now I am in a new team with the new fans. I hope they are going to love me and support me at every game.

 


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