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As the dust settles on the EuroLeague Women Final Eight, it's time to review a super week of action in Ekaterinburg.
SPECIAL TREBLE FOR SILVIA
There was no bigger story in Ekaterinburg than the sensational accomplishment of playmaker Silvia Dominguez securing an incredible third straight title in three years, with a third different club. I am not even sure this kind of success at continental club championship level has ever been accomplished by any athlete in any sport.
She may even have become the first Spanish player to win EuroLeague Women playing for a non-Spanish team, (or at least one of the first) and grabbed her third title on the same floor she won her first with Halacon Avenida a couple of years ago.
|Silvia Dominguez has now won three EuroLeague Women titles in three years with three different clubs.|
It really is astonishing, so it was a real delight when the confetti had stopped falling inside the Arena, to see Silvia, on the shoulders of Sandrine Gruda, cutting down the net.
Now I just hope Silvia gets the respect she deserves, since I don't think it has been until this season and in this special moment that her talent and beautifully simple and effective approach to point-guard play has been fully recognised. The fact that UMMC didn't miss the presence of the wonderful Sue Bird, speaks absolute volumes.
‘Felicidades' Silvia and we can't wait to see you orchestrating the play for the Spanish national team once again when you step out at EuroBasket Women this summer. It's no wonder that Spanish coach Lucas Mondelo had a smile on his face after the game.
TIPPING MY HAT FOR THE COACHES
The overriding memory for me will be all four semi-final coaches excelling. I can't ever remember this happening previously at any tournament. In this case, not only because of the job they did with their respective teams, but also how they spoke about each other and their players.
There's no more pertinent place to start than with Olaf Lange. People will inevitably try to dilute the achievement because he had the most expensive team, the best players in the world and ‘home' advantage. But, as history shows, this is no guarantee and I thought he did an amazing job in ensuring his players were well prepared and focused. Defensively, they were majestic and I think they could have played for a number of weeks without losing a single game on that form.
Lange was absolutely correct after the Final when he said whatever the format of the tournament, be it Final Eight or Final Four, his team would have won. I also liked the way he pointed to the fact that even the best teams need a big dose of luck and he had been given this due to the fact he had not had to deal with any major injuries.
Roberto Iniguez has barely coached in the competition for 18 months, but has already called the plays in two title games. He did a fine job in getting Fenerbahce to the Final and whilst arguably outclassed on the night, there's no shame in finishing second to possibly the best ever team assembled in EuroLeague Women. It was a great achievement for Fener to make history by becoming the first Turkish club to contest the Final and they should be very proud.
Valerie Garnier didn't get as much credit as she deserved whilst in Ekaterinburg. For Bourges to get third place with a full-strength team would have been amazing. To do it during a season when her team was decimated by injuries was just superb. She rarely complained about it and just got her team playing hard-nosed defence and utilising the amazing leadership of Celine Dumerc. It was another fine achievement.
Good Angels Kosice head coach Maros Kovacik has already received plenty of praise, not only from me, but also his from his peers, with the general consensus suggesting he is Coach of the Year. Even though he didn't get his team onto the podium, the scale of disappointment in not grabbing third spot underlines everything you need to know about what a fantastic season this has been for him and his team.
Finally, I also believe Jacek Winnicki of CCC Polkowice deserves particular praise for getting the Polish club to Final Eight and for coming within 40 minutes of making the last four. CCC Polkowice doesn't have huge depth, but they played really well and have had a great campaign which could see more domestic success before the end of the season.
GALATASARAY GOING HOME EARLY
|Without Lindsay Whalen Galatasaray failed to make an impact in Ekaterinburg. |
When Lindsay Whalen departed Istanbul over an alleged salary payment dispute, the prospects of EuroLeague Women success for Galatasaray left with her. It was always going to be a challenge for Lindsey Harding and Eshaya Murphy to make any kind of an impact having arrived so late in the season. The consequences of losing your primary playmaker mid-season and especially at the elite level, should never be under-estimated.
The early exit really hurt Galatasaray. Saziye Ivegin was on the verge of tears after the final game and admired the way head coach Ekrem Memnun spoke at that moment. When a journalist asked what he thought about the people who said they would make the semi-finals, he bluntly replied, "They were wrong." His subsequent analogy about Whalen leaving being not like a minor repair to a car, but more like having the engine removed summarised where the problems lay.
PARKER PAYS BACK FAITH
I had described the decision UMMC Ekaterinburg had to make between Candace Parker and Sue Bird as the most expensive in the history of women's basketball - due to the high stakes and financial sums involved.
The decision was emphatically proved to be the right one and I loved seeing Parker playing with such a smile on her face and really dominating like I have never really seen before.
It was also nice to see Sue Bird joining in with the celebrations too. It must have been tough having to balance mixed emotions when watching.
Finally, huge credit to UMMC Ekaterinburg for being such wonderful hosts and especially to a relieved General Manager Maxim Ryabkov, who finally got his hands on that much-coveted silverware. We now wait with baited breath to see if this heralds the start of a glittering period of dominance by UMMC, or a one-off.
Now, how long is it until next season tips-off?