|Paul 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Perhaps proving that the letter ‘B' truly does stand for baffling, the rest of the teams that complete the second group of EuroLeague Women still have me fumbling in the dark trying to predict how they might fare. While the smart money probably suggests a fight for fourth spot, the surprise factor still looms large.
The intrigue of Group B is of course naturally heightened by the current uncertainty at CSKA Moscow which continues to keep us in suspense and puts back our preview of the Russian club until a later date. That leaves us focusing on Croatian debutantes and a French team eager to improve during their third successive EuroLeague Women campiagn.
GOSPIC CROATIA OSIGURANJE (Croatia)
After five successive seasons in EuroCup, Gospic are taking the plunge and will embark on a rookie season among the European elite. In their favour is the fact that there are a couple of teams who in this pool who look vulnerable and therefore Gospic can at least be confident of registering something of substance in the win column.
One overriding benefit from the decision of President Milan Kolic and General Manager Luka Matijevic to bring back almost everyone from last years team is that they don't enter the competition with the added pressure of having to necessarily find team chemistry.
However if continuity is likely to be the greatest friend of Gospic then luck certainly isn't after the club was left reeling from a serious injury to exciting young player Marija Vrsaljiko. The center could be sidelined for the majority of the season after medical tests revealed she may need surgery on what could be a serious knee injury sustained in a recent clash with Sibinek Jolly. Vrsaljiko averaged a terrific near double-double in European competition last season and she will be sorely missed.
However it is not all doom and gloom. The main thrust will come inside from American duo Lamisha Augustine and Carla Thomas. Both are powerful players and capable scorers and the returnees should be able to do a good job racking up some decent numbers. Linking up the paint and the backcourt will be Jelena Ivezic, a pivotal cog in the Gospic machine and her contribution in the small forward spot will be hugely significant.
Point guard Anda Jelavic joined the club midway through last season after spending time with Dynamo Moscow last year in EuroCup and she is an experienced starter for the Croatian national team with a season of Euroleague Women under her belt from her time at Jolly JBS Sibenik. A highly intelligent player with great penetration, her quickness and aggression on defence could be a major factor. Martin Gambiraza meanwhile is a solid option in the backcourt, as is young Emanuela Salopek.
|Ivana Jurcevic is a proven scorer on the EuroLeague level|
Gospic have made one major signing in guard Ivana Jurcevic who arrives from arch rivals Jolly JBS Sibenik and brings some real offensive firepower and a devastating perimeter game. She too has EuroLeague Women experience after some great performances in the competition last year when she averaged over 11 points per game.
All in all, it looks a tough proposition for Gospic but perseverance and the collective experience of this EuroLeague Women season will be important and they could cause some surprises during their inaugural season.
Euroleague 08/09 - Did not compete. Made the last sixteen of EuroCup
Domestic League 08/09 - The 2008-2009 season was a good one for Gospic, they finished top of their domestic league while they also secured the play-off championship. In the Adriatic league, Gospic managed to win the bronze medal.
Star Choice - Small forward Jelena Ivezic has a great all round game and produces all action displays every time she steps out onto the court. She is more than an ‘X Factor' since it isn't about whether she plays well as to whether Gospic succeed - she just about always turns up and brings her game to the court. Has always been prolific in EuroCup and can do it all. A great shooter from outside, a great passer and with an eye for a steal one of the most interesting aspects of Group B this season will be watching how she meets the challenge of influencing games at this higher level.
Rising Star - 22 year old guard Emanuela Salopek is continuing to grow in stature after a really solid contribution last season managing to grab 14 minutes per game with decent production. If she begin to drop some shots from outside then she could prove to be a real bonus for Coach Ostric who will need as much offence as he can get.
Did You Know? - Gospic didn't lose a single game in the final round of their domestic league last season and finished with a perfect 10-0 record!
What They Say
"My thoughts on this years EuroLeague Women tournament are ones of total excitement. I know I am looking forward to playing against some of the worlds most talented players in EuroLeague Women this year. As a team, I know we are going to be up for the challenge. After competing together last year and winning our league, our management decided to bring back virtually the same team which is wonderful because we understand what to expect from each other."
"This is our first year in EuroLeague Women having played in Eurocup last season. Even though we did not make it as far as we would have liked as a team, I believe we have now got the experience we need to try to compete in EuroLeague Women. I think as a team we are collectively excited about being able to play against some of the best players in the world as I have already mentioned but we also know that we will certainly have to bring our best game to the court every single night." American forward Lamisha Augustine
ESB LILLE METROPOLE (France)
You could be forgiven for thinking it will be an uphill struggle again for ESB Lille Metropole this season having finished bottom of the group last time out and also having watched some experienced players depart during the summer.
While a stint in EuroLeague Women is hardly the ideal scenario for any re-building project, Coach Abdou N'Diaye will be confident that some of the other teams in the Group do look beatable. He can also take heart from the fact that last year, his team racked up three wins and only just came up short of that extra success that would have seen them emerge from the qualifying round.
While they perhaps don't have those two or three top end players to ensure they can improve
|Emilie Gomis, European Champion with France this summer is supposed to lead a young and hungry team|
markedly on last year, they do have enough to compete. Leading the team is Emilie Gomis, an experienced campaigner in the backcourt who played in both Turkey and Italy last year and she underlines the youthfulness of the team by being a veritable veteran at the ripe old age of just 25! Helping her out in the backcourt is Jolene Anderson, a player who has played for Connecticut Sun in the WNBA and who many are expecting big things from this season.
Providing the leadership at the other end of the floor is Elodie Bertal who managed to claim double digits last year in EuroLeague Women at Montpellier and she will do a solid job in the paint again. She will be helped by American and fellow center Lady Comfort who really tore it up in EuroCup last year for Buducnost before ending the season in Lille where she showed enough to suggest she can be a force - this time with a pre-season at the club under her belt.
As part of the reconstruction of the team, the club has handed opportunities to a pair of players signed from main rivals Bourges Basket in small forward Carine Paul and center Ana-Maria Cata-Chitiga. Both played in EuroLeague Women last season with both limited opportunities and success meaning they will be hoping to raise their productivity and influence to show their former team exactly what they are missing. Similarly 21 year old guard Ingrid Tanqueray arrives from Mondeville with the same goals and further adding to the hunger of this ESB Lille team.
Euroleague 08/09 - Failed to pass the qualifying round after finishing bottom of Group B with a 3-7 record
Domestic League 08/09 - Finished in third place of the regular league, behind the other two French teams in EuroLeague Women
Star Choice - Emilie Gomis is a talent and a player who can make an impact at both ends of the floor. Her quality underlined by the fact that she has several seasons in EuroLeague Women with good numbers behind her, has had a brief taste of the WNBA and recently emerged from Eurobasket Women 2009 with a gold medal after chipping in with 6 points per game. Superb in one-on-one situations due to her agility and quickness on the first step, if she could improve her shooting year on year, still has enough time to improve even further. She could now relish having responsibilities as a leader.
Rising Star - Romanian born Ana-Maria Cata-Chitiga is a big prospect and with the likelihood of bigger minutes this year while also buoyed by some nice displays on her way to a gold medal for France in the U20 Women during the summer, the future looks bright. She claimed 8 points and 8 rebounds in the Gdynia tournament and she now has to make the leap albeit a giant one to try and replicate those numbers in the next few seasons on the big stage.
Did You Know? - Jolene Anderson can still enjoy true celebrity status in her home town of Port Wing, Wisconsin. Perhaps not surprisingly in a tight knit place with just 250 residents, pretty much all of them were left thrilled when she made it to the WNBA!
What They Say
"If having a roster full of former youth internationals is a formula for success then Villeneuve d'Ascq are ready for their third EuroLeague competition. However this is not the case, Villeneuve had no choice at the end of last season but to let experienced players go. So Abdou N'Diaye had to build a new team. All the players on the roster have played in intercontinental club competition basketball before and they should know what to expect. Villeneuve are not contenders for the Euroleague crown They are playing in group B which on paper looks tough. If they can qualify for the knock-out stage then the rest is a bonus." www.womensbasketball-in-france.com/fiba
CSKA MOSCOW (Russia)
Watch this space!