By Jeff Taylor
|Taj Mc Williams gives Sparta&K inside power and a load of experience before the decisive weeks in EuroLeague Women|
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje are heading into their last Qualifying Round game at Halcon Avenida as confident as they have been all season after reaching agreement on a contract with veteran American center Taj McWilliams.
The Russian giants recently discovered they had lost Lauren Jackson for up to three months because of injury.
While there was a chance that Jackson could return in time for the EuroLeague Women Final Four if Sparta&K were to make it that far, the club decided it best to go into the player market and add a quality pivot like McWilliams to help them in the coming weeks.
McWilliams began the 2010-11 campaign at Ros Casares on a short-term deal and had a bright start with the Spanish club in the Liga Femenina but left the team once Nicky Anosike joined the side.
The 40-year-old averaged 12.6 points, 7.8 rebounds in 35.2 minutes per game in her 16 EuroLeague Women appearances for Brno last season and played at the EuroLeague Women All-Star Game in Gdynia.
If anything, McWilliams looked as good as ever with the Czech giants.
The signing of McWilliams, therefore, means Jackson has no chance of playing for Sparta&K again in 2010-11.
There is even more going on at the Moscow Region club.
The outfit and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota have agreed to part ways, Sparta&K have confirmed, with the Latvian widely thought to be headed to Fenerbahce.
The Turkish club has yet to make an announcement.
Despite losing a former FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year, Sparta&K believe the departure will be good for both parties.
"She's a great player and we respect her and you never know, our paths may cross again," said Sparta&K general manager Steve Costalas.
Jekabsone's exit means that Sparta&K will probably rely more on the versatile Epiphanny Prince, who scored a game-high 21 points on Thursday night at Tarbes.
|Is sharp-shooting Anete Jekabsone on her way to Fenerbahce?|
With Sue Bird back at point guard after missing the first eight games of the EuroLeague Women following the FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic, the multi-skilled Prince will be counted on for more production.
Serbia international and former FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year, Sonja Petrovic, whose 2009-10 season was cut short by injury, also stands to receive more minutes following Jekabsone's move.
"It was mutually beneficial for Anete to leave," Costalas said. "We thank her and Lauren for this.
"As for McWilliams, it's back to the future. She began the season with us four years ago before leaving when Lauren arrived."
That was the year that Sparta&K won their first EuroLeague Women title.
With Bird back, the burgeoning talent of Prince, a cast of other Sparta&K players that have won titles and the arrival of McWilliams, Sparta&K coach Pokey Chatman has every reason to believe her team will be in the reckoning for a Final Four spot.
Should they make it, Sparta&K would be a dangerous opponent for any team.
If Sparta&K win at Avenida, a team they beat earlier in the season, the Russians will clinch first place in EuroLeague Women Group C.