As the various Euroleague Women groups gradually begin to take shape during the next month, one of the most fascinating aspects will be to see how the rookie EuroLeague Women teams fare and whether any turn out to be real surprise packages.
In the second part of our Group C preview we focus on one such club from Poland while we also assess the hopes of a Czech team that continue to grow in talent and expectation and a French team used to the sweet taste of the Final Four but now in the process of re-building.
KSSSE AZS-PWSZ GORZOW (Poland)
Gorzow may lack the rich European history of their rivals but that won't mean they will start on the back foot. After a couple of seasons in EuroCup, the club is taking the step up and won't be shy about the way it approaches the tournament.
While essentially a young team, there are plenty of players who can help Gorzow establish themselves after a summer recruitment drive and not least, WNBA forward Sidney Spencer who arrives from Kosice will be the reference player for Gorzow.
|Sidney Spencer will be handed a lot of responsibility on a young Gorzow team|
She is also joined in the paint by Liudmila Sapova who arrives from CSKA Moscow and has plenty of European experience while Izabela Piekarska returns home to Poland after a season playing in Israel and Turkey. Having appeared at EuroBasket Women in the summer, her early season form has been good working in tandem inside with Spencer.
Belarus national team small forward Yuliya Dureika provides support off the bench as does Serbian center Jela Vidacic while young Agnieszka Kaczmarczky will continue her impressive development.
In the backcourt, trusted Australian guard Samantha Richards returns but a lack of depth in this area could be their downfall. Coach Maciejewski is in his sixth season at the club and this will prove his biggest yet. However if Spencer stays fit and they can get the ball inside and get some scores in transition off their defence they can be a threat but they probably lack a couple of top level shooters to progress.
Euroleague 08/09 - Did not participate. Finished third in Group A of EuroCup with a 2-4 record and did not progress
Domestic League 08/09 - Third in the regular league
Star Choice - Sidney Spencer was a force in her first season of EuroLeague Women last year with Broker Kosice. She harvested over 14 points and 5 boards per game and has spent time with LA Sparks and more recently New York Liberty in the WNBA. She will provide a threat with her ability to not only go to work in the paint but also knocking down an outside shot - a class act.
Rising Star - Agnieszka Kaczmarczky is a young Polish forward with a big future. The 20 year old already has two EuroCup campaigns behind her but now she must step up. She showed during the U20 European Championships this year that she remains a top prospect, leading her country to a creditable fifth place finish with almost 13 points per game.
Did You Know? - Sidney Spencer started playing in organised junior basketball games when she was just 4 years old!
What They Say
"Gorzow is a new team to EuroLeague Women this year. We have a young team hungry for success. Our goal for this season is to get the best results we can get. We play hard and fast basketball. We do not have any pressure on our team about the challenge of EuroLeague Women but of course as competitors, we would like to win some games and I believe we will be able to." Poland national team forward Izabela Piekarska
ZVVZ USK PRAGUE (Czech Republic)
This could be a big season for USK Prague by finally making the leap into the elite latter stages. They have some serious momentum from winning the Czech play-offs and a gauge of how they must improve having tested themselves against the cream of the Womens game in the Ekaterinburg Tournament recently.
They must firstly need to improve on last years Group placing to ensure they don't meet any of the bigger teams in the first round of the knockout stages and with Greek star Evanthia Maltsi and WNBA guard Lindsay Whalen having both returned, you have to think that anything is possible.
Crucially, the club have re-enforced their options down the strretch with the addition of a third big scorer in Cathrine Kraayveld. The forward tore it up last year in EuroLeague Women for Broker Kosice with over 14 points per game and was productive in the WNBA with New York Liberty.
At the center spot, the team will rely on Latvian center pairing of Ieva Kublina who returns after a solid spell last year and Zane Tamane who arrives from Nadezhda and could be one of the best signings around. She claimed over 11 points and 7 rebounds in EuroLeague Women last season and showcased at Eurobasket Women why she is a fantastic acquisition for Prague.
When you look at the team that Coach Blazek has to work with this season, it looks like an uplift on last year and subsequently expectations will be higher. They have the talent and names to progress in this tournament and a place in the last 8 is not a fanciful notion.
Euroleague 08/09 - Took fourth place in Group C with a 4-6 record and lost to eventual tournament winners Spartak Moscow Region in the last sixteen
Domestic League 08/09 - Runners up in the regular league but emerged as play-off champions
Star Choice - Evanthia Maltsi led the team to play-off success before being crowned EuroBasket
|Evanthia Maltsi's ability to carry a team and win games down the stretch make her a constant MVP candidate in any competition|
Women MVP in Latvia during the summer. A EuroLeague Women All Star, she has it all and can be unstoppable at times. If she continues her form in 2009, then USK Praha can get the start they need. Maltsi is a great option down the stretch and collects MVP awards for fun. She is a bona-fide star that will undoubtedly light it up again in 2009-10
Rising Star - Czech guard Katerina Elhotova only turned 20 last week but already has an accomplished resume behind her and one that continues to grow. She has already played in the Olympics and at EuroBasket Women for her country and was devastating in this years World University Games where she managed over 18 points per game. Proficient in most aspects, she has real versatility and can score going to the hoop or from outside. One to watch closely
Did You Know? - The University of Minnesota retired the number 13 vest in honour of Lindsay Whalen in 2005
What They Say
"One of our main goals in Euro League is to definitely advance further than we did last season. I think that our group is tough. As everybody knows, Sopron and Bourges have been to the Final Four previously and the rest of the teams in our group have good basketball traditions as well. Therefore we will have to play well both home and away in order to succeed." Latvia national team center Ieva Kublina
BOURGES BASKET (France)
The French giants have a big reputation when it comes to EuroLeague Women having managed two appearances in Final Four during the last three seasons. However that continuity has now been lost as the club looks to re-model its playing personnel in pursuit of a new era of success.
|Emmeline Ndongue is left of the core that brought success to Bourges in the past years|
Despite wholesale changes, they do still have their leader Emmeline Ndongue who will once again be a real force for Coach Vincent. With a EuroBasket Women gold medal safely tucked away, she will be hoping she can provide the glue to keep this new look team together.
The club have brought Styliani Kaltsidou from Greece to provide some scoring inside and she certainly knows what it takes to win while the arrival of former Mondeville pairing Jennifer Digbeu and Paoline Salagnac looks a good move. The former provides strength under the basket while Salagnac offers a cool head in the guard spot and has enjoyed an impressive start to the domestic season. The same could be said of another new recruit Anael Lardy while underrated Croatian guard Ana Lelas and 21 year old French national team forward Endene Miyem both return to offer a little continuity.
Bourges may not quite have the same level of chemistry or talent that has been witnessed in recent years but will still be a team to contend with and will feel confident their home form could see them past the qualifying rounds.
Euroleague 08/09 - Finished top of Group A with a 7-3 record but eventually missed out on a place in the Final Four after crashing out to MKB Euroleasing Sopron in the quarter finals
Domestic League 08/09 - Treble winning season of regular league, cup and play-offs
|Styliani Kaltsidou provided good numbers for Greece at the EuroBasket Women and will now meet her teammate Evina Maltsi in EuroLeague Women|
Star Choice - Forward Styliani Kaltsidou enjoyed EuroBasket Women during the summer and was one of the leading scorers in EuroCup last year with 19 points per game. While there will inevitably be a settling in period for the forward, by the time EuroLeague Women is underway I expect her to be shining. However she must get her outside shot to drop consistently to be a true star this season
Rising Star - Anael Lardy has started the new domestic season rather slowly but that should not detract from this young talent who will soon be making her EuroLeague Women debut. The guard has enjoyed success at various youth levels and is now ready to make a noise on the biggest stage after collecting a gold medal with France at EuroBasket Women where she found things tough but showed the mental toughness needed to develop
Did You Know? - This is the first season playing abroad for Styliani Kaltsidou who had previously played her entire professional career of ten seasons in her home country of Greece
What They Say
"Bourges Basket are a team in transition. Pierre Vincent has developed a style of play that has turned Bourges into one of the best defensive sides in Europe. Nobody likes to visit Bourges although MKB broke the myth last season when they eliminated Bourges by winning in France. Bourges Basket are probably the only team without an American on their roster and yet this should not stop them from qualifying for the knock-out stage." www.womensbasketball-in-france.com/fiba
"I think its always hard when you change a lot of players in the team. You have to start from the beginning and be patient to make it work. We only kept 4 players from last year and the new players don't have experience in EuroLeague Women and consequently it will be a big challenge for us. We are young and we need to work a lot but there is quality in this team. We need to show it and prove it in EuroLeague Women since every game is going to be hard, especially when playing away. That is why for us, the first game is going to be very important as we play at home so that should help us." Croatian star Ana Lelas