Sopron's Hejkova Enthusiastic About Women's Game

15 February 2006
By Catherine Goble, PA Sport

MKB Euroleasing Sopron coach Natalia Hejkova welcomes with open arms the attention her sport will receive in the Year of Women's Basketball.

The initiative, which is being officially launched by FIBA Europe on March 8 at the EuroLeague Women All-Star Game in Pecs, Hungary, is supposed to raise the profile of the sport.

The women's game does have the full attention of fans in Sopron, but Hejkova says it can be even better.

"We do need to make this game more popular, although we currently have 4000-4500 people at every game in the gym," she said to PA Sport on behalf of FIBA Europe.

"It is a really great idea. It is a sport which is growing all over the world and it is slowly becoming as popular as the men's game."

Anyone who has watched Sopron play in the EuroLeague Women will know that is the case.

The excitement factor was not missing from their best-of-three play-off series against UMMC Ekaterinburg, which Sopron won 2-0.

The Hungarian team won Game 1 in Russia, 80-77, and then completed the sweep with an 89-79 triumph in Sopron.

"It was a really difficult tie," she said. "It was a really big challenge. But we started at 0-0 so we had a 50/50 chance. We hoped to show our best and we have shown that we can beat big teams."

Some of the players in the All-Star Game have expressed the hope that the game will be televised.

Hejkova, who will be one of the coaches in the All-Star Game, says taking the game to the masses is hugely important for the game's development.

"It is important to have the chance to watch games on TV and in person," she said.

"It is good for young players to watch high level basketball and see some good examples of games."

Those who do watch the EuroLeague Women All-Star Game are unlikely to see any slam dunks.

"Men can make some sort of show of it but it is important for us to just play normally," she said. "If we start to make a show it won't be enough for the fans."

"Then we can show miracles with the great players we have. It would make the game weaker if we made a show of it."

Hejkova knows what she is talking about. She was a basketball player before moving to the sidelines.

"I am delighted to have something like this," she said.

"I have been working in women's basketball for 20 years so I really appreciate it."

It's never too late to pick up the sport.

"I was 15 years old, which is quite old to start," she said. "Kids are starting at 10 years old, now."

"But it is important for them to play other sports as well as basketball and then if they decide that basketball is the greatest sport in the world, then that can only be a good thing."

There is no doubting what the key has been for Sopron this season. Nikki Teasley is a wonderful talent, but wins were not as frequent earlier in the season.

"She was everywhere in the league stats at the beginning of the season," she said.

"But then she started to understand that it was a team game and so she became no longer the best shooter or the best rebounder, and then the team started winning."

"She changed positions and that worked. But she is a great player because she has a really big personality."

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