|12 April 2013|
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|Maria Stepanova has been the first selection in Russian teams for well over a decade|
There is no other player as synonymous with EuroBasket Women than Maria Stepanova, but the Russian legend won't be stepping out in France, after calling time on her glittering national team career.
Not only a star in Russia, she is one of the most unmistakable figures across the women's basketball world, having played at the elite level for her country for some 16 years, incorporating 15 major tournaments which has harvested a number of medals.
She stepped out at eight EuroBasket Women tournaments and effectively finished on a high, by winning gold and being named in the All Tournament Team two years ago in Poland.
Even suffering an ACL injury and being agonisingly ruled out of last year's Olympics in London, can't take the shine off an arguably unrivalled resume.
Typically, the center admitted it was the experience of both the highs and the lows, which have made her national team journey so special.
"You know, for me to just be in the team was a great joy," she told Russian newspaper Sport Express.
"Even in defeat, I did not perceive it as a tragedy, but as a kind of spice from which victory grew sweeter.
"For example, at Eurobasket Women during 2009 when we lost in the final and then winning the title two years later, brought a fountain of bright emotions.
"If we had just won all the tournaments - it would probably not have been quite so interesting."
In addition to her Eurobasket Women success, Stepanova spoke about her pride at stepping out at the Olympic Games as a teenager and also famously beating the USA at the FIBA World Championships in 2006.
It's little wonder that the last decade-and-a-half is referred to as the ‘Stepanova-era' in her homeland. Indeed within a couple of hours of her announcement, the phrase ‘post-Stepanova era' had already been coined.
Whilst everyone involved in the game are now paying tribute to the star and what she has done not only for the Russian national team, but also as an on-court ambassador for women's basketball in general, the attention is also focusing on who will follow in her vast footsteps.
Stepanova herself explained to Sport Express that she is confident the Russian frontcourt is in safe hands and implored everyone not to make comparisons with whoever steps out in her absence.
She said: "Our country has many talented pivots. Natalia Vieru recently demonstrated excellent basketball. Ekaterina Lisina also can be successful in this position in the team.
"But, I hope that there is no so-called ‘new Stepanova' in the team and there will be some other, bright and original basketball player, which is not to be compared with anyone else."
Ironically, Stepanova made the announcement prior to her club side UMMC Ekaterinburg going up against Dynamo Kursk - a team coached by new Russian head coach Alfredas Vainauskas, who lost another vastly experienced campaigner in Olga Arteshina earlier in the week.
Stepanova hasn't yet decided whether she will hang up her basketball shoes completely. Not only has she got her hands full with trying to become a champion in the Russian play-offs, she also has the lure of another one year contract already secured with UMMC.
"UMMC has become my real home," said the 34-year-old.
"Let's see. My contract runs for the next season and if I have enough strength and health, it's hard to say. I will take a final decision in the summer.
"In any case, with or without me in Ekaterinburg, all the conditions are in place for a real team dynasty with UMMC able to dominate in the EuroLeague Women for many years."