|01 April 2014|
|Natalia Hejkova will guide the team she formerly played for at the Final Eight in Ekaterinburg |
Natalia Hejkova has already guided ZVVZ USK Prague to their first ever appearance at the EuroLeague Women Final Eight and is now counting down the days until she proudly steps out with the team she once played for.
Simply getting to the last phase of the tournament represents a major milestone for the Czech Champions.
Now Hejkova is hoping her team can take advantage of the foundation they have built so far and use it as a springboard for more success.
"For USK Prague, this season is the best in our history," she reflected.
"Making it to the Final Eight was very important for us as we not only wanted to reach our aim, but we also didn't want to damage what was a very good regular season for us.
"There are actually many players in our team who are rookies in such a tournament and yet we have some really experienced players - as are the coaching staff.
"It will be important that we all help each other."
When it comes to assessing their prospects of advancing to the last four, Hejkova is bullish.
She stated, "Our group is interesting and we will have to compete with Orenburg and Bourges for a ticket to the semi-finals.
"I think that chances are open for all three clubs and everything will depend on finding good form at the right moments.
"The opening two games are crucial for us and we play them back-to-back.
"Maybe there is a small advantage for Nadezhda in that they do not need to travel outside of Russia.
"But, I just hope we show the level of basketball we have played all season and only then can we be satisfied."
Schedule: Tango Bourges (07/04), Nadezhda Orenburg (08/04) UMMC Ekaterinburg (09/04)
| Jelena Dubljevic is the undisputed leader of ZVVZ USK Prague|
Headline writer: Jelena Dubljevic has produced her greatest club season to date with a brilliant 18.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. The Montengrin forward has shown her all-round versatility and demonstrated that she is over the back problems which plagued her during 2012-13. She's playing the best basketball of her career and possessing a winning mentality and plenty of aggression, it's a potent mix and one capable of taking Prague to even greater heights.
‘X-Factor': No other team at the Final Eight relies on five specific players so heavily and since Eva Viteckova and Laia Palau are veterans, it will be interesting to see how they cope with three games in three days and potentially more. Surely there will need to be more rotation by Hejkova and that means a potentially inflated role for the rest of the roster. This includes the versatile Michaela Stejskalova, who recently returned from a serious injury. Having starred for the Czech national team in the last two years, it could be how she supports the main cast which is vital as she continues trying to get back to full health and fitness - something even more important in this kind of tournament format. The biggest factor however is likely to be how Prague perform on the glass. They are the worst defensive rebounding team heading to Ekaterinburg and also the worst overall rebounding side.
Unsung Hero: Ilona Burgrova has been an established Czech national team and EuroLeague Women player for many seasons and yet she probably hasn't taken much of the spotlight this season. But, her contribution in the first play-off games against Rivas Ecopolis underlined why she is so important. She is sound defensively, a real fighter on the glass and a great team player. Those qualities will be vital next week.
Number Crunching: Spanish playmaker Laia Palau has had an astonishingly creative season and leads the tournament in assists with an eye-bulging 7.3 per game, representing her best ever tally in a career stretching back to the late nineties. In fact, she is also having her best ever campaign for rebounding the ball too, with 5.4 boards per game.
In Just Eight Words: Prospects hinge on veteran starters lasting the pace.