Laszlo Ratgeber is a former EuroLeague Women Final Four winning coach. Last season he guided Fenerbahce to the last eight of the competition before leaving Istanbul. For the first time in recent memory, he will not be involved in some capacity at a EuroLeague Women club. So, with an opportunity to assess the competition from a distance, the Hungarian play-caller has hijacked Paulball to give his thoughts on this year's tournament.
EuroLeague Women 2011/12 - A New Format, Same Old Favourites
|It's the first time Hungarian coach László Rátgéber is not starting the season at the helm of a EuroLeague Women side, but that doesn't mean he won't follow the competition closely|
This year I waited for the EuroLeague Women draw with mixed emotions. This was the first EuroLeague Women draw in history that I wasn't concerned with, that I wasn't part of.
Since the beginning of the competition, every single summer I have waited for the draw with huge excitement or I have actually been present in Munich.
After a long 15-year struggle in EuroLeague Women leaving me either crying or laughing and sometimes both, I am now without a team. Additionally, after 15 long years, my beloved Pécs team are out of the competition - for the very first time.
It takes me back to my first ever EuroLeague Women game, which was in the Abdi Ipekci Arena against Galatasaray. We lost by three points in front of 12,000 spectators.
There was such a big crowd because Efes (the men's team) had their game after ours. In the Galatasaray roster there were Ruthie Bolton, Teresa McClain, and Didem Akin - my former team manager from Fenerbahce.
During this past year, I played in the Abdi Ipekci gym five times in front of 12,000 spectators, but this year they came because of us - because of the women's game.
My last game was the quarter-final last season in Moscow with Fener against my former team, with whom I had won the title in 2009.
We were playing without Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor - what a strange season it was. Turkey was the beginning and Turkey was the end. I started off with a loss and finished with a loss, but it has been a fantastic 15 years.
Now I am working in Pécs with youngsters, both boys and girls. I have my own Academy and we are building a new gym, a new school, even with a dormitory so we have everything to best serve the education of young people.
|Last year's MVP, Alba Torrens, is one of the players who left reigning champions Halcon Avenida. The Spanish small forward will ply her trade in Istanbul, having joined title hopefuls Galatasaray|
We want to once again develop basketball in Pécs to the heights where we used to be together.
It's a good and creative job, and I guess I may be able to return to the professional women's basketball again during the winter months if some giant decides they have plans for me.
As for this coming season, I suppose it is a thankless task to try to make predictions with more than one month before the start of the season but here we go.
And of course they all have lots of other extremely good players. What will be the difference maker? The most important factor will be about who can develop the best team chemistry.
I also feel ZVVZ USK Prague is very strong too, they will be in the Final Eight, and are a team that can attain great success.
Bourges Basket, with their local point guard Celine Dumerc returning will be strong again, but of course we will have to see how they can survive the departure of coach Pierre Vincent.
Nevertheless, they are a real giant and they can surprise some other giants although their problem is they have been pitted in this very strong group.
In Group B, Fenerbahce are ready again to try and grab the crown. The most important thing for them is the return of Penny Taylor. Now they have more depth in the pivot spots, with Zane Tamane and a healthy Kristen Nevlin lining up with Nevriye Yilmaz. Meanwhile the Turkish backcourt has become better and better year in and year out.
|Australian star Lauren Jackson returns to the EuroLeague Women after her serious injury last winter, only this time she will be wearing the Ros Casares jersey|
Although reigning EuroLeague Women champions CB Perfumerias Avenida have changed their whole team, it is difficult to say too much, but don't forget that you can never underestimate the heart of a champion.
With the arrival at Nadezhda of the Russian specialist Mr Sasha Kovalev, a member of my former coaching team at Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje and a native of Orenburg, they can be dangerous. To get a win there has always been a tough task for any team.
Beretta Famila Schio is the team that can be there at the end, a club with great organisation and experience. They really have not had much luck during the past few years.
Uniqa-Euroleasing Sopron have re-shuffled their roster, too, but they are a great team, and they can also make the Final Eight. Tarbes Gespe Bigorre and CCC Polkowice are trying to develop a good team and they will be competitive.
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje is the team of Group C. They have made great signings in Seimone Augustus and Candice Dupree, who will give plenty of energy to this team. As I said before, Sparta&K is one of the teams that can win the title.
The rest all have an equal chance to place behind them, with maybe Wisla Can-Pack Krakow the second best.
There are clubs with great history in Frisco Brno and Good Angels Kosice, alongside the emerging Gospic Croatia Osiguranje. French teams are always strong and if Rivas Ecopolis and Cras Basket Taranto play this year as well as they did last season, they will be unpleasant opponents for anybody.
Of course we can't forget one very important thing - the competition format has changed from a Final Four to a Final Eight. This can give happiness and luck for some teams and still give tragedy for others.
You need to play three games in three days at the highest level and then after a day off to recover, play the Final. It's not easy. If you want to win, you need to think now of overbooking your roster to have a long bench but then it's difficult to control your team chemistry during the long season in an overbooked team.
You need to think about your scouting team for the new format. You need to think about a new physical and mental preparation. You need to prepare and to adjust to a million new things.
A Final Eight is not a Final Four - definitely not. It will be easier to get there but much harder to win it all.