By Paul Nilsen
|Eva Vitecková led Prague in scoring last season and is again expected to be one of the main threats|
The last week has been a painful but perhaps timely wake-up call for ZVVZ USK Prague who will be expected to push hard for a place at the EuroLeague Women Final Eight.
Freshly appointed head coach Ivan Benes and his new look team were soundly thrashed 79-62 in the Czech League by BK IMOS Brno, their arch rivals and a club not exactly laden by the burden of expectation when they step out in the competition on Wednesday.
Whilst there are the mitigating circumstances of a bunch of new faces all trying to integrate and develop some chemistry and the team not being 100 per cent complete, fans will be hoping it was simply a huge blip and a bad day at the office rather than anything more troublesome.
For the last few years, ZVVZ USK Prague have been the main flag bearer for Czech basketball in the EuroLeague Women, but haven't quite managed to get over the hump in the post-season and establish themselves as a top tier team.
Charged with trying to land a place at the Final Eight, Benes will have a fight on his hands after being drawn in a really tough Group C, but he does at least have real experience to draw upon, including Montenegrin veteran Jelena Skerovic who arrived at the club during the summer.
She played in the Final Eight earlier this year with Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje which has given her a hunger for more whilst also reiterating the point that expectations are high in Prague.
"Istanbul was a good experience for me" said the playmaker.
"It was the first time I managed to be at the final stage of a tournament such as the EuroLeague Women and of course I got the chance to play both with, and also against, the very best players.
"The expectation for ZVVZ USK Prague is not only to win the Czech League, but also to advance to the Final Eight of the EuroLeague Women.
"I think team has a good balance of youth and experience and I also think the players that we have complement each other on the court.
The experienced guard will certainly feel at home with her new club since she used to play in the Czech League with Brno, and also has two national team colleagues alongside her in Jelena Dubljevic and Anna De Forge who have also been added to the roster.
|Being able to play alongside her national team companions Anna De Forge and Jelena Dubljevic adds a special dimension for Jelena Skerovic|
Skerovic is especially looking forward to teaming up with Dubljevic when the EuroLeague Women tips-off.
"It's going to be great playing with her because we understand each other so well.
"We've been playing together for a long time and it's a unique experience that both of us will enjoy here in Prague."
The addition of De Forge means the club has one of the most experienced back-courts in the business and they can feel under less pressure to score because of the outside threat still posed by Czech national team duo Eva Viteckova and Katerina Elhotova.
This duo can, and most probably will, put points on the board in a hurry due to their super shooting ability from the wings.
It's also worth noting the retention of Michaela Zrustova who was one of the few players to really impress for the Czech team at the London Olympics, posting a particularly memorable 15 point haul against eventual champions USA.
French guard Anael Lardy has also been drafted in from Challes-les-Eaux in France to bolster the backcourt and she can provide a nice defensive presence coming off the bench.
In the frontcourt, USK Prague now has a really useful looking quartet. In addition to the mobility and proven production of Dubljevic at this level, they can still rely on Czech Republic national team centre Ilona Burgrova who played with the club last year.
|Rebekkah Brunson's athleticism will be a valuable asset in the front court for Prague|
Vaughn enjoyed outstanding personal performances in Taranto last season and Brunson is of course a two-time EuroLeague Women All Star and a veteran performer capable of propelling the club to new heights.
Brunson just finished runner-up in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx and certainly will give the team a boost after her arrival in Europe.
For several years now, ZVVZ USK Prague seem to have assembled the right ingredients, but the end product has not quite been good enough to match the ambition.
This time they must really show a more rugged edge to their game and a true mental toughness.
Clearly, the club bosses feel veteran experience in the backcourt, the scoring power on the wings from the Czech players and a re-focused and powerful frontcourt will get the job done.
The first round is hugely important for ZVVZ USK Prague since they are in the immensely difficult Group C and if they want to reach the Final Eight, they really do need to finish as highly as possible to avoid an unfavourable match-up in the play-offs which has cost them during previous campaigns.