Taylor Made: Gruda Earns It

16 February 2010

 Jeff TaylorJeff Taylor has been covering European basketball since 1997, when he first worked on the television program SLAM. He has been a basketball writer and broadcaster since that time, traveling the continent and covering the game in depth for FIBA Europe since its launch in 2003.  

Sandrine Gruda is well on her way to becoming one of the top French basketball players of all time.

At 22 years of age, she could retire right now and have plenty of memories to savor.

Gruda is ticking off the boxes that all greats do.

FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year? Tick.

EuroBasket champion? Tick.

A strong player on both sides of the Atlantic - in the EuroLeague Women and the WNBA? Tick.

FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year. TICK!

The UMMC Ekaterinburg power forward ticked that last box over the weekend and positively jumped for joy.

"First of all, I couldn't believe it," she said to Basketball World News.

"And then, I was really happy!"

Gruda spent the early part of her professional career with US Valenciennes in France before moving to UMMC Ekaterinburg ahead of the 2007-08 campaign.

She had her finest hour last summer as an integral part of France's gold-medal winning side at the EuroBasket Women in Riga.

Russia went into the tournament as the team to beat, and France looked nowhere near a championship-caliber side in some of their early games.

They were a tough-defending, tough-rebounding team that won, yet often struggled to score points.

If there was one consistent player on both ends of the floor, it was Gruda.

A player who showed finesse, power and a silky-smooth jump shot, Gruda averaged 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game at the EuroBasket.

In their late come-from-behind win against Greece in the Quarter-Finals, Gruda had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

The 1.93m star played with confidence from the very first game to the very last.

French Basketball Federation president Yvan Mainini has a favorite story about Gruda.

He said: "I remember one day when talking with Sandrine and Pierre Vincent, the coach of the France Women, that when she was asked about her ambitions, she replied: ‘Winning the Olympics.'

"I found it great to have a player as ambitious and as talented as Sandrine."

So where does this Gruda moxie come from?

"I got this confidence by working hard and with the help of people around me - coaches, doctor, friends, family and fans," she said.

Gruda admits that one crucial element in her development has been the ability to play in both Europe and the United States.

In Europe, she is in one of the most talented sides in the world at UMMC Ekaterinburg.

In the WNBA, Gruda has impressed with the Connecticut Sun.

"It was important for me to play in Russia because a lot of great players are playing here, so it's an honor to be a part of it," Gruda said.

"In the States, (it's an honor) because it's the hardest league ever to perform in which make it more interesting for me."

What the fans do not see are the times when she has to get up for an early morning practice, go for a long run or lift weights.

Aren't there times when all of us want to turn off the alarm clock and stay in bed?

To be the best, a player has to put in the work.

It helps, though, when people give the right advice.

Gruda knows exactly who to thank when asked which person truly made a difference in her career and helped her become the player that she is today.

"Thanks to my dad," she said.

"He told me to leave Martinique to go play in France when I was 14 years old and that was the first big step."

Rest assured, Gruda is going to take a lot more big steps this season, and in the ones that follow.

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