|14 September 2012|
|Point guard Paulina Pawlak returns for a third consecutive season at Wisla Can-Pack and will provide a pair of safe hands in the backcourt |
By Paul Nilsen
Whilst many of the faces at Wisla Can-Pack have changed during the summer, expectations certainly haven't with everyone in Krakow looking for head coach Jose Hernandez to deliver back-to-back Final Eight appearances.
Whether those aspirations fairly equate to the roster he has at his disposal is debatable, with opinion likely to be divided as to whether this year's team is an upgrade or downgrade on last season.
Perhaps it's just different and I guess we will soon find out during coming months when this preview eventually morphs into a review of the 2013 season.
I actually feel they have a significant opportunity to progress to the climax of the EuroLeague Women season once again and if they do meet this target, then they should be better equipped to win a game, which they didn't manage during the 2012 Final Eight in Istanbul.
However, the Final Eight is obviously a long, long way off right now - even the start of the season itself is over a month away, so plenty of water must pass under the bridge.
And, with so many big name changes, the success of this new-look team could be decided on chemistry since a lack of experience isn't likely to be a factor.
The core of last year's rotation has been ripped out and replaced. The club has waved goodbye to Ewelina Kobryn, Nicole Powell, Erin Phillips, Milka Bjelica, Ana Dabovic, Petra Ujhelyi and Magdalena Leciejewska.
|Sharp-shooting veteran Katie Douglas should provide Wisla with consistent scoring from the perimeter|
Crucially however, there is a real heartbeat still pumping from last season, in the form of guard duo Paulina Pawlak and former EuroLeague Women champion Anke De Mondt.
The solid and reliable playmaking of Pawlak and the sharp-perimeter threat and vast experience of her Belgian backcourt partner will continue to be a major feature this season.
Both were instrumental in reaching the Final Eight last time out and also delivering plenty of silverware on the domestic front.
Exciting Spanish national team player Cristina Ouvina has been brought in at the point guard spot and having played a key part in helping her country to qualify for the EuroBasket Women next summer, she makes her EuroLeague Women debut.
She has previously played in the EuroCup Women with Mann Filter Zaragoza.
It's a key decision from Wisla and an interesting one. It's also a big challenge, opportunity and potential breakthrough year for Ouvina and it will be interesting to see how she does.
One of the most redeeming features of Wisla last year was an ability to impose their desired tempo on a game, something Phillips did superbly and that attribute must be retained.
If there is a little inexperience of EuroLeague Women from Ouvina, then that certainly can't be said of Katie Douglas - one of the most instantly recognisable faces around.
The veteran guard is a potentially super pick-up. She will provide a significant scoring threat both inside and out and should more than make up for the firepower which evaporated from the departure of Powell.
Douglas will be central to the prospects of Wisla and arguably the ‘X-Factor' in their season from the point of view that if she gets the hot hand during the season at key times, she can fire them to success.
|Poland international Justyna Zurowska has joined from rivals Lotos Gdynia|
The frontcourt is almost brand new with the previous headliners of Kobryn, Bjelica and Ujhelyi being replaced by Tina Charles, Dora Horti and Petra Stampalija.
I have to admit that when I saw Wisla had managed to clinch the signature of Charles, my initial reaction was a loud 'wow!'
Charles can take the team to new places judging by her performances in the WNBA and for Galatasaray Medical Park last season, so this is a great acquisition. Horti and Stampalija meanwhile are both experienced campaigners who should do a good job.
In terms of the Polish contingent other than Pawlak, it looks a smart move to upgrade by bringing in Justyna Zurowska and Daria Mieloszynska.
They've both previously played for Lotos Gdynia in the competition but had started last season in the French league.
We are of course yet to see if the style of play will change significantly from last year but the likelihood is that Wisla will again rely on solid defence and having a true perimeter threat.
The big upgrade should be on finishing at the hoop since they simply didn't convert efficiently enough in the paint last season.
Quite smartly, and maybe this is indicative of both the number of personnel changes and a possible fear that a lack of continuity could be harmful, Wisla got their roster together early and are embarking on an extensive pre-season schedule.
Even though this programme started with a disappointing loss to MBK Ruzomberok, it's far too soon to read anything into this, or perhaps any games in coming weeks until the likes of Douglas and Charles are incorporated.
In summary, with the roster changes they have made and by continuing to rely on an excellent coaching team and also the amazing passion of their fans, Wisla Can-Pack could, and (on balance) probably should be lining up at the Final Eight next March.