|17 September 2012|
|After two season in Turkey Diana Taurasi returns to Russia but this time for UMMC Ekaterinburg, who hope she will replicate the title-winning streak she had at arch-rivals Sparta&K |
By Paul Nilsen
As the new season beckons, some things never change and one of those is that UMMC Ekaterinburg will again be leading contenders to land the prestigious EuroLeague Women title.
However, their almost perennial status as one of the red-hot favourites hasn't suited them at all in past seasons and their failure to deliver and finish top of the podium surely must end next March.
For the first ever time, they have to be heralded as absolute clear and outright favourites this year.
With a truly world-class roster that reads like a ‘who's who' of women's basketball, they have never been presented with a better opportunity to finally get their hands on the coveted trophy.
Anyone even wanting to try and argue that Ekaterinburg are not overwhelming favourites will have their argument blown out of the water in just a few words - five to be precise. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.
Yes, the dream backcourt is back together in the EuroLeague Women and the last time that happened, titles rolled in, albeit when they were paired together at Ekaterinburg's arch rivals Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje.
Arguably the best point guard in the world alongside the best two-guard in the world - a truly beautiful thing and there's little point in stating the obvious about each player's respective influence and skills.
|Center Maria Stepanova, the heart and soul of UMMC Ekaterinburg, prepares for her 15th consecutive EuroLeague Women season and her fifth at the club |
When you consider that they also have a reigning Euroleague Women champion in Silvia Dominguez for the point guard spot and with both Deanna Nolan and Anete Jekabsone offering additional firepower in the guard spots, it is eye-popping to even contemplate the level of talent currently being pooled in Sverdlovsk Oblast.
The frontcourt is similarly stacked with a quartet of stellar names in the legendary Maria Stepanova, Olympic finalists Candace Parker and Sandrine Gruda and the newly arrived Polish kingpin Ewelina Kobryn.
And, as if that wasn't enough, Ekaterinburg also have Turkey's Olympic tower Quanitra Hollingsworth - another stand-out player under the basket.
Both in the paint and in the backcourt, Ekaterinburg look stacked beyond comprehension with a global powdering of stardust perhaps never seen before.
However, it may just be the wing spots and the contribution of two Russian players, in forwards Olga Arteshina and new recruit Anna Petrakova, which could make all the difference.
The long-serving Arteshina brings so much of the glue required to hold a talented team like this together while Petrakova, having recently made the Russian national team after a sparkling season with Dynamo Kursk, could be something of a potential ‘X-Factor', if she is handed an opportunity.
"It feels exciting to now be playing in the EuroLeague Women and I believe I am ready for it," said the forward.
"I am really hoping to go from being a EuroCup Women champion to becoming a EuroLeague Women champion, and I believe we have what it takes with this team.
"Every player on this team has to fight for playing time, but I believe players on our roster compliment each other and we will rotate depending on the opponent.
"So, it's not all about getting more playing time, it's about stepping up and bringing your best game when the team needs you to."
|Russia international Olga Arteshina will once again be the 'glue player' in a star-studded UMMC team|
Tasked with moulding this incredible roster together and ensuring Ekaterinburg finally lands the EuroLeague Women title is husband-and-wife coaching duo Olaf Lange and Sandy Brondello.
The former will assume the hot-seat as head coach while Brondello will assist, with each having delivered results on both sides of the Atlantic.
Petrakova is looking forward to working with the pair, who she feels will be a good fit for Ekaterinburg.
"I know they have a lot of experience and have been successful in the WNBA, and I am excited about that since I've always liked playing for coaches who use an American style," she said.
"And also with coach Sandy being a former player, it means she knows the female mentality, which is a huge bonus.
"I expect they will have a personal approach for every player in order to help bring out the best of us."
Reading down the list of names who will be pulling on the famous orange vests of UMMC Ekaterinburg when the action gets underway next month, you realise this is the foundation for a potential ‘dream team', potentially the best collection of players ever to step out together in this elite and famous competition.
Only this is a competition which is not won on paper as Ekaterinburg knows only too well from recent seasons.
The EuroLeague Women is won on the hardwood and nobody, including Petrakova, is thinking about anything other than going out, delivering against expectation and finishing top of the pile.
"I expect nothing less but winning the EuroLeague Women this year," she proclaims.