|Gaby Ocete: "This is my first year in EuroLeague Women, I'm very happy just to be able to even play in this competition" |
By Paul Nilsen
Gaby Ocete may not yet be a name regularly on the lips of EuroLeague Women fans, but rather tellingly, she certainly features prominently on the scouting reports drawn up by opponents of Rivas Ecopolis.
This speaks volumes about a player who so far at least, has struggled to command the kind of wider respect and attention which a very productive first season in the competition so thoroughly deserves.
For much of her rookie campaign, she has been unfairly living in the shadow of her backcourt partners Frida Eldebrink and Queralt Casas and yet it is Ocete who leads the team in both assists and steals.
She has also shot the ball better than anyone else on the Rivas roster, or at least other than recent signing Jasmine Hassell. She is also a credible three-point threat and has more steals than turnovers.
In summary, Ocete has shown she can cut it at the elite level and that could just open the door for her to pull on a Spanish national team vest again, having represented her country at youth level.
"It's complicated, because we have great point guards in Spain," explained the 25-year-old and it's certainly difficult to disagree with that assessment.
"I am just working day by day to get better as a player and to be the best I can.
"I'm also working to help my team and because this is my first year in EuroLeague Women, I'm very happy just to be able to even play in this competition.
"So, if one day the Federation gives me an opportunity, then it would be both a pleasure and a dream."
Ironically, Ocete will face one of the current Spanish national team guards in the play-offs.
ZVVZ USK Prague playmaker Laia Palau is living and breathing evidence of the level required to become a genuine top-class string-puller at the elite level.
The irrepressible veteran is leading the competition with a jaw-dropping 7.7 assists per game.
|Ocete will face some tough opposition in Prague point guard Laia Palau |
"I'm looking forward to play Laia because she is an amazing point guard and a legend in Spanish basketball," smiled Ocete.
"I always like to play against great players, because I can learn from them in every game."
But with Casas ruled out with a broken finger, it looks like being a tough ask for Rivas to spring an upset.
"It will be difficult," accepted the Palma de Mallorca native.
"But we have to play our game of defence and be very aggressive in rebounding and running the floor.
"We know it's going to be a very hard task, because Prague are a great team.
"But, we never stop dreaming."
She added, "Our goal was always to pass to this next round and we did it.
"We worked a lot at the beginning of the regular season and we won important games at Wisla Can-Pack and against Nadezhda Orenburg at home.
"We still have a lot to give as a team and hopefully we can show this against Prague."
It won't only be the physical and tactical battle which will be a determining factor for Rivas.
Jose Hernandez and his players must avoid feeling sorry for themselves after a rough time recently.
They relinquished their Copa De La Reina crown, were sunk by a buzzer-beater at UE Sopron and then lost Casas for up to eight weeks.
"It was very hard to lose in the final of the Copa and especially because of the circumstances," conceded Ocete.
"However, that is now over and we are concentrating on the rest of the season.
"The team is feeling much better now and we have a lot of energy to allow us to keep working hard and to also produce some surprises."
Ocete and Rivas travel to the Czech capital on Tuesday for the first match-up of their best-of-three series.