Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe.
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If you love to see young players handed an opportunity at the highest level, look no further than the forthcoming EuroLeague Women season which seems destined to be a breakthrough for a host of rising stars.
For sure, we will be able to savour the usual array of world-class names from around the globe but, on paper at least, there seems to be an indication that a fresh batch of young players could potentially make their mark.
Whether it's those who have already dipped their toes into the water or one of the many new faces to possibly step out during 2012-13, there's plenty to watch out for during the forthcoming campaign and especially during future seasons.
|Three of the five players on the U20 European Championship Women All Tournament Team will play in the EuroLeague Women this season: (from far right) MVP Ksenia Tikhonenko, Olcay Cakir and Queralt Casas|
If there's one player I truly can't wait to see, it's Queralt Casas. She is such a multi-skilled, smart and decisive player that it looks almost impossible she won't be a huge success in Madrid.
She led Spain to back to back gold medals at the U20 European Championship Women, being named MVP in Novi Sad during 2011 and with her former national team coach Miguel Mendez to look after her progress at Rivas Ecopolis, it looks a match made in heaven.
Naturally, her first season may see limited results but in the long term, Casas will surely be one of the biggest names in European basketball. She has the class and temperament to reach the very highest level and to stay there.
It was a truly incredible moment when 1993-born Olcay Cakir stepped out as a member of the starting five for Fenerbahce at the 2012 Final Eight and it will be intriguing to see whether new head coach, Roberto Iniguez, has as much faith in her as his predecessor, George Dikeoulakos.
Tenacious and gutsy, in perpetual motion, Cakir has just helped Turkey claim their first ever women's youth medal when they grabbed bronze at the recent U20 European Championship Women in Debrecen.
She also made the All Tournament Team and if she can make smart decisions with the ball and deal with defensive pressure that teams will inevitably try to place on her, she can continue her progression.
Whilst Nika Baric is no secret or surprise any longer, having played her rookie year with Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje including some very decent court time at the Final Eight, it's also important not to forget just how young she still is and also how important this season will be for her.
|Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje's Nika Baric prepares for her second EuroLeague Women season and expectations are high for the 2010 FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year |
To learn from Becky Hammon and now Spanish veteran Elisa Aguilar, who replaces Jelena Skerovic, is an education beyond belief for the stellar-talented Baric.
She's in a lucky position and I am backing her to take the opportunity with both hands and continue to evolve, one day becoming a true star of the women's game.
But, point guard is arguably the toughest position for any young player so she must keep working hard and listening to coach Pokey Chatman and her team-mates.
Ksenia Tikhonenko also stepped out at the Final Eight earlier this year with Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje but this season she is will be on loan to Municipal Targoviste.
It looks to be a pretty smart move by the Russian club - that is, if she settles and, she is given the court-time and support she needs to continue with her development.
She will certainly head into the new season full of confidence having been crowned MVP at the recent U20 European Championship Women in Debrecen where she was the marquee player for a Russian team which made it to the Final and won silver.
It's going to be interesting to see if she can follow the highly successful method which reaped dividends for all three parties last season, when Sparta&K team-mate Natalia Vieru was loaned to Good Angels Kosice.
Tikhonenko can go as high as she wants if she keeps working hard and shows the kind of infectious enthusiasm and determination to help her team, especially when the chips are down.
I was thrilled to see Ozge Yavas handed a chance to shine with Galatasaray after she penned a deal with them earlier in the summer and this is just the kind of profile her talent deserves although she will have to fight for minutes.
However, she can help provide a really solid Turkish backbone to the team which is essential in any recipe for success at Gala to support the glittering arrival of import stars.
|18-year-old Polish international Dominika Owczarzak could make her EuroLeague Women debut already this season with CCC Polkowice|
THE POLKOWICE TRIO
CCC Polkowice are certainly looking to the future and they are to be congratulated after acquiring the services of a trio of prospects all at different stages.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike is of course already a bona-fide College star having also stepped out this summer in the WNBA with Los Angeles Sparks and so she should have a major impact on her arrival in Europe.
Slovenian prospect Teja Oblak meanwhile is sadly injured and so may not get to realise her dream, which is a real shame since she has great experience with her national team but would have had to test herself at club level in what is the first major move of her career and a significant step up.
Dominika Owczarzak is a super Polish prospect who is probably more about being blooded into the first team for the season after next.
Although CCC Polkowice may take a look at the way young players excelled for Lotos Gdynia last season, including the likes of Magdalena Zietara, and decide to give Owczarzak some minutes.
NEW SEASON, NEW FACES
Astan Dabo is one player who everybody has been talking about this calendar year after she was drafted by Connecticut Sun in the WNBA.
A real powerhouse in the paint, the player sadly didn't give the world a glance of her talent when she failed to make it to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with Mali.
But, she should take her place on the Arras bench this season after moving up to the first division in France having played last season with Reims Basket.
There will of course be many more emerging players out there and some who will jump out to surprise us, but for now at least, note down these names and join me in tracking their progress as the new season unfolds.