|16 October 2012|
|Shooting guard Zsófia Fegyverneky led UE Sopron in points and rebounds in the EuroLeague Women last year and has now recovered from her summer injury |
By Paul Nilsen
Ever since their remarkable run to the Final Four during 2009, Uniqa EuroLeasing Sopron have really had to battle just to make the post season on one occassion during the last three seasons.
Reaching the play-offs this time around is likely to be another battle for the Hungarian club, although at least Group B gives them the best possible opportunity of advancing.
Equally as important is the return to the club of Serbian forward Jelena Milovanovic.
A talismanic figure during their eye-opening exploits when they made it to the season finale in Salamanca, the degree of change at Sopron is represented by the fact that, incredibly, she is the sole survivor from those relative glory days.
A bit like Sopron as a club itself, Milovanovic is eager to find success again and having suffered the agony of missing the Final Eight with Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje last season due to injury, she is perhaps understandably, raring to go.
"It feels good to be back," smiled Milovanovic.
"I had my first EuroLeague Women steps here and had a couple of great seasons.
"This club really helped me improve my game and I think that after my injury, this was the best place for me and I am so happy to come back.
"I missed the most important part of last season but that has just made me work twice as hard to stay in good shape and avoid injuries this time.
"All that is now behind me and I'm concentrating on having a great season in the EuroLeague Women, and of course also getting myself ready for EuroBasket Women 2013 in France because that is a huge thing for both me and my country.
| Serbia international Jelena Milovanovic has returned to Sopron after a two-year stint at powerhouse Sparta&K M. R. Vidnoje|
"We have a good, young team here in Sopron with some good chemistry," is Milovanovic's assessment.
"Our goal for this season is to go as far as we can and for sure, we are going to give it our best."
Some people feel Milovanovic still has something to prove, having never quite hit the heights in Russia, although her injuries offer some mitigation.
Still, when in a Sopron vest, she arguably played some of the best basketball of her career and like the Sopron fans, I can't wait to see her paired up in the frontcourt with fellow Serbian national team star Sara Krnjic who remains on the roster from last season.
Still only 21 years old, Krnjic is still improving but has already shown enough to make her one of my favourite European players in the paint and she will again be an important cog in the Sopron wheel as they try to roll forward and improve on last years' losing record.
Latvian Anita Teilane will also patrol the frontcourt in what will be her debut EuroLeague Women season.
She moved from Vasas Budapest where she played last year so she knows the domestic league pretty well and is unlikely to have any problem settling.
If the frontcourt is reasonably well served, the wings look a slight concern in terms of depth.
Australian Hanna Zavecz returns to give at least one solid option and her rebounding in particular will be hugely important, whilst Orsolya Zsovar made a breakthrough with the Hungarian national team during the summer and will most probably contribute off the bench.
However, perhaps this issue will be resolved by the versatility of marquee import Shenise Johnson.
Having made her WNBA debut with San Antonio Silver Stars during the summer, the University of Miami graduate starts her European career in Sopron and will bring the offensive skills which could help the team have a good season.
Johnson may play shooting guard or small forward, meaning the role of Hungarian playmaker Zsofia Fegyverneky will be absolutely essential as potentially the primary guard.
She will be hoping to be back to full health after an injury which ruined her summer and potentially cost Hungary a place at EuroBasket Women 2013.
She averaged 4.3 assists in the EuroLeague Women last year and she will be hoping for the same kind of impact this time around.
As has always been the case, Sopron has a healthy number of young players, all determined to follow in the footsteps of so many players who have been given a jump-start in their respective careers by head coach Norbert Szekely, who certainly isn't afraid to throw youngsters into the mix.
General Manager Zoltan Török perhaps best summarises the situation with Sopron when he says: "Our aim was to build a good starting five and a young and/or motivated bench. We stand with good basic players, and on thin ice. But we stand and live!"
They do indeed. And, this proud club and former Ronchetti Cup winner, will be thrilled with being pitched into a wide open Group B.
Yes, they may well be on thin ice, but that doesn't stop them from possibly skating into the play-offs.