|28 September 2012|
|Bourges point guard Celine Dumerc is still surrounded by the Olympics 'buzz' after her fantastic performances at London 2012, says forward Stephany Skrba|
By Paul Nilsen
Bourges Basket once again represents the best chance of a French team making it to the Final Eight this season.
This traditional powerhouse missed out on the party last time after being beaten in an absorbing play-off series with eventual finalists Rivas Ecopolis.
So, this experience is likely to be invaluable for head coach Valerie Garnier who could finally make a real mark this season with some subtle tweaks.
On the subject of experience, one of the noticeable aspects of this year's roster is that all the new players which have been recruited have previously played in the French league - something which was not always the case in recent years.
Therefore there will be no frustrating learning curves slowing them down.
Bourges is of course a perennial favourite to land titles in France and this is hardly breaking news.
During their convincing opening day performance in the French league against the newly promoted and ambitious Perpignan, they made a real statement of intent.
Most impressively, the victory came without the services of no less than three major players in the form of Endene Miyem, Cathy Joens and Styliani Kaltsidou who are all out injured.
Their health and return to fitness is likely to be a huge factor in Bourges being successful and to limit the potential damage by their absence, the club has brought in experienced Italian international Simona Ballardini on a short-term deal which should, at the very least, resist any temptation to rush back Joens in particular.
|Center Emmeline Ndongue suffered an injury during EuroBasket Women 2011 that kept her out of actions for months, but after her return she is playing some of the best basketball in her career|
Despite looking a well-drilled unit so far without some of their star names, Kaltsidou is still in rehab and may not be back until later in the season which could be a blow since her EuroLeague Women experience will be missed, even if fellow Greek international Zoi Dimitrakou is doing a great job basically playing in her position right now.
The heart of this Bourges team is encapsulated by two French stars.
Emmeline Ndongue is not just back from last year's injury, but she is back in a big way and playing some of the best basketball of her career. A great season from her and Bourges will be difficult to stop.
Their destiny also rests (perhaps literally) in the hands of London 2012 stand-out Celine Dumerc who was already a bona-fide star of the European game and recognised as one of the best playmakers in the business before her performances at the Olympics handed her the global profile and popularity she so thoroughly deserves.
Dumerc will once again be the leader on the floor in every sense.
I believe Bourges has made two of the most astute and exciting signings of the summer in Frida Eldebrink and Stephany Skrba.
Whilst they may have to sit behind Dumerc and Ndongue in terms of status, both are capable of firing Bourges to a wonderful season.
Eldebrink has been sensational for the Swedish national team this summer, averaging 20.9 points per game - the highest of any player participating in the EuroBasket Women Qualification Round.
That was the driving force in catapulting the Swedes to EuroBasket Women 2013, coincidentally in France! So, her firepower could take this traditionally low-scoring team, so reliant on defence, to new offensive levels.
Skrba meanwhile moves from Montpellier where she was actually the deadliest finisher in the EuroLeague Women before injury ended her season prematurely. Unsurprisingly, the forward can't wait to get back on the floor in the competition.
"I'm happy to join Bourges Basket for this season. Our expectations as a team is of course to defend the French league and Cup titles and also to advance far in the EuroLeague Women," she said.
|France international Endene Miyem (pictured) and Greece international Stella Kaltsidou are sidelined with injuries and missed the start of the French season but Bourges have been coping very well|
"Personally, I would like to remain consistent throughout the year and to just have fun playing this game!
"We have experienced players on our team who bring a lot of different things to the court and off the court, we get along very well.
"As far as Caps (Celine Dumerc) is concerned, she's a great point guard and it's a lot of fun to play with her. There is still a buzz from the Olympics that surrounds her and also the other Olympians on the team, so that energy from the supporters has really made it a cool experience so far.
Skrba added: "I've had the opportunity to play with the two best point guards in France during these past couple of years, and they have helped me take my game to a new level.
"I feel very blessed to have this opportunity this year with Bourges and now that I'm back on the court after being injured last year, I'm looking forward to a great season."
Pauline Krawczyk also brings additional experience having made the switch from Tarbes, whilst I love to see rising stars at EuroLeague Women clubs and Bourges certainly has one in 1993 born Romaine Bernies.
She is being talked about in France with real glee and excitement. So much so, (and whisper this quietly) that some people are even predicting she has the talent to one day be the next Yannick Souvre.
In summary, Bourges look equipped to reach the Final Eight. They must however match their talent level with a new toughened mentality which can get them wins on the road - especially come play-off time.
They are in danger of having a mental block when it comes to the play-offs and so their first task will be to qualify and then to ensure home advantage.