|18 October 2012|
|American point guard Dawn Evans is making her European debut with Arras, replacing Leilani Mitchell who departed for pastures new|
By Paul Nilsen
Arras Pays D'Artois is being predicted to struggle in the EuroLeague Women this season, although the saving grace is that they have been dealt the kindest hand by being drawn in a reasonably open Group B.
Anyone upset by the notion that the EuroCup Women finalists of two years ago will struggle to get wins on the board need only take note of three losses from the first four games in the French League so far this season.
This kind of form is a continuation from last season when overall, they arguably went backwards.
For despite a glorious French Cup success which handed them a ticket for the EuroLeague Women, this was marred by being dumped out of the EuroCup Women at the quarter-final stage and by only managing a disappointing eleventh place finish in the league - just four from the very bottom of the table.
Arras genuinely don't have too many positives to cling on to right now - even if they did beat fellow EuroLeague Women participants USO Mondeville last weekend to finally get a first league win of the season under their belt.
These could be worrying times ahead of next week's tip-off and the rigours of a demanding and high quality EuroLeague Women tournament is hardly likely to help their league form.
They have no continuity at all with a host of their top performers having all departed.
Gabriella Marginean went to Municipal Targoviste, Leilani Mitchell is with Novi Zagreb, Olympian Nadezhda Grishaeva has returned to her native Russia with Dynamo Moscow and Pauline Akonga is on maternity leave.
|Veteran forward Krissy Bade, in her third season at the club, is the longest-serving player on the current Arras roster|
It ultimately means that only small forward Krissy Bade returns from the main six-player rotation employed last year and this lack of continuity could of course be a factor in Arras starting the new season slowly.
Or, it could simply be a lack of firepower - or maybe both. The early signs are that Arras are not going to be able to run teams off the floor, outgun their opponents or pose an offensive threat all over the floor.
Perhaps then, the main (and some would say only) strategy for head coach Thibaut Petit is to use defence to grind out some low-scoring wins and use a rear-guard action to remain competitive in as many games possible.
He can do that because he has players who have some experience, are solid enough, but aren't necessarily going to light it up in terms of scoring.
A prime example is Sandra Dijon, a veteran forward who arrives via Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomeration, where she played in the EuroLeague Women last year. She will be particularly important and especially when times are tough on the floor.
Most of the responsibility for scoring will be placed on the shoulders of former French national team player Johanne Gomis who returns to the club she helped reach the final of EuroCup Women, although whether she can combine with Bade to limit the production which departed with the prolific Marginean remains to be seen.
It's a similar scenario for Ukranian forward Olesia Malashenko who also comes back after a season away as Arras try, in some part at least, to re-discover the spirit of the 2010-11 campaign. Although she is still ruled out with an injury which is a disappointing blow.
One potential bright spot is that Arras has secured the services of the highly rated Astan Dabo. The young Mali forward has yet to prove herself, having been drafted to the WNBA amongst much surprise, although that is the purpose of her stepping up a level and competing with Arras this season.
|Ukraine international Olesia Malashenko, who was on the team that reached the 2011 EuroCup Women finals, has returned to Arras |
She will probably still be too raw to make any significant impact but will learn from players like Dijon and hopefully show some delivery against the promise she has as the season eventually unfolds.
Also in the frontcourt are Radoslava Bachvarova, Ines Ajanovic and Aurelie Carmona.
Bacharova shone brightly for Bulgaria during the recent EuroBasket Women qualifiers and also played well with Hainaut Basket in the EuroCup Women last season. She could well prove to be a particularly astute signing who is able to contribute at the elite level.
Ajanovic is a Serbian veteran who played her first EuroLeague Women campaign last season when at Lotos Gdynia so that experience will be useful, whilst Carmona has played some big minutes domestically in the first four games to the surprise of many but is showing signs she can contribute on the glass and isn't afraid to take a shot from outside.
New in the backcourt is Dawn Evans, a playmaker who grabbed some brief court time in the WNBA during the summer with Los Angeles Sparks. She will have to have a truly outstanding time in what is her rookie European year if Arras are to defy the odds and have a good season.
It will also be worth looking out for the development of several teenagers but particularly 1994-born Mamignan Toure who won gold with France at the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest.
So, Arras must prove the doubters wrong and show they can compete at this level. As mentioned, defence will be the main instrument to delivering some success - even if that 'success' is simply finding a win against Municipal Targoviste and UE Sopron, the two clubs they no doubt fancy their chances against the most.