|21 January 2014|
Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje head coach Alexander Vasin has paid tribute to his opposite number Natalia Hejkova ahead of his team's EuroLeague Women trip to ZVVZ USK Prague.
The play-caller is preparing his team to face the Group C leaders as they look to bounce back from a domestic mauling at Nadezhda.
"Prague is one of the best teams in EuroLeague Women this season and has been on a great winning streak," said Vasin.
"The ‘secret' of their success is the fact that one of the best European women's basketball coaches in Hejkova, has put together a well balanced team where every player knows what is asked from her in any given instance.
"On the other side, even though we are arriving to this game after a loss in Orenburg, I am confident that my team will bounce back and play well.
"Of course we are rightfully considered underdogs, but that is a title I love us to wear."
Hejkova once guided Sparta&K to the top of the EuroLeague Women podium and is now plotting to take down her former club, who are packing a real punch this season, despite a reliance on younger players.
|Current USK Prague head coach Natalia Hejkova has also had experience at sitting on the bench of Wednesday's opposition|
This is something which fills those working at Sparta&K with immense pride, as they begin to see the fruition of something which has been a long time in the making.
"For years under the guidance of Anna Arkhipova von Kalmanovic and according to the 'Shabtai von Kalmanovic youth programme philosophy,' we have been preparing the new blood or the next generation," explained Sporting Director, Steve Costalas.
"After trying gradually to insert young players and preparing other young players by loaning them to other clubs this past summer, we agreed that this year we go all out.
"We hired a hungry and experienced coached who loved our idea and general philosophy and we threw our young ones into the first team ‘ocean'.
"Until now, most of them have been able to stay afloat and have actually played above and beyond what we expected.
"Now we have to wait to see if they will stay on top - we believe they will."
Form Guide: ZVVZ USK Prague have inked an astonishing 23 wins in the ZBL and are unbeaten, whilst currently 6-1 in EuroLeague Women with their only reverse coming on the road at Perfumerias Avenida. Sparta&K meanwhile have had a very good season in the Russian Premier League, although were battered by Nadezhda at the weekend. They are in fourth spot with a 9-4 record and after losing their first two games in EuroLeague Women, are now on a four-game winning streak. ZVVZ USK Prague won the first meeting between the teams 57-47.
|Tijana Ajdukovic may see her first EuroLeague Women action for Sparta&K this week|
The Hot Hands: Prague forward Jelena Dubljevic has done the business since the season tipped-off, whilst Czech legend Eva Viteckova has found her trademark shooting range. However, everything goes through Spanish veteran Laia Palau and her 13 assists last week at Novi Zagreb underlined what an immeasurable influence she is. The two main thrusts for Sparta&K have generally come from Serbian forward Sonja Petrovic and Russian national team guard Evgenia Belyakova. Both have posted arguably their best ever seasons in the competition and stepped up to the plate to lead by example.
‘X Factors' & Match Ups: Sparta&K have done a phenomenal job on the glass all year and they are actually the best rebounding team in the competition. Having lost Asjha Jones to a season-ending injury, they may now hand some court time to her replacement Tijana Ajdukovic and it is imperative they continue to rebound in the same vein. The Prague frontcourt has been bolstered by the addition of Ana Pocek and is now even deeper, meaning Sparta&K must convert around the hoop more clinically as this is one area of their game which could be improved. Prague will have to break down a tough Sparta&K defence and because Palau has been the orchestrator of all the best things from Prague so far, the veteran star matching up with a young playmaking talent like Nika Baric should be a whole lot of fun.
Did you know?: Coach Hejkova handed Natalia Vieru her EuroLeague Women debut during the 2007-08 season, Palau is leading the competition in assists with eight per game, the hosts have utilised the exact same starting five in all seven games so far this season, Belyakova is leading Sparta&K in points production and was helped by a career high 23 points in the competition last time out against Novi Zagreb.