|04 October 2012|
|'Winning the cup and the league in Turkey and making it to the EuroLeague Women Final Eight,' is how Serbian center Ivana Matovic defines Fenerbahce's primary goals this season|
By Paul Nilsen
After reaching the semi-finals of the EuroLeague Women last season, Fenerbahce can be expected to repeat that feat and perhaps even reach the Final this time around.
There's little doubt that the roster lends itself to confirming the Istanbul club as one of the leading contenders for the coveted title, albeit one of those runners still firmly behind outright favourites, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
To help them try and surpass last years' achievements is reigning EuroLeague Women winning coach Roberto Iniguez.
That could just be a master-stroke since he has now proved he can handle the burden of pressure and expectation at the very highest level.
At his disposal will be a roster which is capable of big things, and one which is arguably as strong as any other outside of Ekaterinburg.
Coach Iniguez has an embarrassment of riches in most positions all over the court and he will have to employ the same kind of effective rotation as he did at Ros Casares to keep everyone focused and motivated.
The backcourt is stacked with quality and especially when it comes to Cappie Pondexter, Birsel Vardarli and Esmeral Tuncluer, who need little introduction.
Notably these three players who have huge experience offer plenty of versatility which could prove invaluable since they are all comfortable switching between the point and shooting guard spots if needed.
And, with 1993-born Olcay Cakir continuing her development, she will hopefully be given sufficient minutes to impress and show why she is rated as one of the top prospects for the Turkish national team.
|Angel McCoughtry and new arrival Agnieszka Bibrzycka will provide plenty of firepower from the wings|
The wings will probably be patrolled by the outstanding talent of Angel McCoughtry and new arrival Agnieszka Bibrzycka. They can rotate or play together and it's a potentially devastating combination with vast amounts of offensive firepower.
One player who will be hoping to be resurrected is Nevin Nevlin. A fundamental part of the success of Fenerbahce for several years, the forward has drifted into the background of late, averaging just nine minutes per game across the last two seasons.
With the added kick in the teeth of not being selected by Turkey for the Olympics despite a hugely impressive EuroBasket Women 2011 contribution, I do hope she is given the chance to shine once again.
One of my favourite moves of the summer was Anastasiya Verameyenka being captured by Fener.
The Belarus national team star has been terrific for Nadezhda and her shot-blocking ability in particular will get the fans out of their seats and her defensive presence could be a big factor.
It will also be fascinating to see how the center settles in Istanbul with the pressure and demands on the court and adapting to a different lifestyle off the court, having previously spent her entire career in Belarus and then in Russia with Nadezhda.
Alongside Verameyenka is the inimitable figure of Ivana Matovic, one of the finest finishers around the hoop and a super rebounding presence.
The Serbian is certainly looking forward to competing with Fenerbahce again after a positive season last time out - even if missing the EuroLeague Women final meant it was slightly bitter-sweet.
"Personally, I think that last season was very successful for us in the Turkish championship because we won it and it was the seventh consecutive title for Fenerbahce," Matovic said.
"When it comes to the EuroLeague Women, it was a big success to make it to the top four teams in Europe, although not making it to the final was a bit of a disappointment for all of us - but I guess there is always a new season to improve and get better .
"When it came to my own game, I will not be ungrateful and say that I wasn't satisfied, but I think that I can always do better.
|Belarus international Anastasiya Verameyenka, one of the most underrated stars of the women's game, has joined Fenerbahce from Nadezhda|
"Playing with some of the top players and having the confidence and support of the club leadership definitely makes it easier for us to improve and play at the highest level."
A third campaign in Istanbul brings a third coach in as many seasons for Matovic but she remains confident the same level of expectation will be demanded and success can follow.
"The fact that our coach won the EuroLeague Women title last year with Valencia, as well as gaining the trust of Fenerbahce to let him take over the team, speaks enough of his coaching qualities," Matovic pointed out.
"When it comes to our game, I believe that strong defence, fast and aggressive offense, as well as our teamwork will be our strongest qualities.
"Fenerbahce tries to put together a great team every year, and this season is no exception. Although there have been a lot of changes in the team, we still have high quality players, both Turkish and foreign."
She continued: "The most important things are to keep the great atmosphere and the teamwork which are the key factors for our success.
"The main goals are winning the cup and the league in Turkey. In the EuroLeague Women, we hope to make it to the Final Eight and try to be even better than last year.
"I believe that our team is good and strong enough, we just need a little bit of luck to follow us along the way!"
Providing essential back-up, most probably off the bench, will be a core of Turkish players including experienced national team forward Yasemin Horasan who moves from Besiktas, fellow forward Kubra Siyahdemir, Esra Sencebe who moves back to her former team, and some promising younger players such as Ozge Kavuirmacioglu who recently picked up a first ever women's youth medal for Turkey at the U20 European Championship Women in Debrecen.
Fenerbahce, on paper, has the players to mount a challenge. They look to be of an equivalent level to last season, although I think the absence of Penny Taylor should not be under-estimated and that may well be where Fener could come up short.
But, they are very capable and time will tell if they are indeed a top-four EuroLeague Women club again - or better.