|19 September 2012|
|Romania international Gabriela Marginean will make her EuroLeague Women debut this season |
By Paul Nilsen
History will be made this season in the EuroLeague Women when Municipal Targoviste becomes the first club from Romania to compete at the elite level.
It's quite a project for the team located north-west of Bucharest and will mean absolutely everything to the people of this modest-sized city which is only the 26th largest in Romania.
Pivotal to their chances of success will be the experience of George Dikeoulakos who takes the coaching reins having departed Fenerbahce in the summer.
He guided the Turkish giants to fourth place in last year's Final Eight.
For sure, he won't have to handle quite the same level of pressure and expectation as he did in Istanbul but, whilst the challenge is very much a different one, it is no less important according to the play-caller.
"At Fenerbahce, I received a lot of love from everybody there which was accompanied with great results since we were unbeaten until the semi-final of the EuroLeague Women Final Eight and we became champions of arguably the best domestic league in Europe," Dikeoulakos recalls.
"Now with my new team, everything is different.
"Maybe the level of the team is not the same, but the level of a coach's work doesn't change - it becomes even harder.
"But, I am also very happy to be here with a very organised club and with both excellent people and players around me in a very nice city."
Ask Dikeoulakos directly about the concept of expectation during this rookie season for Targoviste and it becomes clear that this year is all about laying down the foundations and perhaps sneaking into a position where they will make it to the post-season.
"Actually, our expectation doesn't have to do so much with ‘very good results' but with the general idea of establishing the basis of a team which will be able to bring good results in future years," explained the Greek coach.
|Coach George Dikeoulakos and Latvia international Elina Babkina renew their succesful partnership at Targoviste |
"Don't forget that we are the first Romanian team ever participating at the higher level and I think it will be a mistake if we'll not use our first season in that way.
"I believe that every win for us it will be a great step. And, especially if we make the suficcient number of wins to push us towards the play-offs."
It's going to be difficult and a real challenge. For some of the players, it will be a baptism of fire when they initially tread the boards. This much we can be sure of.
However, Municipal Targoviste do have a real marquee player to lead the charge in the form of Romanian national team star Gabriella Marginean.
As far as I am concerned, Marginean is one of the best European players who is yet to step out in the EuroLeague Women and the competition (and of course Targoviste) are all the better for her finally getting a chance to shine.
Dynamic and with significant scoring potential, as evidenced by her numbers during the Eurobasket Women Qualification Round earlier in the summer and also in the EuroCup Women with Arras, this all-action forward will be central to the success of Targoviste.
Also likely to feature in the starting five are two players who arrive via Istanbul where they competed against each other on either side of the Bosphorus.
Ivanka Matic is a veteran who brings huge experience in the paint having played at Galatasaray Medical Park whilst Latvia international Elina Babkina offers combo guard skills.
|U20 European Championship Women MVP Ksenia Tikhonenko, on loan to Targoviste from Sparta&K, will get the opporunity to play big minutes in the EuroLeague Women |
The debate still rages as to Babkina's most effective position on the floor.
Suffice to say that while she may still have some doubters, she played healthy minutes for a EuroLeague Women semi-final team last season and that kind of level is exactly what Targoviste need.
More experience will be added to the frontcourt by Florina Pascalau, with the center having played with Cras Basket Taranto last season and knowing what is required in this competition.
The same can also be said of backcourt duo Maja Miljkovic and Chioma Nnamaka.
The former is a Serbian playmaker who played with Tarbes Gespe Bigorre last season and should do a solid job whilst the same can be said of the latter, a Swedish swingman who has played with TEO Vilnius and Union Hainaut Basket.
Meanwhile a large chunk of firepower and rebounding will be provided by American forward Jillian Robbins who has extensive experience of European basketball - even if she is yet to find court time in Euroleague Women.
One of the most redeeming aspects of Targoviste is the presence of some exciting young players and none more so than home favourite Claudia Pop who is recovering from a serious injury and of course U20 European Championship Women MVP Ksenia Tikhonenko who has been loaned out by Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje.
Watching these young players continue their progress should be fun as will watching Municipal Targoviste in general.
Anyone daring to take this team lightly could be duly punished, and in summary, it's pretty easy to fall in line with the assessment of coach Dikeoulakos when he talks of potentially manoeuvring their way into a play-off spot and building for the future.
It won't be easy by any means but Municipal Targoviste has the capacity to both surprise and make sure their first ever Euroleague Women season is a memorable one.