|24 October 2013|
|With a fresh-faced line-up this season, the experience of Natalia Vieru will be paramount to Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje success|
We take a look at the Euroleague Women prospects of four-time champions, Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje.
Last Season: Sparta&K finished top of Group C with an excellent 10-2 record and advanced to the Final Eight after beating Municipal Targoviste in the play-offs. But, having beaten Famila Schio in their first game at the Final Eight, they had an early flight home after losinng against both Bourges Basket and Fenerbahce.
Significant Summer Departures: Head coach Pokey Chatman, veteran guards Rebekka Hammon and Elisa Aguilar, the free-scoring Seimone Augustus, ever impressive forward Candice Dupree, French star Isabelle Yacoubou and Russian forward Marina Kuzina.
Roster Review: With reduced resources, the former champs are having to cut their cloth accordingly and this means a huge reliance on young players, although importantly, it is not only finances which has driven this, but also a long term aim of the club to have the best young Russian players competing in Euroleague Women. With a host of top names having departed, Sparta&K will not be the force they were, but still have game-winners and some very good core players, which means they will still be capable of beating anybody in the group stages. Serbian ace Sonja Petrovic stays in the Russian capital and should be an important player on the wing and with more court time than usual to display her skills. The same can be said of Russian national team center Natalia Vieru who could form a twin tower option with former Final Eight MVP Asjha Jones, who is the biggest off-season signing for Sparta&K. Elena Kharchenko also has lots of experience, whilst former U20 European Championship Women MVP, Ksenia Tikhonenko has a full season in the competition to call upon, having been loaned to Municipal Targoviste last year. Russian national team shooter Evgenia Belyakova and point guard Ekaterina Ruzanova have enough experience in the backcourt to help the young guns. Nika Baric looks ready to become the influential figure she needs to be to realise her potential at the elite level, whilst Marina Riavkina, Kseniia Levchenko and Daria Namok will all try to make a breakthrough in the backcourt. There is also some real young talent to supplement Petrovic on the wings in Juliia Gladkova, Daria Kolosovskaia and Galina Kiseleva.
Headline Stealer: Former teenage phenomenon Nika Baric is still only 21 and this could be the true breakthrough season for the Slovenian playmaker. She has shown glimpses that suggest she can be an elite level player and having learned from the very best in the likes of Hammon, she could be ready to be a difference maker for Sparta&K this season.
Sliding Onto The Radar: Gladkova is very highly rated by those at the club and showcased her skills in a big way at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women during the summer with 13.4 points and 5.8 rebounds-per-game. She is a class act and could make an impact this season and slide onto the radar as potentially one of the rising stars of the competition.
Scanning The Schedule: It's tough to assess the prospects of Sparta&K with so many young players, but they have a great chance of still being successful in Group C which looks well balanced and includes contests against ZVVZ USK Prague, Galatasaray odeaBank, CCC Polkowice, WBC Novi Zagreb, Perfumerias Avenida and Kibirkstis-Vici Vilnius.
‘Twittertastic': Veteran @TakeraShoes and young guns @Tikhonenko_K @JuGladkova.
In Just Ten Words: Young players must adapt quickly to ensure play-off qualification.