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WOMEN’S EUROLEAGUE SPECIAL: THE 2011 PREVIEW

WOMEN’S EUROLEAGUE SPECIAL: THE 2011 PREVIEW

WNBA Stars Heading Overseas for the 2011 Euroleague Season–

by Paul Nilsen (for WSENetwork.com)–

As we bid farewell to a terrific and memorable summer that coined the phrase ‘The Perfect Storm’, the basketball winds have blown the cream of the WNBA over to Europe a little earlier this year to participate at the FIBA World Championships in Czech Republic.

Lauren Jackson (photo courtesy of www.fibaeurope.com)

There really is absolutely no let up as Women’s basketball continues across the globe with breakneck speed and once the FIBA Worlds are over, you had better grab your breath quickly since it will then be the turn of EuroLeague Women to grab the baton.

It’s going to be an interesting last few weeks leading up to the start of the EuroLeague Women season, primarily because of the changes in eligibility which has reduced the slots for import players to just two per club.

This potentially means fewer jobs for American players with most clubs having traditionally chosen to recruit from Stateside. It will of course take a little more time to see what kind of impact the changes will have on the market.

While there are fewer slots available, the elite players will just about all find places on teams although interestingly, those on the fringes may, for the very first time, have to widen their net to incorporate teams who aren’t playing in EuroLeague Women.

Like any other sport, the real stars of the game will always hold the power when it comes to money and making choices. For them, little will change but I am intrigued whether younger American players in particular might lose out by not being handed one of the 48 slots on offer each year to the non-European players.

Janel McCarville driving against UMMC's Candace Parker (photo courtesy of www.fibaeurope.com)

The overseas market in Europe has been really hotting up during the last month or two. Most of the established WNBA stars have been snapped up as you would expect while despite the change in eligibility rules, there are still going to be a few EuroLeague Women rookies too.

Starting with the big guns, it looks as if the two Russian powerhouses of UMMC Ekaterinbug and Spartak Moscow will be leading the way once again. However, along with the Spanish clubs who challenge every year without fail, it looks like bitter Turkish rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray are also going to have a big tilt at Final Four in 2011. Outside of those teams, only maybe Schio inItaly look to have a genuine shot at finishing top of the podium.

Taurasi taking her talents to Turkey (photo courtesy of www.fibaeurope.com)

Diana Taurasi has of course left Pokey Chatman and Spartak Moscow after four successive titles in favor of the ambitious Fenerbahce and will play for her former Spartak coach Laszlo Ratgeber. She will be joined by Penelope Taylor and so there will be a familiar feel for DT – despite the change in environment.

At Galatasaray, her former Spartak team-mates Sylvia Fowles has turned up but the situation has been clouded by the fact the club appear to have signed four non-Europeans with Candice Wiggins, Monique Curry and Seimone Augustus all apparently in the mix. Throw in Doneeka Hodges who has a Bulgarian passport and things look a little confused on the paperwork front – although all should be revealed soon. Surely Fowles is a no-brainer considering her incredible record in ELW during recent years.

Continuing on the theme of departures from Spartak Moscow, Janel McCarville who was the story of last season in Europe and very much the unsung hero for the Russian club leads the way in Italy for Schio who are beginning to put together a dangerous looking team.

Russia is still where it is at. Despite the departures, Spartak will still be there are thereabouts and have drafted in some exciting European talents to fill the voids. They are also likely to have Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird so will be favorites for the Final Four yet again.

Crystal Langhorne (photo courtesy of www.fibaeurope.com)

Perhaps the real favorites will be Ekaterinburg who as ever look strong but maybe this time they will make it happen for real. A glittering array of stars each year with Crystal Langhorne apparently filling in for Candace Parker until after the New Year when she will return. Cappie Pondexter is also heading back to Russia while Svetlana Abrosimova will be on the team and still high after her WNBA success.

Still in the same country, Nadezhda Orenburg will have Tina Charles on their books this season along with Becky Hammon and Shameka Christon. That means the domestic battle in Russia could be just as exciting as the European side of things!

With far too many players to cover all at once, it’s maybe best to wrap things up by looking at some notable EuroLeague Women rookie additions for the 2010-11 season.

Heading the list are Jacinta Monroe and Shavonte Zellous. The former will be playing in Europe for the first time in her career while the latter will be promoted to Euroleague Women having already played in the lesser EuroCup Women while with Turkish side Besiktas. Both will be team-mates in 2010-2011 after being signed by TTT Riga of Latvia.

Also keeping the WNBA Rookie flag flying high in EuroLeague Women will be Kelsey Griffin (Mizo Pecs, Hungary) and Kalana Greene (Gorzow, Poland). However, you have to think it will be Tina Charles who every European fan will be watching with the most interest after her stellar WNBA year.

To think we haven’t even scratched the surface of teams in nations such as Spain, Poland, Hungary and France – it only underlines just how much quality EuroLeague Women possesses. The cream of the WNBA with top level Europeans – you just have to absolutely love it.

Paul Nilsen is a freelance journalist based in Europe on behalf of basketmedia365. Paul covers EuroLeague Women for the official tournament site at www.fibaeurope.com and can be reached by e-mail at basketmedia365@yahoo.com or using Paul-Nilsen on Skype.

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More 2011 Euroleague News…

Ros Casares Player Movements

**Ros Casares reacted to the injury of Nicky Anosike and signed veteran center Taj Mc Williams to a limited contract. It reamins to be seen how long the experienced post player stays in Valencia. Another player Ros Casares added to their completely renewed roster is Katie Douglas. The veteran forward is back after her first appearance for Valencia in EuroLeague Women 2008. After cutting 5 stars from their roster it did not take Ros Casares long to bring in fresh blood. They did so by signing All Star Center Rebekkah Brunson from Cras Basket Taranto who will replace Erika de Souza who found a new home quickly as Halcon Avenida did not hesitate and pick up the strong center to team up with new Spain citizen Sancho Lyttle, her Atlanta Dream teammate, in what promises to be a dominent front court in Spain and Europe. Marta is going home. After some years on the road Fernandez joins Spanish giants Ros Casares in their bid to sustain supremacy in Spain and attack the EuroLeague Women crown once again.

**The super-tandem of Candice Dupree and Angel McCoghtry is no more. Angel left the Good Angels for MKB Euroleasing Sopron to replace Jelena Milovanovic.

**NY Liberty’s Nicole Powell had to leave new power house Fenerbahce and now bolsters the roster of Wisla who certainly look like the team to beat in Poland now.

**Fan Favourite Becky Hammon goes back to Russia. But this time it is Nadezhda Orenburg that signed the speedy guard in their quest for a deeper run than last time when they exited EuroLeague Women after the Regular Season.

**LA Sparks’ DeLisha Milton-Jones is all but tired and at age 36 seeks new adventures with Czech powerhouse ZVVZ USK Prague.

**Australian Point Guard Erin Phillips was on the move and left Gdynia for Polish rivals Wisla Can Pack Krakow. She is replacing Liron Cohen and will try to lead Wisla into another exciting campaign.

**Mercury’s Dewanna Bonner impressed in the upset of Rivas Ecopolis in last year”s Eighth-Finals with Brno. Enough for Rivas to sign the tall American with great indivdual skills and guard handles.

For more Women’s Euroleague News Click Here

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A NEW ERA FOR POKEY CHATMAN & SPARTAK MOSCOW

By Paul Nilsen    (for WSENetwork.com)

posted 2010-08/23

Spartak Moscow Head Coach Pokey Chatman - FIBA Europe / Figurski

Just a few months after she delivered her first EuroLeague Women title as Head Coach of Spartak Moscow Vidnoje at the first time of asking, Pokey Chatman will head into the new campaign with a mammoth task on her hands in extending the glorious European reign of the Russian powerhouse.

An unprecedented and stunning four EuroLeague Women titles in a row and now the club is already casting its eyes on a fifth – even if it will be harder than ever before. This time around, Coach Chatman won’t have the phenomenal Diana Taurasi to bail her out when the dirt really hits the fan during games.

Diana Taurasi, Euroleague Women 2010 MVP - FIBA Europe / Elio Castoria

Perhaps just as importantly, neither will she have the feisty Janel McCarville who was a revelation last season or the frontcourt under-appreciated reliability of ‘Big Syl’ Fowles.

Still, don’t expect anyone in Europe to have any sympathy for Chatman. After all, she will still have some class players at her disposal and while Spartak might not have the odds stacked heavily in their favor any more, the presence of Sue Bird. Anete Jekabsone and of course the return of Lauren Jackson means front-runner status is still very much assured.

The reason why it is such a mammoth task is that success at Final Four in Valencia, Spain earlier this year officially closed a chapter in the dramatic and compelling history of not only Spartak Moscow themselves but also elite Womens basketball in Europe.

Shabtai Von Kalmanovich & Lauren Jackson in 2008 - FIBA Europe / Ciamillo-Castoria

Much of that was due to the tragic death of Shabtai Von Kalmanovich at the start of last season – the man affectionately known simply as ‘Papa’ by everyone and who bankrolled the club with his millions, making sure each of the players were made to feel special and wanted for nothing in the process.

He treated them all like princesses and when he was gunned down on the streets of Moscow, the heart and soul of the club was ripped out in gut-wrenching fashion while European basketball lost one of its most colorful characters and someone who loved Womens basketball to the very core.

The way that Coach Chatman and her players subsequently held things together was an inspiration. In times of adversity and such tragedy people often pull together but this was something truly magical. Not losing a game and romping to a fourth EuroLeague Women title despite Lauren Jackson being cut loose half-way through the season almost defied belief. It was a fairytale finish and yet the era will remain forever tainted by the loss of Von Kalmanovich.

Now a new chapter has been opened in the history of Spartak. The sense of family (and in one case quite literally) helped get the club through last season and that will continue which will be a big help to Chatman. Sporting Director Steve Costalas is the man making things happen right now while Pokey can always get a second opinion from Anna Arkhipova Von Kalmanovich – the widow of Shabtai and former esteemed USSR international who works with the juniors including the Russia U17 girls who have just participated at the FIBA World Championships.

This in itself is part of the new era. While Spartak look to continue their dominance of the elite competition in Womens basketball, they also have to cut their cloth accordingly with a 50% budget reduction and start planning for when the finances dry up even further. That strategy will include bringing in younger players and more home-grown players.

Few people including those familiar with Womens basketball in Europe recognize and appreciate the investment Spartak Moscow have made in developing young Russian talent – a fact all to often overshadowed by the stellar names brought into the club. The ultimate dream of Von Kalmanovich was to one day win EuroLeague Women with all Russian players.

For now, Chatman will of course be content with challenging and hopefully winning a title at the start of this new and no less intriguing era. There were strong rumors that she would follow Taurasi out of the door to Fenerbahce in Istanbul, Turkey but she stayed putt.

Spartak Sporting Director Steve Costalas believes the sense of family and a special bond kept Chatman on board and he was thrilled when she turned down some money-spinning and mouth-watering offers from elsewhere in Europe to keep her word and stay in Moscow.

Clearly, Chatman relishes a challenge and it is one that Costalas and the Directors thinks she can meet. They see her as ‘one of the best basketball coaches in the world’ and now want her to blend the small core of veteran players who have remained with some young and hungry talents. Costalas has labeled her type of basketball as ‘aggressive, hardnosed, and disciplined, but simple and effective.’

Continuing from last season is Sue Bird, Anete Jekabsone, Marina Karpunina, Ilona Korstin, Irina Osipova, Sonja Petrovic and Natalia Vieru while they have also brought back Lauren Jackson, Katia Demagina and Noelle Quinn and signed three extremely talented players in Nadezda Grishaeva, Jelena Milovanovic and Epiphanny Prince.

While salaries have been slashed and their EuroLeague Women rivals have picked up their game with some big-name signatures, Spartak are a Championship team who hope to simply evolve.

With Chatman calling the shots and the sense of ‘family’ still encapsulating the club, there is a real impetus to enter this new phase in the clubs illustrious history with a sense of pride and purpose.

Watching the evolution of Chatman and Spartak this season is likely to be one of the most fascinating elements of a competition that never fails to disappoint when it comes to excitement, drama and intrigue.

Paul Nilsen is a freelance journalist based in Europe on behalf of basketmedia365. Paul covers EuroLeague Women for the official tournament site at www.fibaeurope.com and can be reached by e-mail at basketmedia365@yahoo.com or using Paul-Nilsen on Skype.

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