by Paul Nilsen ~ Special for WSEN
It’s now entering crunch time overseas for the vast array of stellar WNBA talent who opt to head around the globe during the off-season and particularly for those players who have chosen EuroLeague Women as their destination.
The only club competition in the world to even remotely rival the WNBA, the tournament is now preparing for its’ final round of the regular season ahead of the play-offs and a quite sparkling week of action at Final Eight in Ekaterinburg, Russia during March.
There’s a whole bunch of WNBA players who will be participating and not least, those who will step out for the richest club in the world – UMMC Ekaterinburg. The Russian heavyweights have paid tens of millions of dollars so far, in their quest to regain the title having last won it a decade ago.
They now have a starting guard combo of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, the former having finally linked up with the team just a couple of weeks ago. They also have Deanna Nolan too and that is some backcourt.
In the frontcourt, Candace Parker is having one of her best ever seasons in Europe, averaging a near double-double of 16.6 points and 9.4 rebounds – or should I say, she was having one of her best seasons? For due to eligibility rules on foreign/import players, the arrival of Bird means Parker was de-registered and hasn’t played of late.
Quanitra Hollingsworth (who of course represented Turkey at the Olympics last summer) and Ewelina Kobryn have been holding the baton in the frontcourt, although interestingly, having won 10 straight games, Ekat lost for the first time last week and perhaps omitting Parker needs re-consideration.
On the subject of Turkey, Cappie Pondexter and Angel McCoughtry are team-mates in Istanbul with Fenerbahce, who have an outside shot of winning the title. Both are having mediocre seasons so far, but players of their talent live for the season clutch, so will no doubt step it up.
Over the Bosphorus river, arch rivals Galatasaray also have a roster worthy of a shot at the title in Ekaterinburg. They have the legendary Ann Wauters alongside Sancho Lyttle and of course, Sylvia Fowles in a superb frontcourt rotation. Throw in Lindsay Whalen at point guard and you can be assured this WNBA fueled team will be in the final mix.
Two players who have made a huge impact so far this season both play in Poland. WNBA MVP Tina Charles joined Wisla Can-Pack later than anticipated and the team was 0-3. However, they have qualified for the play-offs with Charles having transformed them with a string of monumental double-double displays. She is averaging an almost incomprehensible 25.3 points and 12.4 rebounds per game.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike is tearing it up too in her rookie season in Europe. She is with CCC Polkowice and has registered 18.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. But, the biggest story has been her three-point shooting- yes, you heard me right! She has shown some impressive range since she arrived, shooting 47.4% from downtown, having made nine triples so far. She also just grabbed her first EuroLeague Women Weekly MVP award too.
Three post players who didn’t play in EuroLeague Women this year were Cheryl Ford, Janel McCarville and Asjha Jones. The trio has all had very contrasting seasons outside of the elite competition. Jones is having success with Kayseri Kaski spor in Turkey where the team is third in the league and on the brink of successive EuroCup Women Final appearances (the second best Cup in Europe). Sadly McCarville has just left Canik Belediye claiming the club had some financial difficulties, whilst Ford plays for the same club – ironic because both made the switch from Schio in Italy last summer having played alongside each other there too.
Finally, the trend of WNBA players heading for lucrative contracts in Europe is now being challenged by the WCBA in China. With Maya Moore and Liz Cambage contesting the Finals as we speak, this is where some seriously megabucks contracts now are. Although some have questioned players for stepping out there, because they are getting astronomical statistics and so it perhaps the professional challenge is nowhere near the same as it is in EuroLeague Women. Moore claimed a triple-double in the Finals with 43 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, although a WNBA star of the future, Liz Cambage of Australia has produced even more eye-popping numbers on a regular basis.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or using Paul-Nilsen on Skype.
Paul now also writes a weekly column at FIBA.com called Women’s Basketball Worldwide.