For those who watched the games, this women's Eurobasket was a real promotion to the women’s game.
During 15 days, we had great games, full of excellent players and unpredictable results. We saw favorites going down to their knees and we learned to respect new powerhouses in the European Basketball. It was a really exciting competition.
Write down this name. Elena Danilochkina. She’s 25 and spent her last two seasons in Vologda-Chevakata, in the Russian League. In the European Competitions, she disputed Eurocup. During the 2010 World Cup, she was Becky Hammon’s substitute, and she was ready to continue like that, if Epiphanny Prince had come to play in Poland. But she didn’t. We heard that Russia would feel their lack of quality in the point guard position.
And then Danilochkina stepped in.
She was the new champion's best scorer and, truly, their leader on court. With Maria Stepanova inside, the Russians didn’t have a good start, losing to Lithuania and Belarus, in the group stages, but they grew smoothly during the competition to be totally dominant in the final three games.
The silver medal went to Turkey, the Eurobasket Cinderella. Nobody expected much of this team. Ok, they had showed good signs in the last competitions they’ve played, but nobody expected them to be in the final. Nevriye Yilmaz, a powerful center, and guard Birsel Vardarli enchanted Europe with their fantastic defense and great offensive moves. As Russia, they had a bad start, but after beating Montenegro in the quarter-finals, they lived a dream that didn’t end until the final game.
With the bronze medal, was former champion France, who featured a very active Celine Dumerc in the guard spot. The loss to Turkey ended their chances of a 2009 Final rematch, even if France had one of the most aggressive teams in the competition. They lacked former Los Angeles Sparks center Emmeline Ndongue, who got injured during the group stage, but did have Sandrine Gruda and Emilie Gomis fantastic scorers, who proved to be two of the best players in Europe.
Outside the medals but in the all-tournament team, we found Sandra Mandir (Croatia) and Eva Viteckova (Czech Rep.). The Croatian guard might be a veteran but she knew how to lead her team to fifth place, with the guarantee to play the Olympic Qualifying Tournament next season. As for Viteckova, she’s living her best years in Basketball, and drove the Czech group to fourth place. They lacked killer instinct to do better, but they’re a solid team and always very hard to beat.
Playing for Turkey, Nevin Nevlin was in focus in the semi-finals, when she scored 23 points and led the Turkish side to the finals. A Stanford guard, Nevlin had a secure place in the starting five and was very important helping Yilmaz in the paint. Unfortunately, she paid a high price in the last game, unable to score any field goal.
Anna De Forge also made a great tournament, playing in Montenegro, who surprised everyone in the group stage and finished out of the top, after losing to Turkey in the quarter-finals, and then, letting Croatia grab the last Olympic Qualifying Tournament place. De Forge was chosen instead of Eshaya Murphy, other Montenegrin born in United States, and played an essential role in this young team. She was very important on defense and had also a scoring role, in a team where Iva Perovanovic (’83) showed her qualities to play at high level.
Another US-born player will be playing for Olympic glory, next year. Lisa Karcic, a Villanova graduate, had to fight hard to grab a place in the Croatian team. After having played only a total 23 minutes in the first seven games, she averaged 23 minutes, 6 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two final games, being the sixth player in her team. She spend her last two season in Minor European leagues (Cyprus, Finland and Iceland), but after her Eurobasket presence, she deserves to grab a place in a more competitive league.
Out of the Olympics – The WNBA 2012 prospects
After the failing to keep an Olympic dream, some players might be ready to find a place in the WNBA in 2012.
Ana Turcinovic (’93) was one of the young prospects that kept our attention in this tournament. She’s a big and powerful center (6’3’’) coming from Montenegro bench, and showed a fantastic attitude fighting for rebounds and trying to score. She has a great technique and might be top player very soon. She played the last two season in the Slovenian League and could be a lottery pick in the next draft.
The Lithuanian team fell short of their goal but left Gintare Petronyte (’89) free to try an adventure in American soil. Petronyte also experimented glory in the Lithuanian and Greek Leagues, and after a down season with Galatasaray (Turkey), she will play in the Polish side CCC Polkowice. A 6’5’’ center, Petronyte is a real inside player, who uses her body to gain space and score.
Drafted by the LA Sparks, Elena Babkina (’89) proved her qualities with the Latvian National Team, finishing in the eighth place. Babkina led the team in points and assists and would probably try her luck with the Los Angeles team, after spend the European season with Fenerbahce.
Spain was, surely, the big Eurobasket loser. Starting the tournament as one of the top favorites, the Spanish team was out of the quarter-finals and will be out of the Olympic tournament next season. This might be good news to WNBA. Sancho Lyttle, who left Atlanta to play in this Eurobasket, averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds, and was never the player we expected her to be, feeling problems due to jetlag in the first games, and then having to play through injury. Next season, she would not have problems to focus only in WNBA. Alba Torrens (’89), Euroleague Women MVP, led the Spanish team in scoring, and should profit next season to show her qualities in Connecticut, after being drafted in 2009.
Eurobasket 2011: Facts & Figures
Champion and guaranteed Olympic contender: Russia
Olympic Qualifying Tournament: Turkey, France, Czech Rep., Croatia
MVP: Elena Danilochkina
All-Tournament team: Elena Danilochkina (Russia), Sandra Mandir (Croatia), Eva Viteckova (Czech Rep.), Nevriye Yilmaz (Turkey) and Maria Stepanova (Russia)