As the best FIBA Continental tournament gets underway in the Czech Republic by way of EuroBasket Women 2017, Blue Star Media has got it covered via myself in Hradec Kralove and my Basketmedia365 colleague Pierre Ploszajki based in Prague.
As the authors of the official Media Guide for the competition, we’re bringing you exclusive insight throughout the tournament.
Our second question of the competition is: Which players should WNBA clubs be watching at #EuroBasketWomen2017?
Alba Torrens (Spain)
[PN] I am going to go with the two players that I think are top of the overall list and by some distance – as well as a player I feel can evolve and reach skywards.
Alba Torrens is one of the favorites to land the MVP award at EuroBasket Women Final Round if things go well for 2013 champions, Spain. It is something I have talked about at length on twitter and in my FIBA column, but just as the WNBA remains a sizeable hole on the resume of the dynamic wing-star, the fact that the WNBA have not yet lured Torrens to the States [even though she was once drafted by Suns] means they have a gap they need to fill as well.
Her ability to run the floor, athletic outlook, ability to hit clutch shots and smarts are all great upsides and remember this is a player who has been the heart and soul of the FIBA Women’s World Championship and Olympics.
Although there lies the issue. Destined to become a legend for her country, with wealth beyond her wildest dreams from her megabucks contract with Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg, the cycle of starring in EuroLeague Women during the winter and having fun with her compatriots on the international stage in the summer is a hard one to break.
Thrown in the fact she loves to relax when she can at her home in the Mediterranean island of Majorca [where they have even named a basketball gym in her honor], you realize why she is yet to tread the WNBA hardwood.
Maria Vadeeva (Russia)
[PN] Maria Vadeeva of Russia is the best young player/prospect I have ever seen. 100% in the European context and up there with any American players and in the conversation. Now that there has been a recent WNBA champion
in her national team captain Evgenia Belyakova, the appetite to get to the WNBA sooner rather than later might have grown. Still a teenager for a couple more years, she has earned herself a jaw-dropping multi-year contract
at Dynamo Kursk where she was recently crowned a EuroLeague Women champion – as well as becoming one of the richest players in the women’s game.
Her skills deserve it. She is like a machine. If I made a women’s basketball robot for the paint, she would be it. She is a women’s basketball terminator who destroys every defender in her way.
I absolutely love watching her play. She has no fear, no concept of how good she is or could be, and has done it at the elite level when she was just 16-years-old [at the previous edition of EuroBasket Women].
Enjoying her [as essentially a kid at the time] getting a flurry of ‘and-1’s’ was exceptional and an honor for me. Having seen her progress in the past two years, nobody can give me a list of five better centers in the world right now that I would have. She is a top five global player in her position. No question.
Aleksandra Crvendakic (Serbia)
[PN] Crvendakic is another rising star who has taken everything in her stride. A stellar youth career with her country was followed by a senior tournament debut in the best possible circumstances last year when she had the thrill of playing in Rio at Serbia’s first ever Olympic appearance.
A smart and versatile player, I have wondered at her passing vision since she was 16-years-old. Not something you always see from a small forward [as she would be in the WNBA] who was dominant in every young team she played.
Curiously, it was her team-mate Dragana Stankovic that got drafted and I have always wondered why she didn’t get the thumbs up as I believe her basketball IQ and multi-faceted skill-set would give any WNBA coach some very nice options.
She still has some improvements to make and this belated Final Round debut in Czech Republic [which comes after being left disappointed by missing out on the 2015 historic title win] will tell us more. I hope she does herself justice as she is such a great person off the floor as well – something which adds to her appeal for any WNBA franchise that wants [and should] take another look.
Cecilia Zandalasini [Italy]
[PP] You have got to love any game where Cecilia Zandalasini is on the court. She simply sweats class. She looks almost effortless in her game as things appear very easy when she does them. She is becoming the impact player her youth career suggested she’d be (2016’s FIBA U20 tournament MVP with a memorable Final game performance), which is confirmed by her 20 plus minutes and over 9pts per game for a solid EuroLeague Women Top 8 Schio team. While still only 21, there were already high expectations on her this past season both at club level and with the National Team. Though there’s still much room for progression, she stepped in and showed she was ready.
As a player she really fits the modern wing player profile (interesting size, athletic and skilled) and is a pure offensive power: she has a solid jumpshot and is more than happy to create her own off the dribble if necessary. But that is just one of the ways she is able to score or to impact the game. She can shoot in so many different situations, she can postup and either finish close to the hoop thanks to her great footwork or shoot on her defender with a reverse fade way jumper, she shoots the 3 well though not enough, she loves to run the floor, she can attack the rim with solid drives, she can draw fouls and go to the line. All key attributes WNBA teams look for.
She’s already very good but I don’t think we’ve seen half of where she is going to be at some point in her career. She is very poised, appears very focused in her game and seems a very good teammate. There is room for progression, be it her defensive game, be it her rebounding or her passing but with so many years ahead in her career it would be scary if she possessed it all already. It’s only a question of time. In her own way she reminds of other high level wing players like Torrens or Petrovic. This EuroBasketWomen will be her first and expect her to be key for Italy already, she is ready to be the go-to player for her NT for the decade to come.
Marine Johannes [France]
[PP] Marine Johannes is as deadly and creative on the court as she is shy and quiet off of it. She is still very young and is only finishing her first full season at the highest level (which started at last summer’s Olympics, her debut in a major tournament for France, and was followed by her first season with French League and ELW powerhouse Tango Bourges Basket). She exploded to the eyes of many in that time frame, but followers of international youth competition and French League knew already what was happening, and had taken notice of her. She made both FIBA U18 and U20 all-tournament teams back in 2013 and 2015 and showed leadership, cold temper (clutch in key situations) and uniqueness.
With Johannes on the floor, magic and greatness is never too far. Videos highlighting her fantastic ballhandling skills, her tremendous court vison and passing ability, her step backs 3 pointers and other crossovers can be found all over the Internet and are a real thrill to watch. The buzz surrounding her must be somehow hard to handle as she is tipped to be be part of the elite World players in the very near future, and yet she is the real thing. She is fearless, overly creative and if in confidence is capable or making big splashes in series. You can tell she loves the game and has a feel for it. She’s not yet always fully confident on the court or doesn’t always know how to manage her talent which creates the base for some missed shots and turnovers. But if she gets going and is in her game there is no stopping her. Towards the end of this club season she was starting to really hit another level as shown in the ELW 1/4 final series against Kursk, future competition winner, where she exploded for 28 points on 6/8 from behind the line.
This EuroBasketWomen is her first. She carries a huge chunk of France’s future on her shoulder but everything indicates she will fulfill expectations. The next step will be to work on her physicality and on her defense (though very good in steals) as she presents quite a thin body-frame for 1-on-1 situations against stronger players, plus she needs to develop her combo-guard skills as she can not yet play the point with consistency.
Alina Iagupova (Ukraine)
[PP] On European territory, Alina Iagupova is something of a unique phenomenon. Few, if no other player, can impact individually the game the way she does. Her youth category record belongs to the history books where she averaged regularly 30+ points, 8rebounds and 6 assists for her homeland Ukraine in every tournament. She eased her skills onto the senior scene where she has been playing now for some good years, being already 25 years old. Even if Ukraine didn’t meet success of late in Final Rounds, she has remained a standout player.
She does it all, she is physically above average (explosive, fast, great jumper and balanced). Not a single aspect of the game is unknown to her, but she firstly is a scoring power. And while she sometimes overdoes it and can shoot herself, or her team, out of the game, she can be trusted in the long run especially when things get clutch. She creates her own shots, can drill very deep three-pointers, she is drawn to the hoop like a magnet, thus is a nightmare to guard.
There’s been question marks around her capacity of overcoming homesickness and cultural gap when playing abroad as well as around her capacity to play collectively and to trust her teammates enough. These questions remain, but I believe that if put in a WNBA environment she would only get better as she could believe her teammates can also get the job done. While she still needs to work on a better shot selection and on her defense, she represents an elite basketball player which needs an elite level environment to take her game even further.
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pierrepiotr_ across all things #EuroBasketWomen2017