Earlier this year, myself and my BlueStar Media colleague Pierre both agreed that one of the most powerful features of EuroBasket Women was the seemingly reduced impact made by the rather controversial naturalized players.
We wrote about this and it got a lot of traction on social media. In the end, four of the top six teams who made it to the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup did not utilize a ‘foreigner’ – only Spain and Turkey did, while France, Belgium, Greece and Latvia did not need any ‘outside assistance’.
Yet despite this, as we start a new cycle across the Pond her in Europe with the first FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019 Qualifiers, there is no doubt that several nations will be relying heavily on naturalized players.
Here is a list of who, and why, the death of the naturalized player may prove to be premature.
Lynetta Kizer – Bosnia and Herzegovina
With so many of their Balkan neighbours having made a somewhat unexpected splash in the last decade including the likes of Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, there is no doubt that for Bosnia and Herzegovina to realize their own Final Round dreams, the towering Kizer is going to be a massive factor. Scoring, rebounding and the all-important defensive match-up capabilities, she will also form a potentially devastating partnership with the stellar talented Marica Gajic. Additionally, there is some excitement that free-scoring youth standout Melisa Brcaninovic can step up and make it a three-pronged attack. With Iceland, Slovak Republic and a derby game against Montenegro to come, they might just spring the surprise they crave.
Alysha Clark – Israel
One of the leading players of EuroLeague Women recently, the CCC Polkowice forward is going to have to continue her rich vein of form for her adopted country if they want to make a return to Final Round for the first time since 2011. Her do-it-all approach will be vital at both ends of the floor, with her quick hands and impact defensively likely to be just as important as what she does on offense. Her input will be even more vital, since Israel will be without the legendary Shay Doron who is taking a break from the sport. Clark will also get to go up against her Polkowice colleague, Temitope Fagbenle when Israel lock horns with Great Britain.
Glory Johnson – Montenegro
One of the most fascinating changes to the naturalized spot of any nations in the competition, the WNBA forward replaces Perfumerias Avenida center, Angelica Robinson. With another highly powerful performer in Iva Perovanovic having also retired, the onus will be on Johnson to hit the ground running. Likely to partner new captain Jelena Dubljevic, that one-two punch will be integral. She will also be required to try and shut down Kizer in the two match-ups with Bosnia and Herzegovina. She has previous experience in Europe from Nadezhda, a club head coach Roberto Iniguez also knows well – so they have a common link right there.
Cyesha Goree – Hungary
The other interesting change came in the Hungary camp, when eyebrows were raised with Goree coming in to replace the superbly skilled and impactful playmaker, Courtney Vandersloot. But this is all about a recalibration of the roster, not an isolated decision. Hungary have some big talents such as Agnes Studer coming through in the backcourt, but have looked lightweight under the hoop. The addition of the CMB Cargo Uni Gyor powerhouse will change that. Even if not a huge star, she will get the job done – just think Danielle Page and Serbia. Plus, with games against Russia and Lithuania, having better options in the paint is a no-brainer.
Kia Vaughn – Czech Republic
Some cynics had suggested that Vaughn playing for Czech Republic was likely to be a one-off deal at EuroBasket Women 2017. After the hosts flopped rather spectacularly and effectively exited after just over 24 hours of the competition, the Fenerbahce player is back on board. She will be much needed, since the Czech roster has been depleted with the double retirement of Petra Kulichova and Ilona Burgrova. New head coach Stefan Svitek will be hoping Vaughn can go to work with her former ZVVZ USK Prague colleague, Alena Hanusova in a group containing Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.
Ashley Walker – Romania
While Romania played at Final Round in 2015, their participation was as co-hosts and they’re looking to post a successful qualification for the first time. With some talented performers such as Gabriela Marginean, Claudia Pop and Sonia Ursu to name but a few, the continuation of Walker looks central to their prospects. Last time it did not work out as the team perhaps looked to her too much. But this time around, the hopes are that she will be fully integrated and as effective as she has been in the Italian League. While France look formidable, the games against Slovenia look like determining Romania’s future – providing they don’t slip up against Finland.