| EUROLEAGUE WOMEN – Stars all set for new season
There will be no shortage of talent in this season’s EuroLeague Women, which tips off this week.
From the heart of Spain to the Urals in Russia will be many of the players that excelled for their national sides at this year's continental championships.
And this will be a very different campaign in Europe, too, because for first time, the competition will have a Final Eight instead of a Final Four.
There will be seven games on Wednesday and four more on Thursday.
Australia's Lauren Jackson has yet to link up with her new side, Ros Casares.
The power forward is on her way to Valencia, Spain, to join a Ros team that is expected to challenge for the title under coach Natalia Hejkova.
Jackson didn’t play this past summer for Australia at the FIBA Oceania Championship for Women but will be with the team next year at the London Games.
Ros begin their EuroLeague Women campaign on Thursday at Seat Unisze Györ in Hungary.
The Spanish giants are also waiting on USA star Maya Moore, who just helped fire the Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA title.
France center Isabelle Yacoubou will be with Ros.
Yacoubou averaged seven points and 4.1 rebounds for the French at the EuroBasket Women in Poland to help them capture a bronze medal and earn a place in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
Russians Stand Tall
The first game of the new EuroLeague Women season gets underway in Poland on Wednesday with Lotos Gdynia hosting Russian champions UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Ekaterinburg have several players expected to be at next year's Olympics, including Russia's Maria Stepanova, Svetlana Abrosimova, Olga Arteshina and Tatiana Vidmer, France's Sandrine Gruda and United States internationals Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter.
Hana Horakova, the MVP of the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women, has also joined UMMC from Fenerbahce.
She took a break from international duty this year but the Czech Republic is counting on her to return to the side next summer at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
For gold-medal winning Russia at the EuroBasket Women 2011, the 2.03m Stepanova made the all-tournament team after averaging 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
At 32, Stepanova is at the peak of her career.
The 1.93m Gruda, just 24 years of age, averaged 13.4 points and 6.2 rebounds at the EuroBasket in Poland.
Perhaps nowhere in Russia is there more of a buzz than Nadezhda Orenburg - the home of EuroBasket Women 2011 MVP Elena Danilochkina.
Nadezhda will open their EuroLeague Women account at Beretta Famila Schio on Thursday.
Danilochkina shot 54.5% (18 of 33) from behind the arc at the EuroBasket and averaged just under 14 points per game.
Nadezhda will not have Liudmila Sapova, the EuroBasket Women gold-medal winner, in their line-up.
She hurt her Achilles tendon in a pre-season game at fellow EuroLeague Women outfit Cras Basket Taranto and is expected to miss several months.
All eyes will also be on Sparta&K Moscow Region, who have signed WNBA Finals MVP Seimone Augustus. Sparta&K has also signed Candice Dupree and Becky Hammon.
The Minnesota Lynx star will be in the squad when the team hosts Wisla Can-Pack Krakow next week.
Just down the road from Gdynia in Polkowice will be the place where Perfumerias Avenida launch their EuroLeague Women title defense.
Many players in last year’s EuroLeague Women-title winning side left Avenida but one to stay was Brazil international center Erika DeSouza, the MVP of the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship for Women.
Erika, who missed the 2008 Olympics, will be chomping at the bit to compete in London next year.
She won’t be with the club for at least a couple of weeks with her arrival being delayed by Brazil's participation in the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
While Polish outfits Polkowice and Gdynia do not have any Olympians in their squads, Wisla Can-Pack Krakow do in Australia point guard Erin Phillips.
Phillips played at the Beijing Games and two years later at the FIBA World Championship for Women.
She reached the WNBA playoffs with the Indiana Fever and did not represent the Opals as they swept New Zealand 3-0 in the FIBA Oceania Championship for Women.
Wisla host Good Angels Kosice on Wednesday.
Croatia will be at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women after a fifth-place finish at the EuroBasket and one of their best players, Ana Lelas, is on the books of Lattes Montpellier.
She is still sky high from the EuroBasket, despite having to miss the last several games because of injury.
"It was an amazing feeling," she said to FIBA.com.
"I felt like we won the gold medal.
“At the end, we showed everyone we have the quality and in a few years, I think we're going to get better."
World class talent will be on show in Turkey, where Fenerbahce and Galatasaray have high expectations.
Diana Taurasi and Angel McCoughtry of the United States are on the books of Gala while Fener have Australia's Penny Taylor along with several other Turkish players who enjoyed their finest hour in the silver-medal run at the EuroBasket Women.
Among those Turkey players that reached the podium in Poland to earn a trip to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament are Nevin Nevlin, Birsel Vardarli and Nevriye Yilmaz.
Nevlin was terrific in Turkey's 68-62 upset of France in the Semi-Finals, pouring in 23 points and corralling eight rebounds.
Vardarli, the point guard, was outstanding from start to finish and ended up averaging 10.7 points, four assists, 4.4 rebounds and two steals.
Yilmaz was Turkey's all-tournament selection.
Along with Taurasi at Galatasaray will be fellow USA star Tina Charles and Turkey national team players Isil Alben, Bahar Caglar, Saziye Ivegin and Spain's Alba Torrens.
New Era At Bourges
In France, a new era gets underway with long-time coach Pierre Vincent having decided to coach men’s side ASVEL, the team that now has French superstar Tony Parker.
But returning to Bourges to play for new coach Valérie Garnier is Celine Dumerc, the France point guard.
Vincent will coach Dumerc at next year’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, along with Bourges players Emmeline Ndongue, Endene Miyem and Jennifer Digbeu.
Ndongue is recovering from an Achilles operation but should return to the Bourges line-up in a few months.
New signing Marielle Amant was in the French 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women squad and aspires for a return to the national team after taking this summer off.
The first opponents for Bourges are USK Prague and in their side is Eva Viteckova, Ilona Burgrova and Katerina Elhotova – three players expected to be in the Czech Republic squad that will try to reach the London Games via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Prague’s Katerina Bartonova and Michaela Zrustova will also be looking to have good seasons as they attempt to make the Czech squad next summer.
Lindsay Whalen, who just finished her WNBA campaign with a championship at Minnesota, will be arriving in Prague soon.
She won a gold medal with the United States at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.
The coach of Prague is Czech women’s national team boss, Lubor Blazek.
| Women's Pan Am Games roster set
Gonzaga star seniors Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon will lead the U.S. women's basketball team at the Pan Am Games next month.
The roster is made up of 11 college players -- mostly from mid-major schools -- and high school senior Breanna Stewart, who has verbally committed to Connecticut. The tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico begins Oct. 21 and runs through Oct. 25. The squad will start training in Houston on Oct. 15.
The tournament's timing is a bit tricky this year. College practice can begin Oct. 2, so players potentially could miss 10 days of practice with their school teams.
Usually the Games are played over the summer so there isn't the timing conflict.
The U.S. men's basketball team doesn't have the same problem as it's made up of NBDL players.
| Opals missing WNBA stars for China
Dual Olympic silver-medallist Suzy Batkovic will headline an under-strength Opals squad for a three-game series against China later this month.
The team, missing several big names including WNBA stars such as Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor, will take on China on July 24 in Logan, on July 28 in Townsville and in Cairns on July 30.
The series will serve as perfect preparation for September's FIBA Oceania Series against New Zealand, the winner of which will gain direct entry into the 2012 London Olympics.
Batkovic, along with 2010 FIBA world championship team members Abby Bishop and Marianna Tolo, will provide key international experience for the team.
Coach Carrie Graf said Bishop, Tolo and Batkovic will complement Australian-based players such as Jessica Bibby and the team's youngest player Tess Madgen.
"This is certainly an emerging talent group, but there is also a great deal of experience in this list, and great depth particularly at the post," she said.
"Players like Abby Bishop and Marianna Tolo, both members of our 2010 World Championship team, will be looking to continue their great form, and Elyse Penaluna is another talented tall who has performed well in camp and on tour recently.
"Then you add a 'big' with the experience and skill-level of dual Olympian Suzy Batkovic and we feel confident that we have the size to give the fans in Queensland a good showing against China.
Australia: Suzy Batkovic, Abby Bishop, Jessica Bibby, Stephanie Cumming, Cayla Francis, Rachael Flanagan, Tess Madgen, Elyse Penaluna, Marianna Tolo, Kristen Veal, Carly Wilson, Hanna Zavecz.
| Russia Wins EuroBasket Title
It wasn't the smoothest of rides but a rampant Russia finally reached their destination to top the podium and be crowned EuroBasket Women 2011 champions.
Their stuttering and unconvincing start to the tournament was little more than a distant memory as they swept aside Turkey with a classy and powerful performance to make up for missing out on top spot in the Final two years ago.
The victory also ensured their remarkable sequence of podium success woven during previous years continued.
Having won alternate silver and gold medals since 2001, the pattern had hinted at gold this time around and they duly delivered.
Led by veteran Maria Stepanova and tournament MVP Elena Danilochkina, Russia pretty much controlled the game from start to finish as they utilised their strength in the paint and all-round depth of their roster to great effect.
Turkey found it really tough going against an imperious Russian defence right from the first moments.
A superb early play by Birsel Vardarli was a rare highlight but not a sign of things to come since they couldn't penetrate or make a shot from outside and consequently trailed 19-8 after ten minutes.
Russia increased their advantage to sixteen points but Turkey did keep the faith. They came storming back into contention as consecutive triples by Bahar Caglar and Saize Ivegin sparked them into life and helped cut the gap to just five points via a stunning 15-4 run.
However Olga Arteshina settled Russian nerves shortly ahead of the interval when she drooped a three-ball and helped restore the double digit advantage.
Turkish fans, hoping their team would return to the floor and muster the kind of revival witnessed midway through the second quarter, were left disappointed.
With each passing minute during the second half, Russia began to look more and more like champions in waiting.
As hard as Turkey tried, they could make no real impression and a surprise comeback never materialised as Russia cruised home for yet another EuroBasket Women title.