Q&A with FIBAEurope.com's Paul Nilsen
|WNBA All-Stars are gaining plenty of attention while players overseas during the offseason|
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
As a writer for FIBAEurope.com, Paul Nilsen is a first-hand source when it comes to discussing how WNBA players and future players are producing overseas during the offseason. In this Q&A with WNBA.com, Paul talks about players and teams that have caught his eye and the upcoming All-Star Game in Poland.
WNBA.com: Which players have stood out to you the most so far?
Paul Nilsen: There have been so many players really catching my eye it’s so tough to even narrow it down anywhere near single figures but slightly easier if we are only talking WNBA linked players! Starting with the more established ones, Penny Taylor has been sensational for the ambitious Fenerbahce and while Taurasi is always the first to grab the headlines, Taylor deserves all the plaudits for her contribution this season. In just about every facet of her game she has stamped her class on the competition.
Erin Phillips has been a real leader for Wisla Can-pack in Poland, Charde Houston has shot the ball pretty well for Good Angels Kosice in Slovak Republic alongside the effervescent Candice Dupree at the former club of Angel McCoughtry who has again been prolific for her new team this season. Sancho Lyttle continues to be her athletic and exciting self in partnership with the powerful Erika de Souza in Salamanca while there has been a glut of similarly powerful players all putting their name up in lights.Rebekkah Brunson has been great in Spain at last year’s runners-up Ros Casares since her summer switch from Italy, while Sylvia Fowles has been the only bright spot of a shockingly inconsistent season for Galatasaray of Turkey.
I must tip my hat in admiration for Crystal Langhorne. No big flashing light on the EuroLeague Women radar, just great production and finishing around the hoop – she’s a player I admire greatly.
I have to also mention Cheryl Ford. After her injury problems in recent times she has returned to EuroLeague Women in fine style and has put up some monstrous performances on the glass. She has twice racked up 20 rebounds during individual games and is the leading rebounder in the tournament. She has shown leadership for her struggling young Frisco Sika Brno team.
In terms of the rookies in the tournament this season, the competition is as fierce as I have ever known it. The stand-outs surely have to be Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince, in terms of the current favorite for top billing as EuroLeague Women rookie of the season
I guess the inclusion of Charles in particular is no surprise to WNBA fans, is it? I mean she is the reigning WNBA Rookie Of The Year, but I genuinely think you have to give her extra praise taking into account the adjustment she has had to make moving overseas to Nadezhda. Orenburg is deep inside Russia and even with the likes of Becky Hammon to hold her hand, it can be tough. Nevertheless, she is averaging a season double-double and it looks like a late run could result in her team reaching the knockout phase of the tournament.
Prince meanwhile (or Epifaniya Prints, as I should be calling her in my official capacity here in Europe) has been absolutely terrific. Great energy and with real maturity, she has really done a fantastic job for Pokey Chatman as the coach looks to lead Spartak Moscow to a fifth straight title.
I always like to give the young players and potential WNBA players of the future a big shout. In particular, rising star Tijana Krivacevic, who is with Angel McCoughtry in Sopron, Spanish live wire Alba Torrens at Salamanca, and Anastasiya Verameyenka who plays alongside Tina Charles. I also like Croatian prospect Marija Vrsaljko, who is really having a great breakthrough year with Gospic Croatia. People need to take a look at how she is developing right now.
Having said of all the above though, it’s relatively early days and we still have two games to go in the Qualifying Round. The cream always rises to the top so I expect the likes of Lauren Jackson to get even better, so I bet she won’t be far away if you ask me this question in April!
WNBA.com: If you had to pick any one team to win it all, who would you pick?
PN: That is a tough one. I am probably going to say UMMC Ekaterinburg on the basis that they always get so close. This year in particular, they have all the essential ingredients.
Seriously though, even with the loss of a real EuroLeague Women thoroughbred like Ann Wauters (who will soon be celebrating the arrival of a baby), there are few, if any weaknesses. They have stellar talent, almost total continuity and the potential additional boost of Candace Parker. The roster is basically a list of 'who's who' in World basketball and they will surely still be feeling the pain of past failures which should drive them on this time round.
Of course anything can happen in the Final Four (if they make it and aren’t the victims of a major shock en route), but the added bonus is that their usual rivals aren’t quite as strong as in recent years. Fenerbahce has a lot of talent but some issues to deal with right now. By their own admission Spartak Moscow had to reduce their budget, Ros Casares has pretty much a new team. Halcon Avenida Salamanca are my dark horses but seriously, if Ekat doesn’t do it this time they really will only have themselves to blame as quite simply I suspect they will never be presented with a better chance.
WNBA.com: The WNBA offseason is often perceived as a great way for players to enhance their game since the level of competition remains high. Has any player caught your eye who might have a breakout year in 2011 for the WNBA?
PN: Looking at this with a slight twist and away from the obvious, I am not sure what her plans are and some people might scoff, but Erin Phillips has really had a couple of good seasons in Europe and none better than this current one. While she didn’t set the world alight at Connecticut, she has really developed and stood out in recent times. I do think she should be an option again and could make a bigger impression.
The same could be said for Courtney Paris who I feel will be hugely improved after experiences of not just playing in EuroLeague Women but in the Spanish league week in and week out. Liga Femenina is one of the most respected domestic leagues. She could possibly shine for someone.
Outside of that, I think Brooke Smith has a big chance to improve next season. Her experiences overseas this year with Taranto will be terrific for her. They have few big name stars but just lots of really good players and their defense is incredible.
|Angel McCoughtry is currently second overall in scoring for her MKB EuroLeasing club|
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
WNBA.com: You mentioned Angel McCoughtry earlier. She's just one player who made a huge impression this past season after she helped lead the Atlanta Dream to the WNBA Finals. She's currently showing no signs of slowing down overseas either, as she's averaging 22 points per game. Has she impressed you so far with her play?
PN: Well Angel is a class act, that’s for sure. I don’t doubt that she could line up in pretty much any team on either side of the Atlantic and still produce amazing numbers. Having been catapulted into the consciousness of those European fans last season who had not yet seen her light it up in the WNBA, she has embarked on what can sometimes be a difficult second season with relish.
If anything, despite being targeted by opposing coaches after her efforts last season, she has somehow still managed to pick up her game at MKB EuroLeasing Sopron in Hungary. She has proven she is going to be an All-Star for many years to come and is helping the club get back on track after they suffered a poor 2009/10 campaign having reached Final Four the year before.
WNBA.com: The All-Star Game is set to take place on March 8th in Gdynia, Poland. Who do you project will fill the starting five spots?
PN: Without wanting to influence anyone who is voting, as the fans get to choose of course, I am going to go with what I suspect will be nowhere near the actual line-ups since fans are fanatical about players from their own teams and sometimes make the more obvious choices. That means objectivity can get lost but I love that.
Fanaticism and passion from the fans in Europe is legendary, so even if favoritism is more rife than you might find elsewhere, who cares as the supporters are superb? Plus we have the limit on numbers of players from each club which always means someone great loses out while the forward spots are loaded with ridiculous levels of talent. So forgive my rather wishful near one guard line-up for the Rest Of The World, but such is life!
Rest Of The World – Erin Phillips, Penny Taylor, Angel McCoughtry, Lauren Jackson, Tina Charles
Europe – Epiphanny Prince, Alba Torrens, Agnieszka Bibrzycka, Sancho Lyttle, Anastasiya Verameyenka
WNBA.com: Is there a way for fans to watch games online during the season?
PN: The Final Four in April will no doubt be shown again online by the official tournament organizers FIBA Europe, who are working overtime to further improve media content and fostering great relationships with partner broadcasters. Some games are available at specific sites where host broadcasters in various countries broadcast their channel on the Internet.
Thankfully for fans here in Europe, it’s a little easier with a fantastic EuroLeague Women game of the week broadcast on EuroSport2 who are great supporters of the tournament.
All in all though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the availability and exposure of EuroLeague Women games increases with time which can only be a great thing for fans of womens basketball around the globe.