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Hats off to Kaltsidou, Masciadri, Stewart and Tuukkanen
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – There was a tinge of sadness recently as the curtain came down on the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 Qualifiers.
It signaled the end of an era for a number of players who opted to call time on their respective international careers and hang up their game shoes – in some cases only in terms of representing their country and in other cases, exiting the hardwood altogether.
A quartet of those players departed having made an incredibly deep and lasting mark on basketball history in their homelands and what has struck me most, is just how similar their upsides and traits are – both on and off the court.
While Styliani Kaltsidou, Raffaella Masciadri, Azania Stewart and Taru Tukkanen have all seen differences in terms of their club careers, they are fully bonded together by the reverence that people involved in the sport in their own nations have for them – and also beyond.
It was tempting to crunch the numbers and list the accomplishments. But, many others have already done that, and rightly so. We salute those extraordinary numbers of appearances and production over the years.
What I wanted to do instead, was to very firmly draw together these common factors, which for me, stand out even more than caps, trophies or statistics.
This quartet of players have been bonafide leaders on the floor, in the locker room and around international camps for much of their careers. I don't think it is a stretch at all to suggest that they are legends in their own right and leave the international stage with an immeasurable amount of respect from us all.
Seeing a Greek legend like Evina Maltsi with a picture of Kaltsidou on her own t-shirt tells you everything you need to know. What a player. Greece will miss Kaltsidou enormously and I am honored to have watched her at some of the biggest tournaments. That basketball skill and application, which was always balanced by a warrior spirit that always shone through whenever she had Hellas emblazoned across her chest.
Even now, Masciadri is still cutting through the barriers and has permeated the mainstream Italian media with her work on and off the court. A career in sports administration and politics looks a no-brainer for her. That is the level of respect that everyone has. The Italy team without Masciadri will now feel like there is a missing piece of the puzzle and it will take a long, long time for that feeling to evaporate.
Stewart meanwhile was the heart and soul of Great Britain. As you will all be aware, the players have probably witnessed more turmoil than for any other European Federation and the center has had to be the one holding it together through much of this. The fact that each new player to the squad often only had one player in their minds that they really wanted to impress first, speaks absolute volumes as to the esteem in which Stewart was held.
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My abiding memory will always be a tearful interview on BBC Sport a few years back, which showed the hurt the team was feeling from those other issues – starkly contrasted with her almost incessant smiling and joking around the Great Britain camp. Plus a never ending flow of impressive performances on the court.
Last but not least, Tuukkanen is the definitive Finnish basketball legend. It pains me that we did not get to see her at the biggest tournaments for her country. Yet even with this, I am in complete admiration and I have to confess, absolute awe at what she has done for the sport in her country.
I am pleased that at least Finland have some young talents that can walk in her footsteps and perhaps, just perhaps, one day punch that ticket to a Women's EuroBasket Final Round.
Finally, on that topic of rising stars, it is perhaps the most important observation I can make of this quartet, that any new and emerging players in Greece, Italy, Great Britain and Finland should look to the standard that has been set.
Whatever the level of talent, if they can play with the same traits of professionalism, pride, leadership, dedication, perseverance, passion, love for the game, love for the national team vest as these fine veteran players who have went before them, they will be on the right path.
I would like to thank Stella, Raffaella, Azania and Taru for everything they have done for women's basketball. We will miss all of you guys so much and congratulations on every aspect of your time wearing your beloved NT jerseys.
You have certainly all inspired me – that is for sure!
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