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My A to Z of 2015 - Part 2
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen Women’s Basketball Worldwide) - Continuing on from the first part of my review of the women’s basketball world in 2015, it’s time to wrap up with M through Z!
M is for Matosinhos magic. Yes, only in the seaside town of Matosinhos on the outskirts of Porto in Portugal could you get the kind of atmosphere which witnessed between 2,000 and 4,000 fans coming to see every single game their country played at the U16 European Championship Women. Yes, even those early group games. The atmosphere was extraordinary, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and those working at the event was infectious and when the hosts made history by storming their way to the Final which resulted in people being locked out of the Arena hours before it took place, it was a phenomenal tournament to be present at. And, the reward was that Portugal booked a first ever place at a FIBA global youth tournament and will now feature at the FIBA U17 Women’s World Championship!
N is for Natasa Kovacevic who I have written about extensively during the last couple of years and obviously her inspirational return from a life changing lower leg amputation to the near miracle of playing again has been astounding. My highlight was catching up with her father one day at EuroBasket Women in a hotel car park of all places, when we chatted for a little bit. Having the privilege of hearing from her loved ones about the journey that not only Natasa, but all of them have been on, was remarkable and what a great family they are. Credit is also due to the multitude of people and organisations who have helped her along the way.
O is for opening ceremony and at the FIBA U19 Women’s World Championship in Chekhov, Russia, this was watched by a few thousand people and raised the bar to new levels for such things. Very impressive indeed!
P is for Philippines who gained promotion at the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship and for a country beautifully obsessed by basketball, it would be great if the Perlas Pilipinas could get a greater share of that love moving forward.
Q is for Qualifying Tournament. Yes, the dogfight to extend Olympic dreams was evident during 2015, with some incredible duels in the struggle to grab a place at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. It inevitably led to tears of joy for some and especially tears of sorrow for those who suffered the stomach-churning agony of only just missing out.
R is for Rio, with the various continental winners was magnified so much by the added bonus of sealing a coveted Olympic spot and a ticket to Brazil.
S is for Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje and their ‘Spaskoje’. It had been a real dream of mine to go to this famed school of women’s basketball, where there is such a jaw-dropping conveyor belt of talent coming through the ranks. It was a real honour and thrill to go to the Arena of the four-time Euroleague Women winners in Vidnoje, but even more so to be given permission to have a guided tour to where the young players are actually housed and the great facilities which underpin what we see being delivered on the court.
T is for turnovers. Rather regrettably 2015 was the year of the turnover at women’s youth level. The FIBA U19 Women’s World Championship was littered with some eye-watering numbers when it came to spilling the ball and most alarmingly of all – it also infected top nations such as the USA and Spain.
U is for Utsumi (Tomohide) the Japan play-caller who was questioned intensely by many after his team’s poor performances at last year’s FIBA Women’s World Championship in Turkey. But, he remained in situ, helped by the fact he had brought his nation their first FIBA Asia Women’s Championship title for more than four decades a year earlier in 2013. So, I was pleased that the faith still shown in him led to a successful defence of their crown this year in Wuhan.
V is for Vadeeva [Maria] who is arguably the player of 2015. While already on the radar of those who follow the European youth game, she crashed onto the big stage when she stepped out at EuroBasket Women Final Round in Hungary aged just 16-years-old. Some people moaned she was overused as they unfortunately looked in the wrong places as to why Russia fell short of achieving their dreams of making it to the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Yet she was the most efficient player at the tournament – while still a kid. What did that say about everyone else involved? She then went on to inspire her country to the Final of the FIBA U19 Women’s World Championship. As if that wasn’t enough, she has now struck up a potent frontcourt partnership at Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje with Emma Meesseman, with the pair both shooting an outstanding 61% in EuroCup Women which is the best in the competition.
W is for WNBA MVP, Elena Delle Donne. Still arguably the best player never to have played for the USA at a major senior tournament. That could all change come next August at the Rio Olympics and if the evidence of the USA’s European Tour is anything to go by, her possible presence is going to make it a real treat for American fans and neutrals alike.
X is for ‘X-Factor’ and mine of the year was the change to qualifying windows for EuroBasket Women 2017. While there is the issue of NCAA players effectively being ruled out, it was amazing to see the impact it had on fans who flocked to the games in eye-popping numbers – rendering the move a success.
Y is for Yaounde, the vibrant host city of the FIBA Africa Women’s Championship which witnessed some thrilling games.
Z is for ZVVZ USK Prague who sprung one of the biggest surprises at the top level for a long time. They were real underdogs heading into the EuroLeague Women Final Four and after beating Fenerbahce in the Semi-Finals, they came up against UMMC Ekaterinburg who looked nailed on to take another title. But, backed by the locals in a modest but fantastic arena that is superbly suited for the women’s game, they produced a massive upset to land their first title. Danielle Robinson lit the fuse with a typically electrifying contribution and with Kia Vaughn a colossus in the paint, Sonja Petrovic playing a classy and understated role, all that was left was for Laia Palau to pull the strings. Most importantly of all – it proved that teams who don’t have the very top budgets can win silverware in an elite competition.
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