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My Alternative All-Star Five at the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen’s Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – As the dust settles on the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019, it’s time to take a look at those players who didn’t make the All-Star Five, but deserve some recognition.
Of course, huge congratulations to TISSOT MVP Astou Ndour and her colleagues from the official line-up in the shape of Marta Xargay, Sonja Petrovic, Sandrine Gruda and Temi Fagbenle. I agree with these selections 100 percent!
However, I also thought it was interesting to present another line-up of players who did such a great job for their respective teams in this competition.
Elina Dikaioulaku – Latvia
With the co-hosts in an absolute crisis with the absences of four big-hitters before the tournament even started in Kitija Laksa (injured), Gunta Basko-Melnbarde (retired), Anete Steinberga (personal reasons), Shey Peddy (naturalized process incomplete) and then suffering an injury to Kristine Vitola during the first phase, Dikaioulaku almost carried her nation into the Quarter-Finals single-handedly. They just came-up short and the main point is that thanks to her, the Latvian fans has some memories to cherish, made it out of the Group against expectations and her 33-point game against Ukraine was seriously special. It was a career high in the competition and of course, also a Latvian record at Final Round. She played with amazing passion, purpose and finished as the second top scorer in the tournament with 20.8 points per game. Plus, her scoring exploits hid the eye-catching 4.5 assists per outing as well. Yes, there were too many turnovers, but hey, that is going to happen when you are the number one focus for the opposing guards. Overall, a great competition for her and very enjoyable to watch.
Jo Leedham – Great Britain
While Temi Fagbenle was seriously sensational, it cast a shadow over the veteran expertise and contributions of Leedham. Missing the 2015 and 2017 editions, this was the first appearance for Leedham since 2013 in France. It is therefore no coincidence that the Brits made a massive note of history on her return to Final Round. They had never even appeared in the Quarter-Finals – let alone make the Semi-Finals and push France hard for a place in the title game itself. Yes, like the rest of the team, the bronze medal game was an outing too far for the underdogs, but well as the leadership she offered, Leedham led the tournament in steals with 3.4 per game and that was way bigger than anybody else in the competition. It set the tone. She also contributed 11 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists – as well as topping that steals chart. What an all-around effort. Amazing.
Laura Nicholls – Spain
I spoke in the preview of the Final about a difference-maker for Spain being the ‘dirty work’ of Nicholls and her teammate Laura Gil (who had 10 boards and 5 steals in the Final). For me, Nicholls was up there with Ndour in terms of importance for Spain and overall in this tournament, probably should have got the nod for the actual All-Star Five. If talking about ‘dirty work’ appears like a backhanded compliment then I apologize, but I am acutely aware that she is much more about this. It’s been quite a year for the forward, who followed up the EuroCup Women 2019 title at Nadezhda by helping Spain defend their crown at Final Round for the first time, and become the first nation since the Soviet Union in 1991 to do so. Nicholls didn’t just lead the fight, play her usual tough defense, but she shot more than 54 percent from the floor and was in the top three for efficiency, points, rebounds and blocks. She is rarely talked about I feel compared to Ndour, Torrens, Xargay, Palau and Cruz for example, but in my mind, there is arguably nobody as important for the champions.
Amanda Zahui – Sweden
As you may be aware, I had Sweden 3rd, 5th and 7th in the Power Rankings before the tournament and in my ‘Expert Panel’ had them down to make it to the OQT’s – which they did. Although it was a roller-coaster. They had a car crash in preparation on the eve of the tournament which clearly shook confidence and throughout, they were rather ugly to watch at times on offense. But, who cares? They did it. They got to the OQT’s and dug out a massive win against Russia in the crunch game. Throughout this journey, Zahui has used not only her skills, but also her personality on and off the court to maximum effect. She was loved by the TV producers and social media people because of her animated shows and this energy, passion and positivity was huge. She was also a central figure in terms of pacing everything Sweden did. She delivered against expectation, leading her team in no fewer than four categories! These were efficiency, points, rebounds and most impressively – steals. She also shot almost 50 percent from the floor and was the only player in the tournament to collect three double-doubles. Hopefully this recognition will also put a smile on her face after a nightmare trip home and some travel problems that delayed the entire Swedish team, with Zahui hammering twitter in her unique way to keep us all updated!
Emma Meesseman – Belgium
With Belgium struggling to handle the pressure of no longer being underdogs, but a frontrunner for the crown itself, it’s a good job they had a player of Meesseman’s incredible class and quality to allow the Cats to hit their main goal of a place in the OQT’s next year. Pitched into the Group of Death, it was always going to be a demanding challenge for Belgium and so it proved. They missed out on the podium due to missing 10 free-throws against France in the Quarter-Finals overtime epic, otherwise it surely would be been back-to-back podium finishes. Always sporting bruises and bumps from being the main center of attention for opposing defenses, Meesseman handled the physicality of her opponents in her usual top drawer way and led the tournament in efficiency, as well as being in the top three in the competition for scoring and field goal shooting. I am already counting down the days until I can watch her in the flesh again! A top job in every way.
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