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Triple-Double trouble for Turkey as Belarus star Verameyenka arrives for Kayseri showdown
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - In good times and bad, Belarus linchpin Anastasiya Verameyenka has almost always kept her emotions in check. The lone exception was in 2010, late in the Semi-Final of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup against the hosts, the Czech Republic, in Karlovy Vary.
The 1.92m (6ft 4in) Verameyenka, a couple of years removed from her first Olympic appearance in Beijing and within touching distance of a spot on the podium of a major event, was whistled for her fifth foul.
She had played 36 minutes and poured in 24 points, pulled down 7 rebounds, blocked 3 shots and come up with 3 steals. Incensed that a dubious foul had been called that ended her night, she immediately shouted an obscenity at the referee before walking to the bench.
Verameyenka lost her cool after she fouled out in this World Cup game against the Czechs in 2010
The Czechs won the game in overtime, 81-77 and Belarus, carrying a hangover from that defeat, crashed to a 77-68 defeat to Spain in the Third Place Game to miss out on a podium spot.
On other occasions, though, including when some would suggest she had single-handedly destroyed her opponents, Verameyenka has acted as if she'd had a normal performance in a normal game. There have been no clinched fists, shouts of joy or beating of her chest. Maybe there have been smiles of satisfaction, however brief. Those have been replaced by a deadpan looks that said, basically, "This is just a win. It's just business as normal."
Belarus have not been short of emotional players over the years. There have been some, quite honestly, amazing players in that team that have set the pulse racing while watching them beat up on teams. I'm talking about players like Natallia Marchanka, Yelena Leuchanka and Tatyana Troina.
Verameyenka has been nothing like them when it comes to shows of passion or anger, save that one time against the Czechs in 2010. It happened so fast that not many people saw it.
Where Verameyenka has been like Leuchanka, Troina and Marchanka, and other Belarus greats like Katsiaryna
Snytsina, is that she has the capacity to take over games.
Several years before 2010, when she was a junior player for Belarus at the 2003 European Championship for Cadettes Challenge Round against the Czech Republic, Verameyenka had a QUADRUPLE DOUBLE! She finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 12 blocks and 10 steals in a 73-41 Belarus win.
Yet she walked around after as if she didn't know something extraordinary had happened.
Verameyenka is now 31, a mother to a 3-year-old Aleksandra and wife of Belarus men's national team player, Dmitry Palyashchuk. She is still putting up eye-popping numbers for Belarus.
Before I get to that, let me remind you that after playing at her second Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, she missed FIBA EuroBasket Women 2017 and Belarus, predictably, struggled. They lost to Italy, the Slovak Republic and Turkey.
"I missed the previous EuroBasket due to personal family circumstances, but I did not intend to finish my career in the national team," she said. "I knew this and said (after the 2016 Rio Olympics) this to the head coach (Anatoli Buyalski).
"But I really wanted for, during my absence, there to be new good young players. But unfortunately this did not happen. All the same players of my age or older played."
She did, however, help them qualify for that EuroBasket Women. It was just that Verameyenka prioritized spending time with her family over everything else that summer and no one should criticize her for that.
Verameyenka returned to the fold for the EuroBasket Women 2019 qualifiers that are currently underway and Belarus have not surprisingly contended for a spot in next year's Final Round, which will be staged in Serbia and Latvia.
On Saturday night, in Tallinn against an overmatched Estonia during their FIBA EuroBasket Women 2019 Qualifying game was one of the most dominant displays of her long and famous career.
Verameyenka scored 19 points, hauled in 10 rebounds and handed out 11 assists in a 113-63 victory.
Verameyenka had a triple-double in points, rebounds and assists in Saturday's win at Estonia
The veteran was playing as if she has unfinished business. "I really want to go to Tokyo (Olympics)," she said to FIBA.basketball.
To play in Japan, Belarus will need to first reach next year's FIBA EuroBasket Women, which is being co-hosted by Serbia and Latvia, and then have a strong showing to clinch a spot in the Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
To qualify for next summer's tournament, they must win Group B or be one of the best sixth-placed teams in qualifying.
"Regarding the EuroBasket Women, I can definitely say only one thing," Verameyenka said. "If we qualify, we will give everything in full."
Verameyenka and Belarus know they will find the going much tougher than Tallinn in Kayseri on Wednesday. Turkey beat them 64-54 in Minsk back in February and have won all five of their qualifying games.
Belarus will need to not only win but overcome the 10-point deficit to clinch first place.
"In many respects, the decisive game will be against the Turkish national team in Turkey, which further complicates the task," she said.
There is also the added spice that Verameyenka plays in Turkey, for Fenerbahce.
"This is my 6th season in Turkey and I know every player in this (national) team," she said. "But at the same time, I do not think that it will give us any advantage. Only a good team game and complete dedication to absolutely the whole team will allow us to win."
Good coaching will also be required. That duty is being handled by Verameyenka's former teammate, Nataliya Trafimava.
"Under the direction of Trafimava, I feel good," Verameyenka said. "On the court, we are only a coach and a player with all respect for her. Off the court, we can already chat as friends."
If things go horribly wrong and Belarus do not qualify for the EuroBasket Women, or if she has another triple-double that gets them a ticket to next year's tournament, maybe then we'll see some form of emotion from one of Europe's greatest players the past 15 years.
I wouldn't bet on it, though.
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