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Our 12 exciting players ready take their first #FIBAWWC footsteps
TENERIFE (FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018) – A number of players will be making their respective debut appearances at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup when the action gets underway in Tenerife.
Here is a selection of some of the most exciting you should have on your watch-list for the flagship event:
Elena Delle Donne (USA)
One of the most instantly recognizable women's basketball faces on the planet, they don't get much bigger in skills or stature than the former WNBA Rookie of the Year and MVP. Delle Donne commands so much respect from everyone involved in the game and while it took her some time to finally make her USA senior debut at a major tournament, she will now look to add the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup title to the Olympic gold medal she collected in Rio. Perhaps she might even arrive in Tenerife with a WNBA Championship ring after inspiring Washington Mystics to the 2018 Finals. Either way, she is surely the number one debutante in anyone's list of players stepping out for the first time at this event.
Emma Meesseman (Belgium)
It must be a bitter-sweet feeling for Meesseman after skipping the WNBA season to focus on Belgium's debut at this event and then in her absence, the Washington Mystics reaching the Finals. for the first time. That will surely spur the classy forward on even more as she bounces back from a worrying injury at the recent Valencia preparation tournament, which had briefly threatened to derail her participation. The whole of Belgium and many neutral fans breathed a sigh of relief when it was revealed the injury was not serious. The reigning EuroLeague Women MVP, Meesseman took Belgium to that historic bronze last year at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket in Prague, when she also made the All-Star Five.
Astou Ndour (Spain)
Two years after a global tournament debut for her adopted country at the Olympic Games, Ndour will now complete her resume with a FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup tournament. The forward showed her power in Rio after coming up with a highly impressive 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, to show that she can make up for the missing Sancho Lyttle who was been Spain's other long-standing naturalized option. Ndour is going to be the main go-to player for the expectant hosts in the paint and will have to deal with a lot of pressure - both from her opponents and the expectation of the fans in Tenerife. However, she's a player very much on an upward trajectory and will be a big factor for sure when the action tips-off.
Melisa Gretter (Argentina)
The dust has barely settled on a momentous landmark for the playmaker and her country after Argentina ended a staggering 70 years of hurt to finally lend their epic drought and land the South American Women's Championship title. The celebrations in Tunja, Columbia witnessed Gretter deservedly take the MVP crown as they took down arch rivals Brazil in an exciting conclusion. The confidence will therefore be flowing when she steps onto the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup floor for the first time and tries to make everyone sit up and take notice. She was also MVP of the Brazilian Play-Offs recently too, so she is riding the crest of a wave and you really can;t get tired of watching her all-action style.
Eleanna Christinaki (Greece)
As the long-standing veteran Greek core of players such as Evanthia Maltsi, Lolita Lymoura and Styliani Kaltsidou all rlle dback the years in their surprise run to the Semi-Finals at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2017, the sub-plot was about the emergence of a new generation. Christinaki is at the heart of this exciting pool of young guns that will soon pick up the torch from the 'golden-oldies'. Having impressed in the NCAA with Maryland, the guard has also done it at senior level with her cameos in the Czech capital last year, as well as some sharp-shooting in the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 Qualifiers. A red-hot prospect for Greece, she will enjoy this first global outing and bring an offensive punch in the backcourt and on the wings.
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (Canada)
While most of her Canadian colleagues have already featured at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup four years ago in Turkey or back during 2010 in the Czech Republic, Raincock-Ekunwe is preparing to take her bow at the prestigious event. The powerhouse forward could make a case for being one of the most improved players in European club basketball in recent seasons and while she has played for Canada at multiple events, including Rio 2016, it feels like she could be one to push on and really make a mark in Tenerife. With WNBA minutes on her resume and having been signed by EuroLeague Women and French giants Tango Bourges Basket, she has the quality to bring the noise.
Ezinne Kalu (Nigeria)
When Nigeria scooped their third title at the FIBA Women's Afrobasket last year, it wasn't only MVP Evelyn Aktahor who caught the eye. The infectious energy, intensity and play of Kalu was a major factor as well and so it is likely that she could be one to watch when it comes to celebrating African talent in Tenerife. You certainly won't miss the versatile Kalu, since she wears her heart on the sleeve of her jersey and will be looking to harness that emotion to bring Nigeria some upset victories in the Canary Islands.
Alanna Smith (Australia)
Australia have been one of the first nations to confirm their final roster for the event and Smith was always likely to be a lock after what she produced at her first senior tournament last year. The forward was superb at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup and while disappointed her team were edged out in agonizing fashion by Japan in the title game, Smith had to be satisfied with a productive 10.8 points and 5.3 boards per outing. She is one of the most exciting players that are pushing the Opals into a new chapter and we already know her skills from her displays at the FIBA U17 and U19 Basketball World Cups.
Marine Johannes (France)
With a magnetic effect that sees her gravitate towards the highlights reel during almost every game and tournament she plays, her first major competition at senior level was Rio 2016. Her Olympic debut will now be followed by another global first, having also ticked the FIBA Women's EuroBasket box by leading France to last year's Final. Whether it is shooting the ball, some sweet handles or driving to the bucket, Johannes is the type of player that will always get you off your seat - whether that is inside the Arena, or on the chair back home. The guard takes the entertainment level in a vertical direction each time she's on the floor.
Kitija Laksa (Latvia)
The shooting star is one of the most exciting offensive wing talents in Europe right now and was instrumental in catapulting Latvia to their first ever FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. Laksa showed all of her promise at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2017 in Prague and has been a standout player in the NCAA with the University of South Florida. Her three-point skills are deadly and she is more than just a perimeter player. Everyone is looking for her to be the focal point of Latvian women's basketball in the next decade and she has the skills, maturity and mental attitude to deliver against such a demanding level of expectation.
Manami Fujioka (Japan)
Having landed FIBA Women's Asia Cup gold last year in Bengaluru at what was her first ever major tournament at senior level for Japan, hopes are high that she can also have a positive impact in her maiden global competition at senior level. Fujioka was so impressive en-route to Japan's podium-topping finish that she made it onto the All-Star Five. Her dynamic play is already well known to observers who have watched her compete at the FIBA U17 and U19 Women's Basketball World Cups. Now she is about to complete the set by hitting the hardwood in Tenerife.
Jennifer O'Neill (Puerto Rico)
It will be a proud moment for women's basketball in Puerto Rico when their nation steps out at this event for the first time and thanks mainly to O'Neill, the team are already riding on an emotional high. That's because her vibrancy, skill-set and scoring power propelled her nation to the Women's CentroBasket 2018 title last month as she was crowned MVP in front of thousands of triumphant home fans. Can she now continue her rich vein of form to help Puerto Rico to cause some upsets?