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My very alternative EuroLeague Women Regular Season awards
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - With an eventful EuroLeague Women Regular Season now in the books, I've been sat polishing my alternative awards and they're ready to be handed out.
Especially in the wake of the unfortunate basketball hiatus imposed on the tournament and other FIBA competitions due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The 'Whaaaaaaaat?' moment of the season (I mean the decade)' award
TTT Riga beat UMMC. Say it out loud again. Several months later and it is still sinking in. I regularly go back and check the result and the boxscore to see that it really did happen. What a job that was by Coach Martins Zibarts and his team to produce the biggest win by a Latvian sports team since they gained independence. Was it also the biggest shock in EuroLeague Women history? Probably.
The 'success by stealth mode' award
If you clicked a button to see the EuroLeague Women radar, the one club you would not find is Nadezhda. They have used the cover of the spotlight being firmly on UMMC and Praha to almost stealth their way to a very nice 9-5 record - equalling their best ever return (the year they got to the Final). It was a terrific Regular Season and a great effort from the expert hand of Coach George Dikaioulakos and his players. Although the loss of Yvonne Turner recently was a hammer blow, their defense is so good they were making strides towards Final Four without anybody having even spoken about them! Off the grid to suddenly center of the radar when they won that first Quarter-Final game at LDLC ASVEL Feminin before the competition was suspended.
The 'more people need to sit up and take notice' award
You can argue Barbora Balintova is not actually an unsung hero, since she is an established leader for Slovakia and has been a primary player for Arka Gdynia. But in the context of when EuroLeague Women guards are being discussed, she has not been in the conversation as much as she deserves. She is second in assists in the competition, and probably one of the most impressive things I have seen this season and even longer is that you have to scroll down to 26th place for turnovers. Great job.
The 'Coach of the Year' even if the job didn't get finished award
You could argue that the biggest job by far in EuroLeague Women is coaching Fenerbahce. The size of the club, the tradition, the pressure-cooker atmosphere in Istanbul, the shadow cast by the men and their playcaller. The list is endless. You can also add not reaching the Final Four in these last couple of years and nobody knowing how you could possibly play Alina Iagupova and Cecilia Zandalasini in the same system (even Zandi herself had her concerns). So step forward proudly, Victor Lapena, for taking the team to the top of Group B. during the Regular Season. He then got that first Quarter-Finals win against Bourges which took them in theory at least, to a solitary victory from a Final Four return. While fate looks like denying him completing the task he had, I have to say that even if not quite finished, Lapena deserves huge praise.
The 'Did they really finish bottom of the group?' award
Has a better team ever finished bottom of a EuroLeague Women Group.? Well I can tell you it is an absolutely resounding NO! It blows my mind that Arka Gdynia finished bottom of Group B, since I though they were super competitive and had they been in Group A, would have even made the Quarter-Finals perhaps. It may be a backhanded compliment to Coach Gundars Vetra and his players, but I thought they actually did a good job.
The 'why did you have to leave?' award
I was so disappointed when I spoke to Natalie Achonwa at the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ostend and she reminded me that she was departing Bourges since she had only signed short-term. She had been on fire since arriving at mid-season and the Canadian forward certainly helped Bourges gain some real momentum. I really love her game and look forward to seeing her in Tokyo, providing the Olympic Games do take place.
The 'Yasssss' moment of the season award
It was confirmed that 'Stewie' aka Breanna Stewart was making the most unlikely return to the competition after her long lay-off with that injury sustained in the 2019 Final. I had been expecting her to focus solely on Tokyo 2020, but when UMMC come knocking and make you an offer you can't refuse, and one that extends until 2021, you can't really say no. Having her on board takes the reigning champions to an even newer heights and will now re-open the debate as to whether this is now the best line-up of the modern era. More of that to come during coming weeks. I also know that the injury was devastating for Stewie and an uphill battle with 8-9 months out, so it was just great to see her back doing what she was born to do and happy again.
The 'no words' award
Well okay, I have got a few words. The experience of seeing the footage at Spar Citylift Girona of the flood water cascading into the Arena was was beyond surreal - as was the staff rescuing the basketball shoes of players and holding them above their heads as they waded through the water. The way the club managed to get an alternative venue fixed up so they could play and win a thriller against Arka Gdynia was amazing too.
The 'she makes me feel so old, it's no joke' award
This would apply to me even if I was only 30 years old. But was I the only one who worked out the age difference and got slightly depressed about how old I actually am when the brilliant and exciting Juste Jocyte made history by becoming the youngest ever player in the competition? The LDLC ASVEL Femenin prospect had only just turned 14 years old when she entered the court and those are the first footsteps of what looks to be a stellar career path for the Lithuanian ace. As for me? Where did I put my jar of anti-ageing cream?
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