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The players and coaches who impressed me most at the #FIBAWWC
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - The dust is now settling on the action at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2018 and it's time to reveal who caught my eye at the event in Tenerife.
I have reached outside of the official All-Star Five player-wise to give some alternatives, while also handing out some props to a few coaches too. Here you go:
Julie Allemand - Belgium
Probably the biggest pleasure of this whole tournament was picking out Julie to talk to, then doing so - and all 24 hours before her assists eruption in the Quarter Finals and Semi-Finals. I have always believed in her since she was a kid and loved seeing her show signs of why she was drafted early in the tournament. Then what she did by dropping 13 and 12 assists across two games and averaging more than 8 per game during the competition was awesome. It was so beautiful to watch. But just a note here. Forget those assists against France, the best number of the tournament was that in this same contest, she only spilled the ball three times in almost 30 mins of a high pressure game. Plays the game it should be played. I am sure Lyon President, Tony Parker will be immensely proud and excited by that.
Kyara Linskens - Belgium
When you have a Belgian legend in Ann Wauters and the reigning EuroLeague Women MVP in Emma Meesseman to compete for minutes with, it can be tough to shine. However, Linskens was exceptional as far as I was concerned and showed so many upsides and facets of her game. She was critical to Belgium's success and while at first glance, people might be surprised that she is so important, her skills speak for themselves. Such a team player, Linskens goes about her business with the minimum of fuss. She shot almost 50% from the floor, rebounded strongly and oly Liz Cambage blocked more shots. She is only 21-years-old as well, so a big round of applause from me.
Ting Shao - China
Four years ago, Shao made her global tournament debut for the senior China team in Istanbul. She was terrific. But, she was not at her best in Rio and the Continental competitions either side. In Tenerife I thought she rediscovered her form and influence. She was aggressive, solid and a driving force. For the entirety of her 5 years with China, Shao has only ever known being dominated by Japan, so I was pleased for her individually when China ended a 7 year major tournament win drought against their Asian counterparts.
Xu Han - China
Oh my, what an honor and pleasure it was to do my first interview with the towering Chinese teenager and WNBA draft prospect. Such a sweet young lady who was having fun in everything she did and even surprised me with her English. On the court meanwhile, despite being just 18-years-old and her first senior tournament, she was super as the leading rebounder for her country, second in efficiency and generally showing how nicely mobile she is, despite her vast height. A joy!
Maki Takada - Japan
Ultimately, Japan will be disappointed to have not made the Quarter-Finals at least, having had their experience soured by losing to Asian rivals China. Much of the damage had been done pre-tournament when their WNBA forward Ramu Tokashiki was not able to participate. It made Japan look underpowered in the paint, but Takada could barely have done more. While she ran out of gas against the endless China rotation under the bucket, I did not see a player put in so much off the ball work and especially defensively. She was the only player able to nullify the brilliant Emma Meesseman of Belgium and she led the tournament in steals per game. Something that speaks volumes as it is normally a guard.
Evelyn Akhator - Nigeria
Having taken a place in the All-Star Five last year when Nigeria won AfroBasket Women, hopes were high that Akhator could deliver again, She certainly did that! She was the foundation for Nigeria's spectacular tournament, grabbing twice as many double-doubles as any other player and I think it was overlooked that she is still relatively young and inexperienced at 23-years-old. Indeed, this was her first ever competition at the global level!
A'Ja Wilson - USA
I think that after my well documented columns on the merits of Maria Vadeeva and the WNBA draft earlier this year, there was a misconception that I had an issue with Wilson as a lot of comparisons were being made. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love her game and have seen her play live for USA at youth level long before this senior tournament debut. After a brilliant WNBA season I thought Wilson did a good job in Tenerife behind the likes of Tina Charles and Brittney Griner. She could barely have done more and so maximum credit is due. She is so hard to stop when she catches it facing up anywhere around that free throw line. Great sign for Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
Otis Hughley Jnr
Parachuted into the role only weeks before the tournament, the job Coach Hughley did was immense. I saw all but one Nigeria game close-up and both watching and listening to him going to work was a joy. He never sat on his hands when his team were in trouble like some play-callers did and was always there, squeezing every drop he had to help his team. He made the most of limited shooting ability and didn't just get Nigeria a historic first win, but three of them. In fact, almost four. Spoke so well about it too - handing all the credit to his team. He also had to deal with his family being involved in a motor accident which can;t have been easy either. Outstanding work!
Philip Mestdagh - Belgium
What can you say about Coach Mestdagh and his Assistants? I mean it is amazing. Not just history with Semi-Finals at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket and then in Tenerife, but man - the style of play! It is a blueprint for the future and more on that in a future column. They ran some beautifully delicate stuff and it was a joy. They ,made me fall in love with women's basketball all over again. Thanks for that Coach!
Sandy Brondello - Australia
I like to think that I am able to be honest to people's faces when I get the opportunity. I had a great chat with Coach Brondello at the pre-tournament photo shoot. I told her that because of guard injuries, I had the Opals for 3-5 place. She smiled. I also told her, to her face, I was not a fan of the situation where she is not always able to be with the team because of her WNBA commitments. But, fair play to Coach Brondello - she got her team to the Final and that was an amazing result. I was wrong and happy to admit it. I still have doubts about the ongoing arrangement, but congratulations on silver. Super job.
Finally I just wanted to flag up how excellent the tournament was. Thanks to the Local Organizing Committee and the Spanish Federation.
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