Blistering Praha, the best of Iniguez, Fenerbahce flat-lining and a last Bourges game for Johannes?
MUNICH (Germany) - The dust has settled on the EuroLeague Women Quarter-Finals more quickly than most of us had anticipated after a 2-0 sweep in each of the respective series.
Here are the main talking points - according to our women's specialist Paul Nilsen, aka @Basketmedia365
All power to Coach Hejkova and ZVVZ USK Praha
It is jaw-dropping what Natalia Hejkova has done, and now continues to do in this wonderful competition. Each year I wonder if she is going to put her coaching board away and potentially retire. It seems the coaching bug continues to bite hard and she has delivered once more. Let's remember, the heart of the Praha roster was ripped out last summer. The top scorers left and credit where it is due to the management. The addition of Alyssa Thomas, Valeriane Ayayi and Teja Oblak has been a masterstroke.
Hejkova has utilized this trio in particular, rather brilliantly in their first seasons at the club. Thomas has been my MVP, Ayayi was devastating in the Quarter-Finals and pushed the words of those who criticized her for leaving Bourges back down French throats. Oblak meanwhile continues as an unsung hero, diligently pulling the strings and using her smarts to allow others to shine. Now Praha are at the Final Four with nothing to lose. Mission accomplished, pressure off and a dangerous proposition, they will enjoy the Final Four ride.
Iniguez posts best season of his career
He won the EuroLeague Women title in 2012 with Ros Casares - a star-studded roster that was laden with some of the biggest names in the female game. I say that because we have to put these last two seasons into context. He took Fenerbahce to Finals, he took Nadezhda to a historic first Final Four, he took Sopron Basket last season to a historic title game. I gave him the deserved moniker of being the supreme EuroLeague Women navigator (although I accept Coach Hejkova can argue for this) and once again, he has strengthened his case by catapulting Sopron to successive Final Fours.
To beat a strong Bourges Basket 2-0 and having overcome injuries and various bumps in the road during the Regular Season, for me, this has been an amazing year. Probably the best on the resume of Coach Iniguez. Because, while other playcallers might have won the title with Ros Casares and maybe got close to his other accomplishments, I am not sure many would have taken Sopron to the Final Four this season. They have come through a storm (to quote him) and now the sun will shine - whatever happens.
Fenerbahce flat-lining was alarming
When Fenerbahce won the Turkish Cup recently, I was pleased for them. I offered my congratulations publicly. But when you take the praise, you also need to soak up the criticism when you lose. Seriously, to have all that talent and to have invested all that money in a stacked roster and to flat-line offensively and offer a meek surrender defensively is unacceptable. For the first time in eight years, they have missed out on consecutive Final Fours. I get it, this competition is brutal. No club has spent so much chasing the silverware - without success.
But, one glance at Italian duo Cecilia Zandalasini and Giorgia Sottana and the way they in particular have been utilized and you start getting answers why the are not going to the big table. I questioned Zandalasini going to Istanbul last April on Twitter. Her incredible talent did not seem to be a fit for the style. And so it has proven and I am frustrated I won't get to see her at the Final Four - again. However, the under-use of a classy veteran like Sottana is more alarming to me. Fenerbahce have a lot to think about in the off-season. I genuinely 100 percent hope they can get it back together because I would be sincerely happy if they did manage to end their elusive search for the precious title.
Respect for Coaches Kovacik and Zibarts
We waved goodbye to CCC Polkowice and TTT Riga who were simply outclassed in the Quarter-Finals by Dynamo Kursk and UMMC Ekaterinburg respectively. Polkowice playcaller Maros Kovacik will be proud of his team's efforts, pushing Kursk to the wire in the second game and fighting for every ball on the floor. A top eight finish is still a good achievement for a club that so often has struggled to find any consistency in the competition. They punched above their weight.
Ditto for TTT Riga and Coach Zibarts. An amazing return to EuroLeague Women and a perfect year for him and his players in terms of the perhaps surprising results and performances - especially in the context of Latvian women's basketball and their role as co-hosts of FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019.
Last EuroLeague Women game with Bourges for Johannes?
A bit like Cecilia Zandalasini, another year goes by without us seeing an incredible talent like Johannes gracing the Final Four. I have no idea what 2019-20 holds for the amazing French standout, but Bourges will have a tough task to hang on to her. She will be in hot demand and a combination of both player and club might get an irresistible offer.
So, have we seen her last game in the competitions wearing the famous vest of Bourges? If she does stay at Le Prado then this is great! But, Bourges need to find a way of matching her ambition and getting her to the Final Four in 2020. Players like Johannes need to be at this kind of level and event - regularly. Finally, thanks so much for all the highlights reels this season. Now you can go raise the entertainment levels in the WNBA - but only after lighting it up at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket.