Rising star Rupert has big ambitions for the future
BOURGES (France) - The sky's the limit for the newly crowned EuroLeague Women Young Player of the Year, with French teenager Iliana Rupert lifting the lid on the scale of her ambitions.
Having already broken into the senior national team and now rapidly becoming a force for Bourges Basket in EuroLeague Women and the French League, the center is already rated as one of the best players of her generation in the women's game.
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After being handed the prestigious accolade, FIBA.basketball caught up with Rupert to find out her reaction and plans for the future.
Congratulations on the award Iliana, what was your reaction when you heard the news and especially that both coaches and the media had both voted for you as their top pick?
I was not expecting it and I learned about it when I received the notification and the title said 'Iliana Rupert – Young Player of the Year'. So, I was really surprised and happy, especially because I was playing in a competition with really good players. Winning this award is awesome and especially when coaches and media both voted for me as number one. It means a lot and I am really grateful.
After this season's experience of playing more minutes in EuroLeague Women, what do you know now, that maybe you did not know last summer?
I choose Bourges Basket so I could play in EuroLeague Women right away after high school, because it is the best league. Playing against huge stars this year made me realize all the steps I still must achieve in order to reach my goal, which is winning the EuroLeague Women title.
Bourges had a bad start in EuroLeague Women with some tough losses early, but then had some great results and a chance for Final Four before the basketball had to stop. What is your best memory from the season?
Yes, it was a tough beginning, because it was a new team. We had to build a new collective and it took a little time. However, we have always been truly united - both on and off the court. I have so many great memories with this team that it is hard to choose. But if I had to pick one, I will say the month of January. It was almost perfect! We went second in the French League and we qualified for the EuroLeague Women Quarter-Finals. We were having so much fun during games, but also in practice. It was such a good time, both individually and collectively.
It is an unusual time for all of us. When did you realize COVID-19 was out there and it might cause some problems for the sport; and how do you now manage as an athlete, both physically and mentally when not playing basketball?
I found out that the virus was out there in January when it touched China. I truly started realizing it might cause some problems when the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament due to take place in China was cancelled and then moved to Serbia. When it touched Italy, I think I really understood how serious it was. When they suspended the season in France, we had to stay in Bourges to keep practicing – although only in a very small group, with just 2-3 the absolute maximum. However, when the French President announced the quarantine/lockdown, everybody then went home. I can continue to play basketball because I have a rim at my mom's house and I also have cardio to do in my yard so that I can stay in shape.
It was recently the WNBA draft and next year, there are predictions about you getting drafted in the First Round. Did you pay any notice to the 2020 selections and is the WNBA something that interests you?
I followed the draft this year, just like I have done every year since I was 13-years-old. The 2020 selection was very exciting because there were four Europeans there. I have always been interested in the WNBA and it is a goal for me. I hope I will be drafted one day, although I do not know yet if it will be next year or maybe later. I really want to discover the WNBA and to play with and against the best players in the world.
Even if you don't enter the WNBA Draft, next year is going to be huge for you with the French national team at the FIBA EuroBasket and the Tokyo Olympics. Maybe it helps you personally that you have 12 months more of experience before these two great tournaments take place?
Indeed, the summer of 2021 will be intense with two very important tournaments. I hope I will be part of the team because the FIBA Women's EuroBasket will be played at home for me. Meanwhile the Olympics is a competition every athlete dreams of going to. I have 12 months to get more experience in the French League and also in EuroLeague Women. My goals are to be tougher, more explosive and to also be more consistent in my game. I will work hard to have and even more important role with both Bourges Basket and for the French national team next summer!