Expert Panel: Which teams will get it done, who could struggle and who are the players to watch?
MUNICH (Germany) - The first FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 Qualifiers window is about to open and it's time to pick the brains of our expert basketball panel and see how they think things will unfold.
Looking at which nations are most likely to succeed, who could fall short and which ballers should go onto your watchlist, here's how they see it:
Shona Thorburn is a multi-Olympian with Canada, assistant coach for EuroLeague Women side Basket Landes who are the reigning French champions, while she also commentates for livebasketball.tv. @ShonaThorburn
Tom Thuillier is a women's basketball fanatic and freelancer who focuses primarily on female hoops social media content for FIBA. @Tom_Thuillier
Tereza Brantl-Budd is from Czech Republic and won the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup prior to her professional career. She is a mom, a model and also commentates for livebasketball.tv @teracek111
Paul Nilsen is a freelance writer and the FIBA women's basketball specialist globally. @Basketmedia365
1. Which nation is most likely to go undefeated in the Qualifiers and why?
With our panel tipping Russia to do well, Maria Vadeeva will be central to their success
Shona: Slovenia, because newly-appointed head coach Georgios Dikaioulakos has a wealth of coaching experience and knowledge. Plus because they will be the co-hosts of the FIBA Women's Eurobasket 2023, so what more motivation do the players need? Bench strength is a worry, but they have a stellar starting five with great leadership in Nika Baric and Teja Oblak. My only worry is the injury Eva Lisec suffered recently while playing for Dynamo Kursk.
Tom: Russia put together an excellent FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021 campaign in Strasbourg and Valencia and will play for a spot at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022.. Maria Vadeeva continues to prove, season after season, that she’s one of the best centers in the world and her teammates show they are capable of shooting the lights out around her. The first impression of Russia’s schedule is that it should be straightforward as they really only face any kind of a test against Montenegro.
Tereza: I too think it's Russia, especially after that performance in the Quarter-Finals of the 2021 edition against Belgium when even though they lost by two , they showed the huge potential in this group of young, talented, fresh and exciting players led by the excellent coach Alexander Kovalev who has a secured continuity with these players from youth levels. They are improving with each tournament, learning from their mistakes and there is no doubt they want to get onto the podium in 2023. They have the hunger, capability and a well-balanced roster. Maria Vadeeva took the captain role with grace as the most experienced player even if she is still young and will again lead her team both on and off the court. Except for Montenegro, perhaps I don’t see anyone in this group who could test this powerhouse.
Paul: I think it would genuinely be a massive shock if a team with the depth, quality and potential of France lost to Ukraine, Lithuania or Finland. Of course, Ukraine have the phenomenal Alina Iagupova and Lithuania have a hugely capable core rotation, but France should not be letting their opponents get within single digits in these games. If it sounds like I am being harsh or setting high standards for France, then good. Because if they want to become the number one team in Europe, they need to think big, play big and deliver.
2. Which nation that played at the 2021 edition is most likely to miss out this time and why?
After a disappointing campaign at the 2021 edition, are Greece going to lose their place in 2023?
Shona: I'm going to have to go with Turkey on this one. To say I was surprised when they released the list of players is an understatement! No Sude Yilmaz, who is a rising star at only 19 years of age and with an All-Star Five award during this past summer's FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup. There is also no Isil Alben who is back on the court playing in Turkey for Botas, so along with a few other notable players left off the list, it really makes me question if we will be seeing Turkey at the next edition.
Tom: Greece. Once again it won’t be an easy one for them in the Qualifiers. They can count on the experience of Artemis Spanou, Angeliki Nikolopoulou or Aikatarina Sotiriou, but will have be careful in an open group with Portugal, Great Britain and Estonia, where every single game will be so crucial in clinching the precious top spot.
Tereza: I agree with Tom again and will also go for Greece. It will be interesting against a talented Great Britain team for the top spot in their group, but I think the lack of depth in their bench will play a crucial role in their games. Artemis Spanou, Angeliki Nikolopoulou or Aikatarina Sotiriou are the core players who will fight until the end of every game, but the question is if they have enough firepower to beat every team in this open-looking group?
Paul: I was flipping a coin in my mind between Croatia (who probably have to beat Serbia once to advance) and Czech Republic. Because Croatia can blow hot on any given night, are really streaky and because derby games are more unpredictable, I am going to say Czech Republic might miss out. They were not great at the 2021 edition and while I love Veronika Vorackova and her continued evolution, they may have to go 3-1 against Belarus and Netherlands, which looks tricky.
3. Which nation that failed to make the 2021 edition is most likely to qualify this time and why?
After making the 2019 Semi-Finals, Coach Buceta and Great Britain missed 2021 but could they be back for 2023?
Shona: Great Britain. Actually I think if the ball is bouncing right, we could see them going undefeated in Group G, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. When the draw was announced, Brit fans must have been excited about what they saw. I think they have enough talent to protect their home court and if they can get wins on the road against Portugal and Estonia, it could come down to goal average with Greece for top spot in the group.
Tom: I agree with Shona and will also go for Great Britain. After they surprisingly missed out on the last edition, I feel Great Britain want to bounce back as they announced an ambitious new campaign that is based around the build-up to the Paris 2024 Olympics. With numerous athletes shining on the European stage and the presence of a British club team in EuroCup Women, British basketball is looking ready to achieve its goal.
Tereza: As I mentioned above, I think it will be Great Britain. Coach Chema Buceta has huge respect from his players, led Great Britain to that amazing fourth place at the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019, the roster is full of players with experience from European competitions and together with the young talent, this will be their time to shine again and make a return to the big stage. It will be very important in this group to protect their home court as every game will be really crucial for the final standings.
Paul: I would just jinx it by going with the crowd and also get accused of being biased by saying Great Britain, so I will throw my support behind Latvia. Particularly because they missed out so cruelly on 2021 and I like the fact that they have a good mix of veterans like Elina Babkina and Anete Steinberga, plus that medium age band of leaders like Kitija Laksa, as well as talent coming through. It won't be easy, but in their three-team group, they can do the double over Israel and do well against a Sweden team in transition who have waved goodbye to most of their big names.
4. Which player are you most looking forward to watching and why?
Is Gabby WIlliams about to click into an even higher gear with France?
Shona: Holly Winterburn of Great Britain. I would have selected her as my rising star, but at 21 years of age, I'm not sure she would have qualified for that honor. So she gets my nod for the player to watch. She will be suiting up for the first time with the senior team for Great Britain. She has been outstanding for the London Lions in EuroCup Women averaging over 18 points per game to go along with 5 assists per game. Will she be given the same opportunity to shine with Great Britain as coach Mark Clark has given her with the Lions? We shall see!
Tom: Gabby Williams. It was a quiet FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021 campaign for her as she experienced her first competition with France. Even if she had an interesting Olympics in Tokyo, there was the feeling she didn’t quite fully exploit her potential in this team. Is it a question of time? A question of coaching? Or maybe more of a wider roster question? It looks like we will get more answers about that in these Qualifiers.
Tereza: Jonquel Jones is one of the best players that basketball has to offer at the moment. She had an incredible tournament at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021 where she brought Bosnia and Herzegovina to that historic fifth-place finish, averaging a double-double in every game, with some record-breaking numbers in rebounding. She makes basketball look so easy and I am really looking forward to seeing what else she can do personally and for the team.
Paul: Maria Vadeeva. I am getting predictable, aren't I? It's just that what I see in her is something truly special. Not just her super basketball ability, but her mentality. When I watched Russia at the last edition earlier this summer. every time there was a pause in the play, she would get her colleagues into a huddle and make sure the team stayed on the same page. Those moments of continuous leadership are sometimes overlooked, but not as much as the fact she is still so young. No nation relies so heavily on a young leader. Vadeeva is a towering inspiration and a role model. It still blows my mind that I watched her six years ago when she was arguably the best player for the senior team at the 2015 edition, even though she was effectively a school kid.
5. Which rising star are you most looking forward to watching and why?
Juste Jocyte of Lithuania got two votes from our panel as one of the rising stars to watch
Shona: Juste Jocyte of Lithuania. Basketball fans already know her name because she has been good since her early teenage years, but guess what? She is still only 15 years old (she turns 16 on November 19). She is getting the opportunity to play more minutes this year for LDLC ASVEL Feminin, which is great for her development and I think it will really help Lithuania to potentially qualify for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2021. (It was a toss up for me between Great Britain and Lithuania in terms of the earlier question around how could qualify that were not at the 2021 edition).
Tom: Matilde Villa, who could be the next big thing for Italy. She is a pure talent and natural scorer, averaging outstanding numbers in the Italian League. She really has posted some eye-catching performances for a mere 16-year old, with massive 36- and 38-point displays. Considering Italy are playing in an accessible group, we can expect her to play big minutes and we could be about to watch her scoring her first points on the big stage.
Tereza: I am with Shona on Juste Jocyte of Lithuania. Even though this group looks really difficult for them, I think to see players like Juste at this level is something incredible and so inspiring to other young players dreaming about making their senior national team debuts early in their careers. Nothing is impossible. I look forward to seeing if she can bring the experience she has gained from the club level to help Lithuania potentially qualify.
Paul: My first pick was the same as Tom's and I agree that Matilde Ville is so dynamic and exciting, so I can't wait to see her. But another player I am looking forward to seeing is Dorja Iva Zaja of Croatia. She might not get much opportunity in this first window, but as the campaign evolves, the teenage forward might be able to show why she is so important for the future of her country, having been on of the MVPs of the U18 Challengers this past summer.