NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen Women’s Basketball Worldwide) – It's that time to reflect on another calendar year in the women's basketball world and so here is part one of my 2015 review.
A is AfroBasket Women, Angola and Aya Traore. They rode to the top of the podium in Cameroon behind the driving force of their veteran star, whose efforts were recognised via the MVP accolade and a subsequent short-listing for the prestigious 2015 Africa Top Sports awards.
C is for Canada and congratulations, since 2015 was arguably their year in women’s basketball after they won back-to-back home tournaments by way of the Pan-American Games in Toronto and the FIBA Americas Women’s Championship in Edmonton. I have to confess I love it when countries who go to the effort of hosting come out on top, as a reward for their extra efforts. Good people at the Federation, a great women’s programme and such remarkable progress and results – it’s 10 out of 10 from me at this juncture. But they can’t get complacent of course and won't with Rio next on the menu!
D is for Dabovic (Ana) whose scoring potential was unleashed at EuroBasket Women Final Round and Serbia ended up riding to the top of the podium for the first time in their history off the back of the swingman’s beautifully entertaining and productive performances that culminated in an MVP award.
E is for EuroBasket Women and generally, it was a competition that got hotter and hotter as it unfolded and it culminated in some outstanding nail-biting clashes in Budapest during the last phase - it really was a joy to behold having so many close games down the tournament stretch.
F is for Final Four of EuroLeague Women and especially Kia Vaughn, whose comically over-sized but beautiful MVP trophy was one of the true highlights of the entire year for me – only beaten by the size of her smile and towering performances with first-time winners ZVVZ USK Prague.
G is for go West - and then keep going a little bit more. Yes, I was in shock I saw the small Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean were supplying a team for EuroCup Women – yet Sportiva Azores Airlines certainly took flight and have excelled in their rookie season with a ticket to the Round of 16 at the start of 2016!
I is for inspiration and we absolutely need women’s ballers to continue being role models and idols for the next generation. That is why it was so heartening to hear Ana Dabovic speak so passionately about Serbia having potentially inspired more young girls in their own homeland, with next year’s Olympic debut likely to continue that priceless trend.
J is for Japan and they played the best 20 minutes of basketball I witnessed throughout 2016 as they obliterated arch rivals China in a staggering first-half of the title game at the FIBA Asia Women’s Championship. Considering just how much of a roller-coaster it had been on and off the court for Japan in the previous 18 months or so, the way that they retained the title they won in Bangkok during 2013 was just so impressive.
K is for Kia Nurse, whose guard play and maturity makes me want to watch her play ball all day long. To see teenage players emerge and begin to influence games is a real joy – one which is cranked up even further when they are genuine architects of success at the very highest level. What a year she had in a Canadian vest!
L is for long live pure shooters, whose status in 2016 regrettably moved into the unwanted ‘danger of extinction’ category. It was an issue that I tackled in a recent column. I am happy to report that I at least got some people talking about this ridiculously over-cooked recipe of the so-called ‘modern-day’ player.