June 4, 2022 

EuroLeague offseason updates: Virtus Bologna trying to build a superteam?

The European season has come to a close but the transfer market is already heating up, including big ambitions from Virtus Bologna

Italian media has the scoop: Virtus Bologna is determined to become the next superpower in European basketball. The team is moving heaven and earth to accomplish that feat and sit atop the continental powerhouse leaderboards.

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When it comes to truly stunning basketball teams, there is a simple rule of the thumb to assess their greatness: you have heard of them even if you don’t follow the leagues they play in. Case in point: UMMC Ekaterinburg. You don’t need to be an in-depth EuroLeague fan to be aware of just how dominant they are.

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The Russians have won 15 leagues, nine cups, and six EuroLeague championships (five of them just in the 2013-2021 span). The club, boasting virtually bottomless coffers, has been able to sign and feature players such as Cappie Pondexter, Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Ticha Penicheiro and Diana Taurasi. More recently, they have rostered reigning WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, unstoppable force of nature Brittney Griner, and the backcourt duo formed by Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.

After UMMC’s suspension from continental play as part of FIBA’s sanctions on Russia, all signs point to Virtus Bologna being next in line to take on UMMC’s reign. Italian sports outlet Pianeta Basket reported last week that Virtus Bologna is building the strongest possible team to contend in Europe next season.

Virtus has, in fact, started that rebuild with a very sound and solid signing at the head coach position: former UMMC coach Miguel Mendez, who has broken ties with the Russian club to sign with the Italian side. Mendez is the current Spanish national team coach and is joining men’s basketball legend Sergio Scariolo, the current head coach of the men’s outfit in Bologna.

Virtus Bologna is a legendary European club, albeit on the men’s side. The women’s team was established in 2019, but the club’s lore as a long-time operating organization in the basketball world is very well regarded. Founded in 1927, the club is about to turn 100 years old and has won 16 leagues, eight cups, two super cups, and a couple of EuroLeague trophies on the men’s circuit.

The Italians are wasting no time in building a strong team to challenge as the best squad in the old continent. If the rumors are true, Virtus is looking to put together a team featuring Breanna Stewart, Iliana Rupert, Cecilia Zandalasini, Kitija Laksa, and one more non-EU import (they’d still have room for one more such player) among others.

Kitija Laksa has already been announced as a 2022-23 season signing. Laksa is coming off a strong EuroLeague season with fellow Italian side Famila Schio in which she played 17 games averaging 11.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 0.7 steals per game. She was the 11th-overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm though she never got to play a single minute in the American league.

As part of their rebuilding effort, Virtus Bologna has also confirmed the re-signing of Cecilia Zandalasini (2017 WNBA champion with the Minnesota Lynx), Ivana Dojkic, Beatrice Barberis, and Francesca Pasa.

Spar Girona sign Bernat Canut to the head coach position

Another EuroLeague team changing its head coach for next season is Girona. After lucking into the postseason this past year with the announcement of the Russian sanctions, Girona faced Avenida and lost to the fellow Spaniards, leaving the competition early. They have now announced Bernat Canut as their new coach. Canut is coming from Catalan club Cadi la Seu and signing a one-year deal with Girona.

Canut’s contract with Cadi la Seu was about to finish and the Spanish coach decided to change teams while remaining in his native country. Canut managed to reach the Spanish league playoff semifinals before falling to eventual champion Perfumerias Avenida. Even though he and Cadi had a rough set of games in April–four straight losses to close the regular season–they finished the season in fourth place. Had that skid not happened, they could have overtaken Girona and Valencia.

Valencia re-sign Marie Gulich and Queralt Casas

The last time we discussed EuroLeague news, Valencia (not Virtus) looked primed to become a strong squad next season. They had signed Alba Torrens from UMMC and also re-inked Rebecca Allen (part of the New York Liberty franchise) to keep her in tow next year.

During the past few days, Valencia has also extended the deals of Marie Gulich and Queralt Casas, two fundamental pieces of the roster for Valencia to keep up with the likes of Avenida. Valencia, in fact, faced both Girona (in the semifinal) and Avenida (final) of the Spanish playoffs a few days ago finishing with the silver medal.

The German international Marie Gulich got drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in 2018 with the 12th-overall pick and has played for Phoenix, the Atlanta Dream (2019), and the Los Angeles Sparks (2020) before moving to Europe on a full-time basis.

Queralt Casas, along with Gulich, won the 2021 EuroCup with Valencia and will stay with the club trying to get the ultimate title in the EuroLeague going forward. She has already bagged a Spanish league and a EuroCup title. She also won a Turkish league title as part of Galatasaray in 2015, not to mention the 2019 EuroBasket gold medal with Spain. She returned to her home country in 2019 after leaving after the 2014 season, and with Valencia building a strong team for next season it made sense for her to stay put.

Perfumerias Avenida cut ties with Karlie Samuelson, acquire Julia Reisingerova

Avenida, the reigning Spanish champion, kept sending players home and finishing deals through the past two weeks. Kahleah Copper, Katie Lou Samuelson, Emese Hof, and Bella Alarie were the first to leave the team, and now Karlie Samuelson is headed out.

Making up for that loss, Avenida inked Julia Reisingerova, who is arriving from Girona. Reisingerova was selected in the 2018 WNBA draft by the Los Angeles Sparks with the 35th selection. Reisingerova signed with Girona that summer and spent the following year with the Catalan club. She then moved to Valencia, returned to Girona for another season, and will play in Salamanca for Avenida starting next October.

In contrast to Marie Gulich, Reisingerova didn’t get to play in a single WNBA game after getting drafted, although odds were against her as a late third-round pick.

Famila Schio looking into signing Rhyne Howard, Amanda Zahui B.

If there was any sort of official information/confirmation about this rumor reported by Basket Inside, it could have very well led the column this weekend. Unfortunately, there isn’t any confirmation (yet). Knowing both Sandrine Gruda and Kitija Laksa will be leaving the team next season, changes must come and the talent leaving the club is definitely going to be hard to replace. It would be much easier if these rumors prove to be true.

Amanda Zahui B. played for Fenerbahçe last season and reached the last game of the Final Four before losing. The Swedish player is leaving the Turkish side and will be available as a free agent. Zahui B. is coming off a season where she averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in her 18 games.

Also on Famila Schio’s radar is an early WNBA rookie of the year candidate, Atlanta’s Rhyne Howard. The No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, Howard has taken the league by storm and, through June 1, is averaging 17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.7 dimes per game while shooting with marvelous efficiency on a rather high volume.

If Virtus Bologna completes all of the transactions they’re aiming for and Famila Schio does so too, then Italy will turn into the center of attention come October and the new basketball season. Can’t to see it all unfold!

Written by Antonio Losada

International freelance writer covering the WNBA overseas. Bylines at places, touching different bases. Always open to discussion over @chapulana || Full portfolio

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