July 2, 2022
EuroLeague offseason updates: Breanna Stewart and Emma Meesseman sign with Fenerbahçe
After losing in the EuroLeague final last season, it looks like title or bust for Fenerbahçe in 2022-23
There is a new powerhouse in European basketball, and it’s not UMMC Ekaterinburg, as has been the case for the last decade. This new Monstars team is based in Istanbul, Turkey, and it goes by the name of — you guessed it — Fenerbahçe.
If you are a Fener fan, congratulations because this is definitely your week. We already discussed the addition of Olivia Epoupa in an earlier column here at The Next (more on that move below), but the EuroLeague officially reported two more game-changing signings on Friday by the Turkish side: Breanna Stewart and Emma Meesseman are joining Fenerbahçe for the 2022-23 season.
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Everything started two months ago with Fenerbahçe moving on from long-tenured head coach Victor Lapeña and handing Marina Maljkovic the reins. The Turkish side is coming off a season in which it fell short of the EuroLeague title, losing in the final to Hungarian side Sopron. Hardly the largest of letdowns given Sopron’s talented squad, it still was disappointing for a loaded Fenerbahçe team packed full of bona fide top-tier players such as Alina Iagupova, Kayla McBride, Elizabeth Williams and Satou Sabally, to name a few.
From that point on, Fenerbahçe has done everything in its power to build the ultimate squad for 2022-23. The team has never won the EuroLeague (or EuroCup, for that matter), having finished in second place four times in the past nine seasons. Two third-place and two fourth-place finishes make it eight of nine years reaching at least the second-to-last game of the EuroLeague while never lifting the trophy.
Now, Fenerbahçe has completed transactions that could finally get the club over the hump.
The Turkish side made room for fresh additions by letting Amanda Zahui B. sign with Italian side Famila Schio. The WNBA import and Swedish international contributed 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last year in a shaky and irregular season.
Zahui B.’s roster spot was filled with the addition of French guard Olivia Epoupa. Last season, Epoupa helped BLMA reach the first elimination round of the EuroLeague by averaging 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.9 steals per game. She led the EuroLeague in steals and was one of only six players to average at least 11 points, four rebounds, three dimes and two steals per game. Next season, Epoupa will share lead guard duties with Olcay Çakir, along with the do-it-all Iagupova.
With the backcourt secure, it was time to look at reinforcements higher up the positional spectrum. Williams’ overseas deal expired this summer, and with the American big coming off a EuroLeague Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2021-22, that was always going to be a pressing need to address this offseason.
It’s hard to argue against the solution Fenerbahçe found: Stewart will arrive in Turkey once her WNBA season with the Seattle Storm is over, and Meesseman will join her from the Chicago Sky. Those two along with McBride (Minnesota Lynx), Sabally (Dallas Wings) and Kiah Stokes (Las Vegas Aces) will be the WNBA imports on Fenerbahçe’s roster next year.
Rumors had floated that Stewart might join Virtus Bologna, something she had also hinted at last week when she mentioned her “good connection” with Bologna coach Miguel Méndez in an interview with The Next‘s Em Adler. Bologna’s dream, though, is now over.
Instead, Stewart will play in Turkey for the first time in her overseas career after playing in China and Russia (for Dynamo Kursk and UMMC Ekaterinburg) in the past. Stewart won the EuroLeague with UMMC two seasons ago and was crowned MVP of the Final Four.
Meesseman, who is from Belgium and thus doesn’t take one of the limited non-European roster slots, has already won the EuroLeague four times and was named Final Four MVP in 2018. She signed with the Sky this past offseason after spending her first seven WNBA seasons with the Washington Mystics.
Even with the many moves made by the Italian teams, as well as the transactions happening in Spain (Avenida signed Moriah Jefferson, Valencia added Alba Torrens) and even Turkey (Jonquel Jones signed with fellow Istanbul-based team Cukurova Basketbol), this offseason clearly belongs to Fenerbahçe. Its current depth chart reads like a legit All-Star team:
- Point guard: Olivia Epoupa, Olcay Çakir
- Shooting guard: Kayla McBride, Alperi Onar
- Small forward: Alina Iagupova, Manolya Kurtulmus
- Power forward: Breanna Stewart, Satou Sabally
- Center: Emma Meesseman, Kiah Stokes
Of course, superteams are such on paper, but until they showcase their talent and prove their chemistry and fit on the court, it’s just dreams and assumptions. The championship odds are clearly siding with Fenerbahçe, but it is going to be another long and grueling season of European basketball. And it will be even harder for a Fenerbahçe team with three likely starters coming off WNBA campaigns and two more WNBA imports expected to play heavy roles off the bench.
However, Fenerbahçe is definitely pushing all of its chips in and making the strongest of bids to win the EuroLeague title. With such a loaded roster, it won’t have an excuse for failing in 2022-23.