May 7, 2022
EuroLeague offseason updates: Brionna Jones, Alyssa Thomas re-sign with Praha
And the coaching carousel spins at Fenerbahçe
The WNBA tipped off on Friday, but the fact that the EuroLeague season is over doesn’t mean news stops coming. There are games still being played to decide the final national league positions and cup champions.
It’s been a month since our last update on EuroLeague developments, which covered the Final Four and how Sopron defeated Fenerbahçe on its way to its first EuroLeague championship.
After that, we reviewed the full EuroLeague season, with a focus on WNBA players doing it overseas, in a two-part series. Of course, news from different European cities concerning multiple teams and players kept popping up our timelines during that span. It’s now time to tackle some of those breaking developments that are already shaping the 2022-23 campaign.
We will provide overseas updates here at The Next throughout the WNBA season leading up to the start of the EuroLeague season in October. We’ll make sure you hear about impact signings such as that of the unstoppable Kahleah Copper with Perfumerias Avenida, which took place almost a year ago to this day.
Let’s review the main news reported in the last month chronologically, and I’ll offer my reactions to and feelings about each of the headlines and what they might mean for the 2022-23 EuroLeague season.
Teja Oblak signs two-year deal to stay at USK Praha
This was known before the EuroLeague Final Four, but we have not mentioned it yet, so it makes sense to include it here.
Praha made the semifinal last season but fell to host Fenerbahçe in one of the craziest matches of the year. Deflated and tired, Praha went on to lose the third-place game to Avenida 71-59. Even in defeat, the Czech club knew very well that its core must remain in place, so it went to work on that as soon as it could.
Guard Teja Oblak extended her deal to keep playing for Praha for at least two more years. That means she will complete a six-year period with USK. The 31-year-old played all 19 games last season; tied teammate Maria Conde for the third-most minutes per game (31.2); and averaged 10.3 points, 5.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
Jones and Thomas re-up with Praha
Speaking of Praha, if re-signing Oblak was a winning move, convincing both Jones and Thomas to re-up with the Czech team is a bonafide season-changing success.
Earlier this year, I named Thomas my 2022 EuroLeague MVP. The numbers don’t lie as Thomas averaged a nonsensical 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game last season. She was ultimately not named the official MVP but still made the All-EuroLeague Women First Team, and Jones made the Second Team.
Jones was another legit contender for best player of the season, or at least for a top-10 finish. She appeared in 17 games and put up 20.2 points per contest, the second-most in the EuroLeague behind Copper’s 21.4. Jones also added 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.8 assists and nearly a block (0.8) per game.
Given that Praha has been able to re-sign all of its players on expiring deals, the 2022 season might have been only a glimpse of what is to come from the Czech side.
Head coach Victor Lapeña leaves Fenerbahçe; Marina Maljkovic takes over
After a rather disappointing end to its season, Fenerbahçe decided to move on from head coach Victor Lapeña, who spent three full seasons managing the Turkish club. Despite dominating in Turkey’s national competitions (one cup, one super cup and one league title in each of the years from 2019 to 2021) and even snatching a EuroCup Women championship (the second-best intercontinental competition below the EuroLeague) in 2019, Lapeña could never lift the EuroLeague trophy.
This seemed to be the year for Fenerbahçe and Lapeña to break through and achieve the feat. With Istanbul hosting the Final Four and Fenerbahçe playing in their home arena, everything was looking great for the Turkish side. Sprinkle in the fact that Russian teams had been banned from participating in the postseason, and the consensus was that Fener was finally going to make it to the promised land after finishing third in 2021. It didn’t happen.
So Fenerbahçe decided to part ways with its most successful coach, and in came Serbian coach Marina Maljkovic. Maljkovic has been coaching for almost 20 years after starting with Usce Belgrade in 2004. Galatasaray, Partizan and the Serbian national team (since 2011) are just a few of the gigs that appear on her resume. And it’s not only that she’s managed those squads: She’s absolutely demolished her competition.
The Serbian national team finished third in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and won gold medals in the 2015 and 2021 EuroBasket Women. On the club basketball stages, she led Fenerbahçe’s Istanbul rival Galatasaray to a 2018 EuroCup championship before Lapeña did the same with Fenerbahçe one year later.
Lapeña was a fantastic coach but just ran out of time (and those in the Turkish club probably ran out of patience) to win the EuroLeague coveted title. We’ll see whether all of Maljkovic’s experience helps Fener take that final step.
Praha re-signs Conde and head coach Natalia Hejkova
Oh, you thought we were done with USK Praha news? Nope! Arguably the second-best player on the team in Conde and its most important staffer in head coach Natalia Hejkova will also be back in Prague next season.
Conde is coming off her best season as a pro in just her second season with Praha. True, Conde won a gold medal with Spain in the 2017 EuroBasket (which was coincidentally held in the Czech Republic), but at the club level, she put on her finest performances this past season. She finished second in the MVP voting, and only the media votes prevented her from getting the award over Copper.
Praha will also welcome back Hejkova, who has been coaching the side for 10 years. I picked the Slovak as my Coach of the Year, and I still believe she should have won. Praha was just one ridiculous Fenerbahçe quarter away from making the EuroLeague final, and although it had a tremendous roster, it was always the underdog.
As a coach, Hejkova has lifted 18 league trophies and five EuroLeague trophies, including one with Praha back in 2015.