June 18, 2022
EuroLeague offseason updates: Fenerbahçe keeps flexing its financial muscle
Jessica Shepard, Marina Mabrey, Astou Ndour-Fall are also on the move in the EuroLeague
After making a run at the EuroLeague title last season and reaching the final game, Fenerbahçe decided — for the nth time — that enough was enough.
That’s why the Turkish side barely took a minute to wave goodbye to now-former head coach Victor Lapeña and hire Marina Maljkovic. Lapeña spent three seasons with Fenerbahçe and won several titles, but a EuroLeague title was not one of them. Maljkovic arrives with an extensive resume in a coaching career that started all the way back in 2004 and includes a pile of trophies.
In its latest powerhouse move — aided by one of the most significant budgets in European basketball — Fenerbahçe signed France international and Paris-born Olivia Epoupa. A combo guard, Epoupa last played for BLMA in the 2021-22 season, helping her team make the EuroLeague postseason but ultimately falling short in the first elimination round.
While not named to an All-EuroLeague team last year, Epoupa was one of the best other players, averaging 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. She led the EuroLeague in steals (by 0.5 over second-place Gabby Williams) and was one of only six players to average at least 11 points, four rebounds, three dimes and two steals per game.
It’s been rumored that former Fenerbahçe player Amanda Zahui B. (now an overseas free agent) might sign with Famila Schio this summer. It’s also been rumored that the supremely talented Breanna Stewart could join Virtus Bologna. Those signings would be game-changers, but they might never happen. As of now, Fenerbahçe is still probably leading the offseason race. It keeps adding proven pieces to an already stacked roster featuring the likes of Kayla McBride, Satou Sabally and Elizabeth Williams, just to name a few. Those moves also weaken some of Fenerbahçe’s competition for the EuroLeague title next year.
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Virtus Bologna adds Iliana Rupert
The whispers had it a couple of weeks ago: The Italian club from Bologna was wasting no time in plotting its plan toward building a strong squad featuring Stewart, Iliana Rupert, Cecilia Zandalasini, Kitija Laksa and who knows what more!
Rupert has now officially signed with the Italian side. A native of France who will turn 21 years old next month, Rupert got drafted by the Las Vegas Aces last summer with the 12th overall pick.
She has yet to debut in the WNBA, as she didn’t make the jump to the United States for the 2022 campaign. Instead, she stayed home to play for French side Bourges. She’s now moving to Italy to play for Virtus Bologna, where she will keep getting reps and building her game for a potential move to the WNBA.
Rupert averaged 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 2020-21, and she raised the bar to 13.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 dimes and 1.1 steals per game in 2021-22.
Bourges has already found Rupert’s replacement in veteran Kayla Alexander. Alexander last played in the WNBA in 2020, when she appeared in 16 games for the Minnesota Lynx.
Reyer Venezia adds Minnesota Lynx’s Jessica Shepard
Staying in Italy, Reyer Venezia has landed a phenomenal young player in the Minnesota Lynx’s Jessica Shepard to bolster its frontcourt next season. That was a much-needed move because free agent Astou Ndour-Fall decided to leave as a free agent.
Shepard was the 16th overall pick by the Lynx in the 2019 WNBA Draft. She tore her ACL in her sixth game as a rookie and then missed the entire 2020 season. She came back last year; played 22 games (10.5 minutes per game); and averaged 2.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 dimes per game.
This season, she has been terrific, starting 14 of 15 games and averaging 8.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Only five players are averaging an 8-7-2 line, and just three (Alyssa Thomas, Candace Parker and Shepard) are averaging an 8.0-7.0-2.9 line.
Famila Schio signs Astou Ndour-Fall and Marina Mabrey
Famila Schio was the lucky side to poach Ndour-Fall from Venezia. Ndour-Fall played 10 games for her former team, averaging 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. That is, simply put, an unusual stat line: Only three players in the EuroLeague averaged at least 10 points; five rebounds; and one each of assists, steals and blocks.
Ndour-Fall, who will turn 28 years old in August, is right in her prime, but she is sitting out the 2022 WNBA season to rest both physically and mentally. Ndour-Fall was part of the Chicago Sky’s 2021 WNBA championship and joined Venezia days after that. It’s been like that for years for Ndour-Fall, who started playing professional basketball at the age of 16.
Joining Ndour-Fall on Famila Schio will be fellow WNBA player and steady Dallas Wings performer Marina Mabrey. The Los Angeles Sparks drafted Mabrey with the 19th overall pick in 2019 and traded her to Dallas in February 2020.
Mabrey, a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, has experienced an incredible jump in production since moving to Texas. She’s gone from a bench player in Los Angeles to a starter in Dallas. All of her advanced metrics are strong, and on a per-game basis, she’s putting up 13.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 0.9 steals for the Wings.
Mabrey already has overseas experience after playing for the Australian side Perth Lynx in the WNBL last season and the Latvian side TTT Riga in 2019-20.*
* An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mabrey had not previously played in Europe. The Next regrets the error.