May 21, 2022
EuroLeague offseason updates: Laia Palau calls it quits, WNBA imports return home
And four WNBA-linked players are moving on from Avenida
Laia Palau, who played for Spar Girona in the most recent EuroLeague season and made the postseason with the Spanish club, was born nearly 43 years ago. After attending the University of Barcelona and playing for the college’s team for a few years — and winning her first league title in her native city of Barcelona — Palau moved to France, started an international career that would be stellar, and ultimately announced her retirement last Wednesday.
Palau is, simply put, one of the greatest basketball players ever. She won 33 titles at the club level and 12 medals with the Spanish national team, appearing in 314 international games. She has three silver medals (Olympics, World Cup and Euro Cup) and three gold medals (three Euro Cups) to go with a handful of bronzes.
Not only did Palau play for a lot of great basketball clubs (Barcelona, Valencia, Bourges, Polkowice, Praha and Girona), but she also racked up accolades. She won leagues and cups in Spain, France, Poland and the Czech Republic. She won a couple of Supercups in Spain and a European Supercup trophy. The latter came after winning the 2014-15 EuroLeague with Praha and after having won her first EuroLeague in 2012 with Valencia.
I could keep going. That’s what happens when you discuss the player with the most games played for Spain, or the first EuroLeague player to reach 1,000 career assists. It’s been a long and great career for Palau. Here’s hoping she’s inspired future generations on their way to the largest of women’s basketball stages. I can’t wait to see the result.
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Meanwhile, in other EuroLeague news…
Most WNBA imports head back to the U.S.
With the EuroLeague long finished and most European leagues and cups coming to an end in the past few days, most of the WNBA-linked players who hooped overseas are now returning to the United States or are already there.
Through Friday’s WNBA games, 28 of the 40 WNBA players we tracked during the 2021-22 EuroLeague season have appeared in at least one game. Fenerbahçe and Avenida, which both finished their seasons last weekend, were the two teams that held the most players in Europe until now, with Bria Hartley, Satou Sabally and Kahleah Copper all still to appear in a WNBA game this season.
Kelsey Plum leads the returning imports in minutes played in the WNBA, with 199 through Thursday’s games (in six games played). She’s followed closely by Kayla Thornton, with 166 minutes in five games, and Natasha Howard (whose overseas season finished early because she was playing for a Russian side), with 159 minutes.
Katie Lou Samuelson, Kayla McBride and Kennedy Burke have only appeared in two games apiece through Friday, but McBride hit the ground running and handed the Los Angeles Sparks a last-second loss in her first game back with the Minnesota Lynx. Her final stat line: 24 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals — in nearly 38 minutes, after a grueling season of European basketball and reaching the EuroLeague Finals! These players are just not appreciated enough, folks.
Avenida parts ways with four players, re-signs head coach Roberto Iñiguez
The most impactful news around the EuroLeague’s third-place team, Avenida, is the departure of the competition’s 2022 MVP, Kahleah Copper. There is no arguing that, given that she was a key addition for the Spaniards and the way she played last season. Avenida’s local newspaper Salamanca 24 Horas reports that Copper, along with Emese Hof and Bella Alarie, won’t return to the team next season.
Hof played three years for Avenida, appearing in one EuroCup (2019-20) and the last two editions of the EuroLeague. She didn’t waste time finding a new home, though, as she has already signed with USK Praha. The Dutch center signed a WNBA training camp contract with the Phoenix Mercury in 2019 after graduating from Miami, but she has never appeared in a regular-season game. But she is still very young (about to turn 26) and is in a great position to debut for a W franchise down the road.
Alarie is signed by the Dallas Wings and only has a couple of WNBA seasons under her belt. She missed time injured late in the European season and is taking the 2022 WNBA season off for personal reasons.
Katie Lou Samuelson makes it four WNBA imports who will not return to Avenida next season.
Avenida also extended head coach Roberto Iñiguez’s contract through the 2025 season. He joined the club in 2020, and his contract was originally scheduled to end next summer. Avenida fans should be pleased with the news considering the team’s success during Iñiguez’s tenure: Avenida has won the last two Spanish leagues, this year’s Spanish Cup, one Spanish Supercup and two EuroLeague medals (silver in 2021, bronze this season).
Valencia signs Alba Torrens, extends Rebecca Allen
UMMC Ekaterinburg’s star forward and Spanish international Alba Torrens is signing with Valencia for the 2022-23 EuroLeague campaign. Torrens, who was drafted in 2009 by the Connecticut Sun but has never played in the WNBA, is now 32 years old and about to play for her fifth club in Europe in 14 seasons.
Torrens started her professional career playing for Celta Vigo, moved to Avenida, then joined Turkish side Galatasaray, and has spent the last eight seasons with Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg. Her resume includes six EuroLeague titles across three different teams; multiple Turkish, Spanish and Russian leagues and cups; a couple of EuroLeague Finals MVP trophies; and two FIBA Europe Player of the Year trophies.
UMMC has now lost two important players in Torrens and point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who is leaving next season to play for the Hungarian side and reigning EuroLeague champion Sopron. Meanwhile, Valencia also re-signed Rebecca Allen, who is playing in the WNBA for the New York Liberty and will extend her European career for at least one more winter.