May 14, 2022
EuroLeague offseason updates: Sopron lose Gabby Williams, add Courtney Vandersloot
And the coaching carousel in Istanbul keeps spinning
News from the EuroLeague keeps popping up on our timelines, and we’re keeping an eye on those developments to bring you the latest news about the top overseas competition.
We kicked things off last week with our first batch of EuroLeague offseason news at The Next, and it’s time for another round of headlines as we approach the summer and American players hooping abroad finish their seasons in Europe and rejoin their WNBA franchises.
EuroLeague Final Four MVP Gabby Williams will play for Asvel in 2022-23
If this is not the absolute biggest news of the offseason — no matter what happens in the next few months — then I don’t even know.
Williams, the Final Four MVP and a reigning EuroLeague champion with Sopron, is moving to France, where she has dual citizenship, next season. LDLC Asvel Feminin is getting Williams after her two-year run with Sopron came to a fairytale end this year. Williams had previously won the Hungarian league last season with Sopron.
Williams’ overseas career has outpaced what she’s accomplished in the WNBA. Williams has won two league titles, this year’s EuroLeague, Final Four MVP, the EuroLeague Defensive Player of the Year award, All-EuroLeague First Team honors last season, and Second Team honors this year. Quite the resume.
Briann January retires from European basketball
Although January will play for the Seattle Storm this season, she’s called it quits when it comes to overseas basketball. January announced her retirement from European competition after accomplishing the ultimate feat with Sopron last season: winning the EuroLeague after a nine-year overseas career that started back in 2009 — her WNBA rookie year — in Turkey.
January was phenomenal for Sopron last season. She played 13 games over the regular season and the playoffs; scored 10 or more points in eight of those matches; and averaged 10.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
But Sopron might not miss January too much come next season. Don’t get me wrong, though: That has less to do with January retiring than with the player already signed to replace her, Courtney Vandersloot.
Sopron adds Courtney Vandersloot
This is quite an impactful move in EuroLeague basketball, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise given the geopolitical situation involving Russia, where Vandersloot’s former team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, is based. Last season, FIBA removed Russian teams from the postseasons of all European competitions, so both UMMC Ekaterinburg and Dynamo Kursk were automatically eliminated. That had a massive impact on more than a few WNBA imports, including Vandersloot.
After winning the 2021 WNBA championship with the Chicago Sky, Vandersloot moved over to Russia to play for UMMC in the late stages of the season. But Vandersloot only appeared in four EuroLeague games before FIBA made its decision. With the Russian teams’ future up in the air, it makes sense for Vandersloot to look for some security and move to the Hungarian side Sopron.
The key word there: Hungarian. Vandersloot (born in Kent, Washington) has also held Hungarian citizenship since 2016. That is not uncommon among imports because there is a limit on foreigners on EuroLeague rosters.
With Williams’ departure and January’s retirement, Vandersloot will step straight into one of the two starting guard positions for the Hungarian side.
Head coach Efe Guven leaves Galatasaray
What started in Istanbul with Fenerbahçe moving on from head coach Victor Lapeña continued in … Istanbul. Galatasaray parted ways with its head coach Efe Guven at the end of April. Guven, a homegrown coach who started as an assistant in the youth setup of the Turkish national team and then Galatasaray, took the reins in 2018.
Guven hasn’t been the worst of coaches in Turkey, but he’s fallen short of expectations, which were to bring Galatasaray back to its early-2010s heights. Between 2010 and 2015, Galatasaray won the EuroLeague, two Turkish leagues, five cups and one super cup. Those were always going to be lofty standards, even more so with powerhouse Fenerbahçe playing basketball in the same city.
Galatasaray won the Eurocup in 2018, just before appointing Guven, but the coach could only carry the team to one bronze medal (last season) in four years. He also finished second in the Turkish league in the 2021 season, but those are the two highest points at the national and international levels for him and Galatasaray. The team was loaded with talent and should have reached higher achievements, but it could never get over the hump.
Sopron reveals full roster for 2022-23; four new players signed
Our first overseas news update a week ago had a lot to do with USK Praha, and this one is dominated by Sopron. Beyond the news mentioned above, the team unveiled its full 2022-23 roster a week ago.
Along with Vandersloot, Sopron added Alice Kunek (from Arka Gdynia), Dragana Stankovic (from Praha) and Brittney Sykes (from the Australian side Canberra). That’s a monster haul for the champions, and all of the moves are sounding like Sopron building another title contender.
Kunek, the Australian wing, was the second-best player for Arka Gdynia in last year’s EuroLeague behind WNBA import Megan Gustafson. She moved to Europe after three seasons in her home country, but Gdynia could never perform to great levels. Even so, Kunek averaged 14.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game. She was, along with Alina Iagupova, one of only two players to put up at least 14 points, five rebounds and four dimes per game last season.
Stankovic played a solid role for Praha, but she missed ample time through the postseason, and by the time she was fully fit to play, it was too late. She played only 10 minutes against Fenerbahçe in the semi-final game and 21 minutes against Avenida in the third-place game. Stankovic was her best at the start of the regular season, scoring 13 or more points in four of the first eight games and never fewer than eight points. Her best game of the year was in Week 8, when she put up 13 points, 10 rebounds, five (!) blocks, four steals and one assist.
Sykes, who is currently playing for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA, played overseas in Australia in 2021-22 for the first time in her career. She played 17 games for Canberra, averaging 16.1 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals in around 32 minutes per game. She had previously played for Turkish sides Ormanspor and CBK Mersin.