August 6, 2022
EuroLeague preseason updates: Reviewing the teams that return to chase a title
How do Fenerbahçe, USK Praha and KSC Szekszard's rosters look for the 2022-23 EuroLeague season?
With the summer coming hotter than it ever has, something had to give. Alas, the EuroLeague offseason has officially entered its hibernation period. Nearly everything that needed to happen has happened already.
Praha re-signed every contributor from its phenomenal 2021-22 campaign. Sopron lost Gabby Williams but added Courtney Vandersloot. Virtus Bologna built a strong foundation to contend next season. Italian teams combined for the most impressive array of summer transactions. And Fenerbahçe, well, built the scariest roster ever.
All of that took weeks to develop, but it’s been more than a month since the biggest move was announced — Breanna Stewart signing with Fenerbahçe — and it doesn’t feel like much more will happen overseas this summer.
With the EuroLeague offseason now on a bit of a hiatus, the WNBA inching closer to the postseason, and the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup not taking place until late September, the lack of breaking news is understandable. In the meantime, we’re back with the second round of 2022-23 EuroLeague team breakdowns.
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Last week, we broke down the qualifier draws and the regular-season groups for the 2022-23 EuroLeague season. We discussed the teams that are returning to the EuroLeague from last season and in Group B for 2022-23, and we covered the newcomers that qualified for the regular season last month, too. So this week, let’s review the returning teams that are in Group A.
As happened with UMMC not long ago, it now feels like no one needs an introduction to the Turkish giants of Fenerbahçe. But there is still a big difference between the two clubs: As incredible as it sounds, Fenerbahçe has never won the EuroLeague (or EuroCup, for that matter), having finished second four times in the past nine seasons. Two third-place and two fourth-place finishes make it eight out of nine years that Fenerbahçe reached at least the second-to-last game of the EuroLeague while never lifting the trophy. That includes its biggest letdown of all, last year’s loss to Sopron on its home court in Istanbul. Yikes.
An oft-dominant team in national competitions — Fenerbahçe has won the last four Turkish leagues and five of the last six — Fenerbahçe has yet to break through on the continental stage. With 44 trophies on its shelves but none of them on the continent level, it’s about time Fenerbahçe gets one, isn’t it? And if not, it definitely won’t be because of a lack of talent.
Fenerbahçe now has a starting five of Olivia Epoupa, Kayla McBride, Alina Iagupova and the newly inked Stewart and Emma Meesseman. That doesn’t include three other players who would be starters on any other EuroLeague team: Olcay Çakir, Satou Sabally and Kiah Stokes.
Fenerbahçe can’t do much more on paper to win the EuroLeague. We’ll see how things develop during the season, but if there were no excuses last year to fall short, another losing ending this season would make a horrid result from an impressive offseason.
USK Praha (CZE)
Before Sopron (from Hungary) won the EuroLeague last season, Praha was the last non-Russian team to win it (2014-15) before the dominant run of Dynamo Kursk and UMMC Ekaterinburg. Praha hasn’t lost a step on national soil since then, conquering last year’s league with a perfect 18-0 record and a point differential of +1,093, more than triple the second-best mark of +357 (by Zabiny Brno). With national affairs easily handled, it’s about lifting the EuroLeague title once more for Praha.
No team has beaten Fenerbahçe when it comes to building an All-Star team to challenge for the EuroLeague trophy, but Praha didn’t need to do much more than re-signing its main players from a semifinalist squad. Barely a month after the season ended, Praha had already solved 99% of its offseason problems by inking Maria Conde, Teja Oblak, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas to contract extensions.
Thomas (my choice for MVP) was sublime last season along with Jones. Though Praha lost in the semifinals, it was the clear all-around best team in the EuroLeague last year, ranking third or better in points scored and allowed, rebounds, assists, steals and efficiency.
The only substantial player who won’t return for Praha is Dragana Stankovic, who signed with Sopron. Even then, though, Stankovic was at her best at the start of the regular season and missed most of the postseason. And Praha also added former Avenida player Emese Hof to handle the paint alongside Jones.
KSC Szekszard (HUN)
KSC and Sopron are the only two returning teams from a single country to qualify straight into next year’s EuroLeague regular season. Two Italian sides, two French teams and two Spanish clubs already qualified, but only the Hungarian teams have been in the EuroLeague in back-to-back campaigns. The two sides had wildly different outcomes in 2021-22: KSC finished dead last in the group stage and Sopron won the title.
It’s going to be hard for the team from the small city of Szekszard to produce any sort of competitive basketball next year both in Hungary and around Europe. It did not win a single game last year in the EuroLeague and had the worst point differential (-245) of any team (TTT Riga, forfeiting next season because of financial issues, was closest at -159).
The Hungarian side finished third in the 2020-21 EuroCup, but it’s already forgotten about that “second-level” competition. The goal is finding a place among Europe’s giants, and the team is surely progressing by becoming regular participants in the EuroLeague.
KSC has played top-flight basketball in Hungary from 1975 on. The team won its first title in 2018 (a national cup) and was the runner-up in two other seasons. KSC has yet to win the domestic league, though, with a second-place finish last year and two more such placings in the last five years. If only to see the people from tiny Szekszard have a huge party, here’s hoping KSC gets that EuroLeague win it couldn’t get last year.