My name is Andrew and this will be my twelfth season writing about international basketball and my first for this website. The goal of my coverage will be to provide information and context about women’s basketball around the world, particularly to an audience that is more familiar with North American sports structures. My primary contributions will be regular updates on games played in major competitions, but stay tuned for articles with WNBA implications and on other topics.
All senior national team games during the year will be covered, starting with recaps of World Cup games, one of the steps on the road to Olympic qualification. Leagues from eight countries will also be followed round by round and game by game, which usually means once a week during the weekend. Those leagues are the top divisions from Australia, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Turkey. Major cross-national competitions, including EuroLeague and EuroCup, will also have the same level of coverage when they are in action. That still leaves a vast world of basketball taking place all year long. This will be the first of a series of weekly columns, usually on Sundays, bringing news, interesting results, and unusual stats from everywhere on the planet.
The Season Has Started
The general pattern of the basketball season in Europe is a fall-to-spring format, but start and end dates vary around the continent. The first competitive game of the season was last Saturday in the Netherlands with the Supercup held in Den Helder. Young Iris Vennema had a good game for the hosts and defending league-winning Suns, but it was Grasshoppers bringing the trophy back to Katwijk with an 86-75 win behind Deborah Vos. Opening events continued this weekend with Benfica’s easy 78-47 win over their opponents from Barreiro in Portugal’s edition at a neutral site.
The first top division to start a full round of games did so on Saturday. While Russia’s isolation from the basketball world has received plenty of publicity, Belarus also had their national and club teams banned from international competitions, leaving their top teams with weaker squads this season as foreign players stayed away and more local players left for Russian clubs. Nevertheless, they started play with what they had on a local holiday in a league featuring an odd number of teams and a number of reserve and youth squads. One of the smaller top divisions is the one in Denmark, which has five teams, and that started on Saturday with one exciting game that saw Falcon edge Amager 76-75.
Top divisions were not the only leagues starting over the weekend. Statistics are generally not available, but scores are, as the third, fourth, and fifth tiers in France all started a full round of play in their two, four, and eight regional divisions respectively, over a month before the top league is scheduled to start. While many of the players in the league are paid and many teams have foreign players, these are all amateur leagues by national definition so games are played on the weekend to allow players to work during the week and the leagues also break for holidays. Most, but not all, teams in Sweden’s second tier also started play.
Different Cup Competition Formats
With the second WNBA Commissioner’s Cup in the books and the proposed NBA counterpart coming closer, there is a lot of focus on possible formats. North American media often ignores the roots and inspiration for these competitions coming from European basketball and not other sports. Even with two particular common structures, there are many different formats that these cups take around the continent. Obviously, the format being adopted in the WNBA and probably the NBA is not in play yet as the regular seasons in those countries have not started, but some formats that do not include regular season games have commenced.
The first competition involving all the teams in one league opened on Tuesday with the Turkish Federation Cup, featuring all sixteen teams from the country’s second division. Turkey has traditionally used a unique format for cups where teams play in a group stage before the regular season, either playing the knockout rounds right after or later in the season, and has retained it at this level even though the top division now follows the format seen in some of the other top leagues. The lone foreign player on each team is often counted on to carry the squad at this level as all the games were played on two courts in Eskisehir.
Davion Wingate’s 37 point outing on the opening day was not enough for Yalova against Izmit while Channon Fluker’s 29 point, 21 rebound effort helped Elazig Il Ozel Idare get past their city rivals. Having scored 31 points the day before, Ameryst Alston opened Wednesday’s games with a 25 point, 19 rebound, 14 assist triple-double against an overmatched Karsiyaka. Two players cracked the 30 point mark with Fluker grabbing another 18 rebounds too and Aliyah Mazyck leading Kirklareli to a win. Thursday highlights included another 31 points for Alston, Angela Tompkins turning in a 37 point, 17 rebound effort in under 30 minutes, and Sasha Goodlett pouring in 30 points.
After a day off on Friday, the top two teams in each group contested the quarterfinals on Saturday. Two of the games were low-scoring affairs, leaving the last game of the day with the standout individual performance as Sasha Goodlett had 36 points and 13 rebounds in an 84-68 Tarsus win over Elazig. Channon Fluker and Elazig Il Ozel Idare won Sunday’s first semifinal 69-59. Tarsus then won 90-71 against Kirklareli to set up the final on Monday. That last game ended up being more of a grind than an offensive explosion as Fluker grabbed 22 rebounds, but was held to 5 points. Goodlett led Tarsus again with 22 points and that was enough for them to win 54-51. After a season of missing the playoffs, they will hope that momentum carries over from defeating one of the relegated teams for this trophy as they were able to bring in the foreign player who just helped her team run away with the league and achieve automatic promotion.
Some countries do have the cup format most commonly seen in soccer where teams from multiple divisions play single elimination games. Two countries started their cups on Saturday with only teams from the lower divisions playing right now. Greece had to deal with some forfeits, but opened with eight games, followed by one on Sunday. The German Cup also started with top division teams waiting until the next round to enter proceedings.
Cup competitions are not exclusive to Europe as Japan’s Empress’s Cup started with first three rounds. The country has the different levels of sport familiar to North American fans and this cup had teams from high schools, colleges, corporate teams, and other clubs not in the professional league going through local and regional qualifying to get to the official first round of the tournament held this weekend. The teams in the professional league will join the fray in the next set of games in December.
The WKBL Draft
The annual Korean League Draft was conducted on Friday with teams having four rounds to bring in new players. Draft class quality certainly varies from year to year as the continued absence of foreign players make even smaller front office decisions have large impacts, but there was a clear consensus top pick this time. The Samsung Life Blue Minx had all the luck to get the top pick this season and selected Kianna Smith. Figuring out the tax differences and what other expenses are covered is always a little complicated, but the maximum compensation allowed for the six teams generally exceeds the WNBA maximum with individual salaries also matching up at the higher end so getting a player who could look to stay a decade or more in the league can mark the start of a dynasty. Assuming that she lives up to expectations, there may be some wondering about what would have happened if she had entered in a previous year instead of continuing her Louisville career.
In total, 26 players applied for the draft, with the majority of them just finishing high school instead of coming through the college system. Besides Smith, there were two American-based players with Korean roots who entered, looking to exceed the total of players picked from outside the country in the 2020 Draft that saw Anna Kim and Kara Choi enter the league. Jasmine Choi completed her first NCAA season at DIII Carleton College averaging 15ppg while Ashley Jeong had a brief junior college career at Moorpark College in California, but neither ended up being selected. All of the teams made their picks in the first two rounds, but half passed on their third round pick with only Samsung Life, BNK, and Woori Bank adding a third player. No team made a fourth round pick.