Africa Champion’s Cup
After the tournament was postponed for two seasons due to the pandemic, the continental championship is supposed to be contested in Africa in Maputo, Mozambique at the home of the two time defending champions Ferroviario in December. Some of the twelve berths in the tournament will be decided by qualifying games with another set starting next week. Full information is not available from the last games in Dar es Salaam, but two teams out of nine won spots in the main tournament.
Vijana Queens was the Tanzania representative in a field with multiple teams figuring that they would be able to win. Egypt’s Sporting Alexandria was one of the favorites and they qualified with country rivals Kenya Ports Authority and Equity Bank fighting for the other spot that went to the former. Rwanda has invested a lot of resources to improving their teams on the men’s side and there are signs that it could be the case in the future on the women’s side as well with Rwanda Energy Group and Armee Patriotique Rwandaise fielding teams here. The club scene is still developing in South Sudan, but Nile Legends represented the country with with the other two teams being Young Sisters of Burundi and Wolkite of Ethiopia.
The league in Puerto Rico started on Saturday with six teams playing this year. Due to the length of the season and the proximity to the mainland, the three spots for those without ties to the island are often filled with well known players. Carolina hosted the opener with Joanne Allen-Taylor, Marie Benson, and Meighan Simmons in those three slots. Santurce, featuring KK Houser, Whitney Knight, and Becca Tobin, left with an 86-76 win. Manati has a very strong starting lineup, filling their three restricted places with Kaela Davis, Adaora Elonu, and Linnae Harper, breezing to a 98-74 win over a Lares team that includes Mykea Gray, Juicy Landrum, and Akela Maize. The two teams were supposed to meet again at Lares on Sunday, but court conditions ended up postponing the game.
Russia and Belarus
Basketball in Russia and Belarus has essentially been cut off from the rest of the world since the invasion of Ukraine. At that time, there were around thirty women from outside those countries who were playing in the Russian league with one player from Oceania, seven from Europe, and the rest from the Americas. Safety concerns and economic issues have clearly decreased the number of foreign players who would be interested and the number of teams looking to sign imports. All the teams in the league have played two games now and seven players from outside of the two banned countries played in the opening round, one from Africa, two from Europe, and four from North America. Two more Americans made their debuts in the second round on Friday.
While many foreign men did not want to play in Russia, the teams there were able to sign plenty of players with significant overseas experience. The top division features ten Russian teams along with one club each from Belarus and Kazakhstan. In their opening round, 39 players not from one of those three countries dressed, two from Africa, nine from Europe, and the rest from the United States. The team from Kazakhstan seem to be operating as it did at the end of last season with American players just playing the home games and not traveling to Russia. The top all-Russian league currently has eight foreign players, a decrease from last season.
Belarus has also been affected with only two Europeans playing there so far this season, although only three teams generally have the resources to sign foreign players. On the men’s side, besides the team playing with the Russian teams, there has been one American and seven Europeans from outside the area to suit up for teams in league play.
The Quest for Promotion
Teams around Europe continue to chase promotion to the top divisions in their countries. Early on in Turkey, recently relegated sides Izmit and Elazig Il Ozel Idare remain perfect. They are joined by Tarsus, which got a great game from Sasha Goodlett in a 96-69 win over Angela Thompkins and Alanya. The second division in Italy started play over the weekend with teams divided into North and South divisions.
The Spanish leagues have undergone some changes in recent seasons below the top division as there is a national second division and two regional third divisions. Play started last week, but this weekend was the first full round in the second tier as teams can generally pull in fairly reputable players from around the world. Even the third tier has plenty of teams that can bring in strong foreigners to supplement a pretty strong development pipeline for local players.
League play in France’s second division starts next Saturday, but the eleven teams that are not the national training center started their seasons with the first round of the French Cup, which operates knockout style across divisions. Poinconnet from the third division joined in the competition and knocked out La Tronche Meylan as the victors now look for chances to upset top division teams. Victoria Majekodunmi had a strong individual performance in Monaco’s 69-67 win over recently relegated Charnay. Teams in the lower divisions in Germany also focused on cup play this weekend with top division teams also involved in the second round. Emma Duff had a standout performance even though Schwabach lost to Bamberg. One of the storylines from a game featuring two top division teams was Mirna Paunovic starting her 18th season with Freiburg at the age of 46.
More European Leagues Start
One of the opening weekends that had some anticipation around it was in Sweden and the latest installment of the story was a good one as Aquira DeCosta had 33 points and 11 rebounds in her overseas debut for Alvik.
The statline of the week may have come from Albania’s opening weekend as Klea Verri had a quadruple-double of 40 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, and 11 steals in Tirana’s 160-42 win over Barleti. After leading Anagennises Yermasogias to the Super Cup win last week, Cassidy Mihalko led them to an opening day win as well. AEL Limassol, which lost the first trophy available in Cyprus, did have an easy league win with Hailey Leidel scoring 31 points in 20 minutes.
Leagues in Bulgaria, Estonia, Malta, Norway, Serbia, and Scotland also got into gear this week. The league featuring teams from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania started play, including Annika Koster leading Estonia’s TalTech past Valerija Baranovska and Latvia’s University of Daugavpils 81-66.
As usual, a number of players had notable efforts around the world. Sierra Moore and Raziyah Farrington reached the 30 point mark in Finland. Camilla Neumann had 36 points and 11 rebounds in a game for Graz in Austria. A terrific individual battle in Iceland’s second division was between Maddie Sutton, who collected 26 rebounds along with scoring 31 points, and Jenna Mastellone, who could not keep her team in it despite 33 points. Sanja Orozovic and Taylor Jones reached the 30 point mark in the top division.