Three-time Russian league champion UMMC Ekaterinberg completed league play with no defeats either in the regular season or playoffs.
It was a historic season which would have been perfect if they hadn't lost to Spartak Vidnoje in the Euroleague semifinals.
We visit Ekaterinburg to discover the role that WNBA players - and particularly Candace Parker - had in this epic season. We also take the opportunity to check-out which players are a must-know in the Russian league.
Candace Parker's crew
Did a team that made a clean sweep straight to the PBL Women's Basketball Finals still have anything to prove in their last games? I would say their pride was at stake, after losing to Spartak in the Euroleague semi-finals, played in Ekaterinburg.
Candace Parker avenged the earlier loss, scoring a combined 49 points to beat Spartak in the three games of the Finals. The last of those three games was played at their rival's home, where Parker and Co. lifted their arms with joy at the final buzzer.
Parker played a decisive role in UMMC's path to the championship. She had recovered from the shoulder injury which kept her from playing most of the WNBA season in 2010, and was back to Russia in January. In 15 games she had a 15.9 points and 5.9 rebounds average, being named the Finals MVP and Player of the Year in Russia. She wasn't alone, as UMMC was filled with star players. The French Celine Dumerc (team leader in assists) and Cappie Pondexter directed the game to a frontcourt that also had Connecticut's Sandrine Gruda and Maria Stepanova. Coming off the bench were former Seattle Storm guard Svetlana Abromisova, former Detroit Shock guard Deanna Nolan and Olga Arteshina.
On a team that wins every game of the season, the head coach also has an important role. The UMMC three-peat has the touch of Gundars Vetra. Vetra was the first Latvian player in the NBA, having played 13 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the early 90's. He arrived in Russia in 2007 to coach CSKA Moscow, but in December 2008 signed with UMMC and since then has been collecting league titles. He now seeks European glory: there have been almost 10 years since Ekaterinburg won Euroleague for the last time.
Hot prospects on the ice
Meanwhile we can find other WNBA top players in this league, such as Tina Charles (Nadezhda), Ephiphany Prince and Sue Bird (Spartak Vidojne), Michelle Snow (Dynamo Kursk) and Jennifer Lacy (Spartak Saint-Petersburg). The Russian League also hosts some of the hottest prospects in Europe as is the case of three players who will spend the summer playing for their national teams.
Ana Dabovic ('89) was born in Montenegro but plays in the Serbian national team, who will try to qualify for the last open spot in Eurobasket 2011. Dabovic played her rookie season in Russia, after spending a year in Greece, and played in Dynamo Novosibirsk. She was the league's leader in points and assists per game, being used as a shooting guard but also able to play as small forward.
Natalya Myasodeva ('87) plays on the same team as Dabovic, but completed her 6th season in the league. She was the best non-American rebounder, with an average 8.8 and will try to get a place on the Russian national team. Myasodeva is still growing as an inside impact player, gaining experience in Eurocup, the second European team competition.
Another player with the ability to get WNBA attention is Belarus international's Anastasiya Veremeenko ('87). She appeared in last year's World Cup as a prospect, and confirmed it this season being one of the best defensive players in the Russian League and Euroleague. She is a fantastic shot blocker, and will try this summer to add to her country's chance to fight for a title.
Those are but three reasons to keep an eye in European basketball during summer. As for the Russian league, it's certain that some great WNBA players will appear again as well as some good prospect players. It's probably the wealthiest league in Europe and if money doesn't win titles it sure can add great quality.