So what do you do in the off-season if you a) don't follow the NBA or b) don't look grimly forward to Connecticut marching to an undefeated season in women's college basketball. Your options, my friend, are sorely limited if you're looking in the United States unless you like high school girls basketball.
But there is always another option. Every year, like swallows returning to Capistrano, the players of the WNBA scatter to the four winds when the season is over, drawn by the homing signal of nice big paycheck overseas. Even though the players really make bank overseas, games played in foreign lands never get much attention, and it puzzles me why. It's the same players that we all know and love. They have uniforms and everything! We know that Candace Parker and Angel McCoughtry and Tina Charles do something in the off season, even if we're left scratching our heads as to exactly what.
Every now and then, I get a burr up my buttocks and try to pay attention to what's going on in a European league. It's not easy. Forget the foreign language issue, that's the easiest part believe it or not. Translate Google can usually provide enough of a translation to get the jist. Boxscore abbreviations can be translated, there are sites like lovewomensbasketball.com that specialize in foreign basketball, FIBA runs a great site for the two biggest international leagues which are Euroleague and Eurocup. (Think of each country's league as a college conference and Euroleague as the NCAA Tournament.)
The real problem is a lack of visual oomph. Frankly, you fans have never had it so good with WNBA Live Access. Imagine getting up when the rooster crows to watch games due to the time difference ! Thrill to the sounds of announcers speaking in a foreign language while a fuzzy screen shows a one-camera setup with no zooms and no score displayed at the bottom! And that's if you can even find the games being broadcast at all!
There are a lot of strong countries that would be a great candidate to follow for at least one season. Russia, Poland, France, Turkey all have great women's leagues but I got a request to follow Spain, so Spain I shall follow. (We'll have to knock the rust off our high school Spanish.) Spain's national players are doing very well as of this writing (Friday) in the FIBA worlds. For years, Spanish teams were very strong in Euroleague competition.
However, Spain's financial problems have sifted down to the club level and the rise of Turkish basketball means that the best players in Spain are going to be snapped up by pro teams from other countries. Of the 12 players on the Spanish national women's team that finished the 2014 FIBA women's competition with a silver medal, only four of those players play for the teams in the Liga Femenina. Between you and me, Spanish basketball is looking at a downside. But we're going to go forward.
We're going to be taking a two-part look at the Spanish League. We'll look at seven teams today, and then look at the other seven teams in the league on Thursday.
First, let's take a look at the general setup of the Spanish league.
Name of league: Liga Femenina de Baloncesto, or Women's Basketball League. The abbreviation is LFB.
Structure: European relegation/promotion. Every year the worst teams are dumped out and the best teams from the league below it - Liga Femenina 2 (LF2) - are brought in
Length of season: 15 October 2014 - 26 March 2015
Number of games: 26. Every team plays every other team twice in the regular season.
Play-Offs: In 2014, the top four teams went to the playoffs. The semifinals and finals are all best-of-three.
Last years playoff teams: 1. Perfumerias (18-4), 2. Rivas Ecopolis (17-5), 3. Gran Canaria (13-9, 4. Bembibre (12-10). Perfumerias and Rivas Ecopolis met in the finals after defeating their opponents two games to one in the semis. The finals ended in a 2-0 sweep by Rivas Ecopolis, their first ever LFB championship.
Teams in Euroleague: Only Perfumerias will be playing in the toughest league in Europe this year.
Teams in Eurocup: None. International Spanish club participation is the lowest I've seen it.
For the last couple of years, the Spanish league has been a 12-team league after being a 14-team league for several years, due to clubs withdrawing, folding, or self-relegating to lower divisions due to financial difficulties. Burgos withdrew at the end of the 2013-14 season after 14 seasons in the LFB due to financial difficulties. Therefore, the first division at the end of last season didn't relegate anyone in the upper division down to the LF2. Instead, they brought three teams up from the LFB2 - Al-Qazares, Campus Promete, and Uni Ferrol, to bring the league back up to the strength of 14 teams.
So let's take a look at half of those teams to get started- what they're called, where they are, what their chances are, and if they have any players you might have heard of.
Name: CB Al-Qazeres Extremadura
Shorter name: Al-Qazares
Located in: Cáceres, Spain. According to Wikipedia, the population is around 96,000. The picture of Cáceres on the map has it in western Spain, relatively near Portugal.
Interesting factoid: "Salt-cured ham and red wine are produced locally and are officially recognized by the Spanish government."
Team colors: Green and yellow
Anybody you've ever heard of?
Afure Jemerigbe. 6'0 guard out of California, graduated in 2014. This is her first year with an overseas club.
Callan Taylor. 6'0 forward out of Sacred Heart, graduated in 2012. She's played for clubs in Finland and has a year with Al-Qazeres under her belt. Last season, she scored 16.7 ppg and 9.3 rpg in the LF2.
Lady Comfort. 6'2 forward/center out of Temple, graduated in 2008. Signed a rookie contract with the Sparks once but didn't make roster. Has played at least a couple of years in Spain.
Head coach: Jacinto Carbajal. Young, early to mid thirties. Has worked his way up the coaching ladder, so it will be interesting to see how he does in year one.
History: Not a lot of it. I don't believe this club was founded until 2012. Initially the club budget was just 100,000 Euros per year. They played in LF2 for a couple of seasons, and last year were the regular season runners up in Group A and were champions of the LF2. For that, they won promotion fair and square to the LFB.
Prospects: Probably not good. First years after promotion are always rocky; they'll probably spend the season trying not to get sent back down. The acquisition of vets Taylor and Comfort is a good start.
http://cbal-qazeres.blogspot.com/ : not much here
@CBALQAZERES: Twitter account of Al-Cazares
@jacintocarb: Twitter account of Jacinto Carbajal
Name: CB Bembibre PDM
Shorter name: Bembibre
Located in: Bembibre, Spain. According to Wikipedia, the town has a population of 10,097. It's located in that little wedge of western Spain that is north of Portugal on the Iberian peninsula.
Interesting factoid: The church of San Pedro Apostol dates back to medieval origins.
Team colors: red, blue, and white
Anyone you've heard of?
Ariel Edwards. 6'3 forward out of Penn State, graduated in 2014. Had a training camp contract with the Tulsa Shock but did not make the roster. This is her first team overseas.
Head coach: Chiqui Barros. In his mid-forties, has coached with Uni Ferrol and for Bembibre since 2010.
History: They made it to the first division (LFB) in 2013, when they finished 10th in their inaugural season. Last year they finished fourth. That got them to the postseason where they lost to Perfumerias 2-1 in three games.
Prospects: Their main scorers and rebounders are back, and they add Edwards, so they'll be gunning for a playoff spot.
http://www.cbbembibre.com/ - Information about club games and results with photos
@CBBembibrePDM: twitter account of Bembibre
Name: Cadi La Seu D'urgell
Shorter name: Cadi La Seu
Located in: La Seu D'urgell, Spain. According to Wikipedia, a town of 12,986 located in the Catalan Pyrenees in Spain, right at the border of Spain and France. Close to the min-state of Andorra.
Interesting factoid: Traditional main street market every Tuesday and Saturday
Team colors: Blue and red
Anyone you've heard of?
Tyrese Tanner. 6'1 guard/forward out of Auburn, graduated in 2014. This is her first year overseas.
Head coach: Miguel Ángel Ortega. He's 52 and has been a head coach in the LFB for at least four years. This season will be his first coaching Cadi La Seu.
History: Generally a middle-bottom team. Their high point was making the playoff semifinals in 2013, but last year they fell right back down to 7th.
Prospects: They've gone with Belgian player Hind Ben Abeldaker, formerly at California, this season. (She didn't stay at Cal.) It's basically a rebuild as all but one starter departs. The two leading scorers - both Americans - aren't back this season and Tanner will be expected to contribute immediately. With a new coach and a new team I suspect they'll fight to stay relevant.
http://www.sedisbasquet.com/ - a very cluttered-looking website
Name: Campus Promete Logroño
Shorter name: Campus Promete
Located in: Logroño, Spain. According to Wikipedia, this is a city in northern Spain on the Ebro river. It is a metropolitan area of about 197,000.
Interesting factoid: "Logroño has one of the most distinguished culinary traditions in Spain." So players visiting will eat very well.
Team colors: blue and yellow
Anyone you've heard of?
Lanedra Brown. 6'2 center from Seton Hall, graduated in 2004. She was at Cadi La Seu last season and Bembibre the year before. She has played in Israel, Luxembourg, Turkey, the UK, Spain, and in the NWBL in the United States. This is her 12th season in professional basketball.
Leslie Knight. 6'1 forward from Minnesota, graduated in 2008. She has played for teams in Spain and Switzerland and played for Mann Filter last season.
Head coach: Luis Birigay. He's in his late 40s and has only been coaching for about five years, all with Campus Promete.
History: They've moved up since their foundation, finishing in the finals of LF2 last season. Due to the financial crunch facing the first division, they won promotion.
Prospects: It looks like they've lost a couple of starters, but are picking up the experienced players they need to compete at least. But I'll be surprised if the crawl out of the bottom of the table.
https://www.cdpromete.es/ - team website - doesn't look like much
@CDPromete - everything going on with all of the clubs that Promete runs
ClubDeportivoPromete - Facebook account with very nice media section
Name: Club Baloncesto Conquero Hueva
Shorter name: Conquero
Located in: Huelva, Spain. According to Wikipedia, this is a city of 149,410 on the southern coast of Spain, bordering the Gulf of Cadiz.
Interesting factoid: "During World War II, the city was a hub of espionage activities led by members of the large British and German communities."
Team colors: black, white, and "Columbia blue"
Anyone you've heard of?
Chelsea Davis. 6'2 forward from Florida State, graduated in 2013. Played for Gran Canaria (Spain) and UTE (Ecuador) last season.
Adaora Elonu. 6'1 forward from Texas A&M, graduated in 2012. Born in Nigeria. Played for Burgos in Spain and Galil Elion in Israel.
Aja Parham. 6'0 swingplayer from Boston College, graduated in 2006. Has played a number of years in Spain, Australia, France and Portugal. Was signed by the Seattle Storm a couple of times, but waived and has never played a WNBA game.
Head coach: Gabriel Carrasco. He's in his early forties and has coached with the club at various levels for seven years.
History: Conquero was promoted to the upper division in 2012. They finished 11th and 10th respectively in their two years at the top.
Prospects: They picked up some Americans, but nothing really special. I expect they'll be back at the bottom of the division, but above the promoted clubs.
http://www.cbconquero.es/ - was not loading at the time of this writing
@CBConquero - Twitter site
Name: Universitario de Ferrol
Shorter name: Ferrol
Located in: Ferrol, Spain. According to Wikipedia, Ferrol is a city of 71,232 located on the coast of north-western Spain.
Interesting factoid: Birthplace of General Francisco Franco.
Team colors: blue and red
Anyone you've heard of?
Haley Peters. 6'3 guard/forward out of Duke, graduated in 2014. Signed a training camp contract with the Mystics but didn't make the roster. This is her first overseas team.
DeNesha Stallworth. 6'3 forward from Kentucky, graduated in 2014. Played in one preseason game for Connecticut. This is her first overseas team.
Head coach: Lino López. He's in his upper 30s, and he's been with the club for four years.
History: They were in the LFB briefly after promotion 2005-06, then fell down to the second division after finishing in 14th place. During their time in LF2, it seemed they got a little bit better every year, finally finishing as regular season LF2 Group A champion last season and earning another ticket to the big time.
Prospects: Ferrol is stocking up with Americans but they are young Americans. Stallworth got a real look in the WNBA, so we'll see how she does overseas. I suspect that Ferrol's fate rests with how well Peters and Stallworth adjust.
http://www.uniferrol.com/ - a web site that looks like it came out of 1998
Name: Gernika Bizkaia
Shorter name: Gernika
Located in: Gernika, Spain. It's a part of the Basque Country in northern Spain, and Wikipedia provides no nice map locating it in Spain. The Basque region of Spain is Northern Spain, bordering the Atlantic and France. Population of 16,224.
Interesting factoid: Also known as Guernica, the subject of that famous anti-war painting from Picasso.
Team colors: Maroon and white
Anyone you've heard of?
Britany Miller. 6-4 center from Florida State, left early for academic reasons. Played for one year in the Czech Republic before being drafted by the Detroit Shock in 2009, where she had a cup of coffee (One game, eight minutes, 0-for-1 shooting). Then played in Spain, France, and Croatia. Was with Gernika last season.
Bernice Mosby. 6-1 forward from Florida, then Baylor. Played three seasons in the WNBA as a bench player for the Washington Mystics from 2007-2009. Was in the Indiana Fever training camp in 2013. Has played for teams in Israel, Portugal and Spain. Played for Conquero last season.
Head coach: Mario Lopez (no, not THAT Mario Lopez). Has coached Gernika at various levels since 2009. Coached Spain youth under-18 and under-17 teams in 2013 and 2014.
History: Founded in 1996. Finished first last season in LF2's Group B, which earned them a promotion to LFB after three clubs dropped out of the LFB last season.
Prospects: Miller scored 18.2 ppg for them in the LF2 last season, that will be hard to replicate this year. Mosby has played abroad, so Miller should appreciate the help. This team will have to fight not to end back up in the lower division.
http://www.gernikasaski.com/ - bilingual website, in both Spanish and Basque
@GKesb - Twitter account
Coming tomorrow: Part II. We'll look at the other seven teams in the Liga Femenina, and list social media links for various players.