On Dec. 12, FIBA announced the group draws for EuroBasket Women 2019. There will be 16 teams in the tournament in four four-team groups. The official groups are below:
- Group A: No. 25 Great Britain, No. 24 Latvia, No. 2 Spain, No. 38 Ukraine
- Group B: No. 12 Czech Republic, No. 4 France, No. 26 Montenegro, No. 41 Sweden
- Group C: No. 50 Hungary, No. 31 Italy, No. 63 Slovenia, No. 6 Turkey
- Group D: No. 13 Belarus, 16 Belgium, No. 11 Russia, No. 8 Serbia
EuroBasket Women 2019 will be held from June 27 to July 7 in host nations Serbia and Latvia. Here are some takeaways from the announcement, both from a tournament and a WNBA perspective:
Most EuroBasket Women 2019 teams have WNBA talent
The following is a list of current or very recent WNBA players who played in EuroBasket Women qualifiers on teams that made EuroBasket Women 2019. Please note that this list is not exhaustive:
- Belarus - Alex Bentley (Sun)
- Belgium - Emma Meesseman (Mystics)
- Czech Republic - Kia Vaughn (Liberty)
- France - Bria Hartley (Liberty), Endene Miyem (Lynx)
- Great Britain - Karlie Samuelson (Sparks)
- Italy - Cecilia Zandalasini (Lynx)
- Montenegro - Glory Johnson (Wings)
- Russia - Epiphanny Prince (Liberty), Maria Vadeeva (Sparks)
- Serbia - Ana Dabovic (Sparks)
- Spain - Astou Ndour (Sky), Leti Romero (Wings)
- Sweden - Amanda Zahui B. (Liberty)
Spain and France are in prime position to win their groups
Spain won the gold medal in EuroBasket Women 2017, while France won the silver. Both teams are in favorable groups where none of their opponents are in the top 10 of the FIBA Women’s World Ranking. Games have to be played, of course, but the Spanish and French teams should win their groups comfortably next summer. They will also be in good position to compete for the gold medal once again.
Belgium must prove that they are not one-hit wonders
Belgium was unranked heading into EuroBasket Women 2017. But after a bronze-medal finish in 2017 and a fourth-place finish in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, they must prove that they can have sustained success. Mystics forward Emma Meesseman is a big reason for their triumphs, but they have a strong backcourt with Kim Mestdagh, Julie Vanloo and Majorie Carpreaux, who are the engines for their offense.
Unfortunately, Belgium is in EuroBasket Women 2019’s toughest group which features perennial powers in Russia, Belarus and Serbia, all of whom have made the Olympics at least once since 2012. If Belgium continues to meet the high standards they have set for themselves, they should be able to make at least the quarterfinals once again.
The Liberty may not be at full strength until mid-season
The New York Liberty have four rotation players who are also European nationals. Bria Hartley (France), Amanda Zahui B. (Sweden), Epiphanny Prince (Russia) and Kia Vaughn (Czech Republic) all played games in the EuroBasket Women qualifiers and are expected to play with their national teams next summer. With all of those teams in the tournament, the Liberty could be without four of their players on the 2018 roster, assuming that they make no changes.
There are other teams with multiple European nationals on the roster, like the Sparks and Lynx, but the teams aren’t quite as dependent on their international players as the Liberty are.
WNBA teams may self-limit how many international players they acquire
It is not uncommon for EuroLeague Women and EuroCup Women teams to limit the number of non-European players on their roster. One way that these clubs can go around the limits is by naturalizing non-European players who are mostly American.
The WNBA has no explicit limit of non-American players on team rosters. But as long as continental tournaments like EuroBasket Women continue to disrupt the schedule, more teams may be wary about signing free agents who play for other countries, even if they are otherwise great talents.
Adding absolute talent on a roster is important and it remains the top predictor of a team’s success. However, if those players miss most of their WNBA games due to international tournaments, it neutralizes any impact that they may otherwise have.
The WNBA must make changes to address the international basketball calendar
With a growing number of WNBA players on European national teams, the league must come up with a solution on how seasons will go on if and when international players go to continental tournaments like EuroBasket Women. The league takes pride in being the top women’s professional basketball league in the world. But the WNBA is still selling itself short on the international stage by not making its seasons more flexible with national team play.
Players from all over the world still want to go to the WNBA to show that they can compete and thrive against American players. But that desire has limits when lower wages and the lack of an “international break” come into play. Hopefully, the WNBA moves in this direction for future seasons.