As James Brown sings: “This is a man’s world but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.” Same goes for basketball. Now we have situation that some of women’s teams have bigger budgets than some of the men’s teams (UMMC Ekatarinburg, for example, have 3 times bigger budget than KK Partizan Belgrade – Euroleague MEN team!). So, what that brought to women’s basketball? Quality? For sure. Problems? A lot of them. But people usually do not want to speak about that.
Here I would like to speak about talents that were lost during the road or those that had very bumpy ride…
Eastern Europe and especially countries of former Yugoslavia was troughout the years an area where you could find talents in big numbers. There is also similar story about countries that once were USSR.
After the final collapse of communist system, people in those countries were left in transition to new political systems that led to very poor living conditions, low salaries and it reflects on sports as well. As most of the countries were on the edge, nobody was thinking about sports except maybe football and basketball (men’s basketball of course) so it left women sport marginalized. So what about those talents?
They tried to find better solutions…
When you work for few Euros a month and when you cannot provide your kids enough, you are always looking for alternatives. If your daughter is a talented basketball player, would you let her go abroad for a big money? For a chance that she can make good living and a chance that she can be provider of a family…I guess most would parents would…
How many of them really care about their players? How many of them are ready to invest their time to try to educate those young girls what is a life of a professional basketball player? Not many of them. Agents usually care only about commission and if they see the chance to get even few more euros, they are going after that chance.
They like to have new promising girls on their team. But those that could give young athletes a chance to play and develop usually do not have big money and are not primary targets for agents of those young girls. Smaller salaries means smaller commissions, also means less money for players families.
Constantly under pressure to make great results, coaches of big teams are not willing or better say, they are afraid to give a chance to young players. Also, playing 2 games a week does not give much of a chance for individual work with those young girls.
So what do we have then?
“Hungry parents”, Greedy agents, Clubs and coaches that do not care too much because there will be new talents…and we are going round and round…
Imagine a player who is for example 18 years old, left her home for a first time. Living now in Russia or Spain. Nobody cares about her that much. Parents are home. Agents got their commissions. Club is playing Euroleague and has ambition to win it. Coach is under pressure. Where is the girl? In practice, she is most likely on the side while the team is going through tactics for next game. During the game she is sitting on the bench. But the money is good…it brings stuff you could not have or try when they were home…and the problems starts…They are losing control, they are trying to find an “exit” , they are burning inside cause they didn’t met the expectations cause they thought they will be “the main players” as they were back home. Again, where are the parents or agents? Not present…
I could write many pages about the problems that occur with those young girls (remember, they are still girls!!!) but let’s go to concrete examples…I will not mention those who we “lost” along the way…because probably, most people do not remember them…I will speak about girls that are on basketball scene now and took their examples:
Gintare Petronyte: Few years ago, she was considered one of the biggest talents in Europe in her position. Started her way right, playing for Athinaikos and won FIBA Eurocup. After that, she was SOLD to Galatasaray, team that needs instant success. Because of the rules in Turkish league, she was part of the team only in Euroleague games…was cut from the team…than she went to Polkowice and again was cut.
Ana Turcinovic: Last year had some minutes in Montenegro national team in European Championship. She was one of the best players in Adriatic league. Her club at that time, Celje, and one of the agents made a deal and she was SOLD to Ramle. Played FIBA Eurocup and Israeli league and as soon as team was eliminated from EuroCup, she was cut from the team. She went to Faenza in Italy where she barely played. She had 18 seconds playing time for Montenegro in 2 of the games in qualification round for European Championship in France. Will go back to Ramla and story will be the same.
Elina Babkina: Player that is neither a shooting guard nor a point guard. Had great season in Lotos Gdynia but then she wanted to take five steps at the same time and signed with Fenerbahce. Played very limited time, someone says it’s because of injury but the fact is: she was not ready for that level. Now she took two steps back and is going to play in Targoviste (Romania).
Jelena Milovanovic: MVP of youth European championship few years ago, made great move by signing in Sopron, place that is well known for developing young players. Was there two years and then, instead of going next level, she made the same mistake as the above mentioned Babkina. She took huge step and went to Spartak Moscow. Seat on the bench, was 6th foreigner with very limited playing time. Now back to Sopron where she started.
Natalia Vieru: Spent many seasons in Spartak Moscow and last season got a chance to shine in Good Angels Kosice. She used that chance and had very good season. Now back to Spartak and don’t know how much playing time she will have with Dupree and Yacoubou playing inside.
Ana Dabovic: After great season in mid-level Russian team and in FIBA EuroCup, signed with Wisla as a point guard. Again a too big a step for young and inexperienced girl. Contract was big but playing time was not.
And we can talk about more examples but this should be enough…
The solution is very simple but on the other hand, it’s very hard:
Go step by step! Young players needs playing time, they need constant attention. They need their summers to be used for individual work – on basketball and on their bodies.
Playing time they will get by signing for “smaller teams” and we have example of those teams even in Euroleague: Sopron, Kosice and even Brno
Players must choose agents that can build project for them. Big agencies usually do not have time to speak to players almost on daily basis and they don’t care too much what player is doing in off season. Most of those agents never were involved in basketball so they don’t know much except how to negotiate contracts.
And parents…they must be patient…in the end, those girls are your daughters and you are responsible for them even when they turn 18. Money will come but pushing those young girls to “lions” when they are not ready will leave wounds that they will not heal for long time…