With the re-emergence of Dynamo Moscow and the rise of Nadezhda Orenburg, Russian Premiere league is now the best domestic league in Europe. For European standards where the top 2 teams in most cases are head and shoulders above everyone else, RPL has five teams that will vie for a place in the top three to play in ELW in 2013/14.
And all of the league’s the games will be available for free online! Your move Turkey.
Going through the league regulations it appears there’s no more division between foreigners from Europe and outside of Europe so the UMMC’s and Dynamo Moscow’s of the world will be able to play with three of their Americans at the same time.
Using foreigners will not be something that Rostov-Don, Energia Ivanovo and Spartak Noginsk will be doing, at least at the start of the season. Nine of the league newcomer’s Rostov-Don eleven players are in the range of being 21 to 24 years old. It’s not like they have been standouts for Russian Youth NT’s so this season will be a challenging one for the newcomers. If they earn any victories, they will likely come against Ivanovo or Noginsk. Not much has changed over the summer for the 3-15 Energia. Their only noteworthy addition has been that of veteran guard Elena Berseneva who previously was a part of the Nadezhda Orenburg during the last 3 seasons. Berseneva’s impact will be with her experience, not her scoring ability.
Spartak Noginsk’s top scorers from last season – Psareva, Aleksic, Abrikosova - are now gone. In their place there’s no new arrivals with a similar scoring prowess at this level. With that there’s no way this team will repeat last year’s feat of finishing sixth.
Having finished last in 2011/12, Dynamo-GUVD Novosibirsk has increased it’s budget which has allowed them to sign two foreigners – Sidney Spencer and Yvonne Turner. These signings should ease up the pressure to Natalia Myasoedova to lead the team and subsequently their record should be a tad better than last season’s 2-16.
Vologda Chevakata will try to put up a fight for their fifth place in RPL, which will be harder than ever. Having lost Jessica Davenport to a better paying gig in Turkey, they signed a very promising American power forward Glory Johnson who finished second in WNBA Rookie of the Year voting. Not to say Loree Moore was over the hill, but Jasmine Thomas is a visible improvement over her even though Thomas has yet to anything noteworthy at the pro level. If the pre-season is any indicator Belorussian forward Ekaterina Snytsina is back playing at a high level after being forced to sit out last season due to an injury. A bigger role available at Vologda than at Nadezhda will be available to 2010 European U20 Championship MVP Anastasia Logunova. How much playing time she gets will be up solely to her – the departure of Maria Cherepanova has opened up her some minutes inside.
Dynamo Moscow have gone from a two and a half player team to a serious contender for top three places, with the signing of several current and former Russian NT players. Best part of that is that their three best players from last season in Crystal Langhorne, Kristi Toliver and Irina Sokolovskaya are returning next season. Joining them are current Russian NT members Nadezhda Grishaeva and Ilona Korstin, former NT members Svetlana Abrosimova and Tatyana Vidmer as well as American center Laura Harper and Montenegrin guard Snezana Aleksic. Note that Abrosimova, Langhorne and Toliver will join the team after the season starts. Still that’s a significantly improved and overall good looking team in almost all positions. On paper they are better than some of the teams participating in EuroLeague Women this season. If they don’t get in too big of a hole before Langhorne and Toliver arrives they can legitimately vie for a place in EuroLeague Women next season.
Speaking of improvement there’s no way getting around Dynamo Kursk who lost Anna Petrakova to UMMC, but were able to secure the services of Epiphanny Prince, Shay Murphy and Erin Lawless – Americans with European passports. Considering Temeka Johnson, Michelle Snow, Ausra Bimbaite, Ekaterina Lisina and Natalia Vodopyanova are returning there’s no way this EuroCup Women winning team is not improved during the summer. To attempt to balance out the talent concentration on the perimeter, Kursk signed two solid Russian posts in Varvara Psareva and Maria Cherepanova. That improves them inside somewhat but whether it’s enough is yet to be seen. Until they’ve set their foots on the court in real games we have been left to wonder.
Inside for Kursk will be worrisome because they will have to go up against the likes of Zane Tamane, Iva Perovanovic and Kara Braxton from Orenburg if they want to overtake them. Renee Montgomery and DeWanna Bonner have to potential to rival Kristi Toliver and Crystal Langhorne as a one-two scoring punch this season for Nadezhda. If not for Renee Montgomery and Kelly Miller Nadezhda might be on the tallest teams in the continent with 180 cm or taller guards like Elena Danilochkina, Ludmila Sapova and Natalia Zhedik.
Going through leagues elsewhere you will not find teams potentially ranked three through five with this stacked rosters.
Of the top five teams, the nominally least improved team is Sparta&K Vidnoje. If others improved just by outright adding talented players, than Sparta&K added players to replace ones departing. Aguilar, Vieru and Yacoubou are replacing Skerovic, Osipova and Milovanovic. If Aguilar should have similar impact to that of Skerovic and Yacoubou should be an improvement over Milovanovic, seeing how Natalia Vieru fares will be interesting. She’s going from one of the go-to players at Kosice back to fourth or fifth option. With the two Russian on the court rule she “should” be a starter in Russian league, but there’s Marina Kuzina vying for that spot and Chatman can always go to Hammon, Belyakova backcourt and start Yacoubou together with Dupree. Luckily for Sparta&K they will not be tested in RPL while Seimone Augustus is occupied fighting for a WNBA championship as the first serious encounter against a top tier team will come only in November.
Do we give UMMC the silverware now or do we wait until spring? If you can start Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird together in a Russian league game it’s game over for everyone else. It’s not like you can cheat off Maria Stepanova, Olga Arteshina, Anna Petrakova, Tatyana Popova or Deanna Nolan to help defend any one of those three, either. And that’s even not mentioning Quanitra Hollingsworth, Ewelina Kobryn, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota and Silvia Dominguez. UMMC should think about streaming their practices and scrimmages once everyone is there. They would be higher level, more competitive and fun than most of the games you’ll see this winter anywhere in the world.
Going through these teams there’s this feeling that following Russian Premiere League will be as much if not even more fun than following EuroLeague Women. And it all starts tomorrow with the first game.