|15 August 2012|
New kids on the Division A block Portugal face a tough assignment to stay at the top level against group opponents France, Ukraine and Turkey who are all capable of landing a quarter-final place.
|Margaux Galliou averaged 8.1 points and 6.8 rebounds last summer to help France clinch silver at the U18 European Championship Women|
Two summers without a podium finish represents something of a drought for France who had a proud record of seven consecutive medal winning years between 2002 and 2009.
The French are tasked with improving on last year's fifth place and getting back in the medal shake-up as they feature several members of the team that competed last year and won silver at the U18 European Championship Women in Oradea or competed in Chile at the U19 World Championship Women.
Forward Adja Konteh and shooting guard Helena Akmouche should provide plenty of ammunition, helping to put points on the board.
Coming from the 1993 generation is Margaux Galliou who is very reliable and will do a nice job inside for the French team while young Bourges Basket center Christelle Diallo is hugely talented but some people feel still needs to show more consistency in her game.
One player very underrated but who can be very much a glue player for France is Claire Stievenard, a swingman who works hard and does the dirty work off the ball.
France come into this tournament in good form having beaten Spain recently to win the final of the Tourneo de Noia which also included Poland and the Netherlands.
The feeling is that Turkey perhaps did not quite realise their ambitions either at the U18 or U20 European Championship Women last year with their respective seventh and ninth place finishes.
For this summer and next, the expectation will be arguably higher now that a supremely talented 1993 generation can potentially drive Turkey towards the podium. After all, Olcay Cakir has started a EuroLeague Women Final Eight game for Fenerbahce while Ozge Kavurmacioglu and Ayse Cora have also played in the competition as well as the U17 World Championship Women.
Kavurmacioglu is arguably the most talented of the trio, a wing who steps inside and can score, rebound as well as hit three-pointers.
Cakir is a rangy guard who is dynamic offensively and capable of coming up with plenty of steals to spark transition scores while Cora, who played last summer in Novi Sad, is a feisty small forward who crashes the boards pretty hard.
These players will be supplemented by some of the 1994 born players who recently played at the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest and came within a whisker of making the U19 World Championship Women next year. The backcourt partnership of Pelin Bilgic and Merve Aydin is particularly worth looking out for.
Turkey won the Istanbul preparation tournament last week after coming out on top in a three-way tie with Sweden and Russia.
|Daniela Domingues was on Portugal's team last year, helping her side win promotion to Division A|
It was a sweet feeling for Portugal last summer in Ohrid as they gained promotion to Division A for the very first time. And, it's an obvious statement that reaching the elite level is one thing but staying here will be quite another.
Especially since their marquee player Michelle Brandao who propelled the team to history is now too old to play at youth level. However, Daniela Domingues is a swingman who will return and show her quality again.
Her performances last year were impressive but she then followed that good form up with an excellent contribution for AD Vagos in EuroCup Women and was rewarded with a brief taste of court time for the senior Portugal team earlier this summer during EuroBasket Women qualification.
In the frontcourt, Maria Andrade averaged over 11 points per game and anywhere near that kind of production would be a real bonus for Portugal although inevitably it will prove a tougher assignment at this level.
Coming up out of the U18 ranks is free-scoring combo guard Joana Jesus and she may just hold the key at the offensive end.
While Ukraine has often moved between divisions at various other age groups including men's basketball, the one constant has been remaining in Division A of the U20 European Championship Women - even if a medal has not been forthcoming.
Last summer, this tradition was upheld with a quarter-final place mainly due to the incredible performance of Alina Iagupova who led the team in scoring, assists, steals and blocks. She then took the same kind of blistering form to the senior team which booked a spot at EuroBasket Women in France.
She is an incredible talent and will continue to be the reference player for Ukraine who will also rely on Lyudmyla Naumenko, a forward who claimed six points and seven rebounds last summer in Novi Sad - an impressive haul for a 1993 born participant.
Unfortunately the players stepping up suffered relegation from the U18 European Championship Women Division A last summer, finishing bottom in Oradea which does raise some question marks as to how Ukraine will be able to match their strong finishing position last time at this level. But, preparation results have shown they could be a threat.