GDYNIA (EuroLeague Women) - There will be no shortage of talent in this season’s EuroLeague Women, which tips off this week.
From the heart of Spain to the Urals in Russia will be many of the players that excelled for their national sides at this year's continental championships.
And this will be a very different campaign in Europe, too, because for first time, the competition will have a Final Eight instead of a Final Four.
There will be seven games on Wednesday and four more on Thursday.
Australia's Lauren Jackson has yet to link up with her new side, Ros Casares.
The power forward is on her way to Valencia, Spain, to join a Ros team that is expected to challenge for the title under coach Natalia Hejkova.
Jackson didn’t play this past summer for Australia at the FIBA Oceania Championship for Women but will be with the team next year at the London Games.
Ros begin their EuroLeague Women campaign on Thursday at Seat Unisze Györ in Hungary.
The Spanish giants are also waiting on USA star Maya Moore, who just helped fire the Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA title.
France center Isabelle Yacoubou will be with Ros.
Yacoubou averaged seven points and 4.1 rebounds for the French at the EuroBasket Women in Poland to help them capture a bronze medal and earn a place in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
Russians Stand Tall
The first game of the new EuroLeague Women season gets underway in Poland on Wednesday with Lotos Gdynia hosting Russian champions UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Ekaterinburg have several players expected to be at next year's Olympics, including Russia's Maria Stepanova, Svetlana Abrosimova, Olga Arteshina and Tatiana Vidmer, France's Sandrine Gruda and United States internationals Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter.
Hana Horakova (pictured), the MVP of the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women, has also joined UMMC from Fenerbahce.
She took a break from international duty this year but the Czech Republic is counting on her to return to the side next summer at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women.
For gold-medal winning Russia at the EuroBasket Women 2011, the 2.03m Stepanova made the all-tournament team after averaging 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
At 32, Stepanova is at the peak of her career.
The 1.93m Gruda, just 24 years of age, averaged 13.4 points and 6.2 rebounds at the EuroBasket in Poland.
Perhaps nowhere in Russia is there more of a buzz than Nadezhda Orenburg - the home of EuroBasket Women 2011 MVP Elena Danilochkina.
Nadezhda will open their EuroLeague Women account at Beretta Famila Schio on Thursday.
Danilochkina shot 54.5% (18 of 33) from behind the arc at the EuroBasket and averaged just under 14 points per game.
Nadezhda will not have Liudmila Sapova, the EuroBasket Women gold-medal winner, in their line-up.
She hurt her Achilles tendon in a pre-season game at fellow EuroLeague Women outfit Cras Basket Taranto and is expected to miss several months.
All eyes will also be on Sparta&K Moscow Region, who have signed WNBA Finals MVP Seimone Augustus.
The Minnesota Lynx star will be in the squad when the team hosts Wisla Can-Pack Krakow next week.
Just down the road from Gdynia in Polkowice will be the place where Perfumerias Avenida launch their EuroLeague Women title defense.
Many players in last year’s EuroLeague Women-title winning side left Avenida but one to stay was Brazil international center Erika, the MVP of the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship for Women.
Erika, who missed the 2008 Olympics, will be chomping at the bit to compete in London next year.
She won’t be with the club for at least a couple of weeks with her arrival being delayed by Brazil's participation in the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
While Polish outfits Polkowice and Gdynia do not have any Olympians in their squads, Wisla Can-Pack Krakow do in Australia point guard Erin Phillips.
Phillips played at the Beijing Games and two years later at the FIBA World Championship for Women.
She reached the WNBA playoffs with the Indiana Fever and did not represent the Opals as they swept New Zealand 3-0 in the FIBA Oceania Championship for Women.
Wisla host Good Angels Kosice on Wednesday.
Croatia will be at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women after a fifth-place finish at the EuroBasket and one of their best players, Ana Lelas, is on the books of Lattes Montpellier.
She is still sky high from the EuroBasket, despite having to miss the last several games because of injury.
"It was an amazing feeling," she said to FIBA.com.
"I felt like we won the gold medal.
“At the end, we showed everyone we have the quality and in a few years, I think we're going to get better."
World class talent will be on show in Turkey, where Fenerbahce and Galatasaray have high expectations.
Diana Taurasi and Angel McCoughtry of the United States are on the books of Gala while Fener have Australia's Penny Taylor along with several other Turkish players who enjoyed their finest hour in the silver-medal run at the EuroBasket Women.
Among those Turkey players that reached the podium in Poland to earn a trip to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament are Nevin Nevlin, Birsel Vardarli and Nevriye Yilmaz.
Nevlin was terrific in Turkey's 68-62 upset of France in the Semi-Finals, pouring in 23 points and corralling eight rebounds.
Vardarli, the point guard, was outstanding from start to finish and ended up averaging 10.7 points, four assists, 4.4 rebounds and two steals.
Yilmaz was Turkey's all-tournament selection.
Along with Taurasi at Galatasaray will be fellow USA star Tina Charles and Turkey national team players Isil Alben, Bahar Caglar, Saziye Ivegin and Spain's Alba Torrens.
New Era At Bourges
In France, a new era gets underway with long-time coach Pierre Vincent having decided to coach men’s side ASVEL, the team that now has French superstar Tony Parker.
But returning to Bourges to play for new coach Valérie Garnier is Celine Dumerc, the France point guard.
Vincent will coach Dumerc at next year’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, along with Bourges players Emmeline Ndongue, Endene Miyem and Jennifer Digbeu.
Ndongue is recovering from an Achilles operation but should return to the Bourges line-up in a few months.
New signing Marielle Amant was in the French 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women squad and aspires for a return to the national team after taking this summer off.
The first opponents for Bourges are USK Prague and in their side is Eva Viteckova, Ilona Burgrova and Katerina Elhotova – three players expected to be in the Czech Republic squad that will try to reach the London Games via the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Prague’s Katerina Bartonova and Michaela Zrustova will also be looking to have good seasons as they attempt to make the Czech squad next summer.
Lindsay Whalen, who just finished her WNBA campaign with a championship at Minnesota, will be arriving in Prague soon.
She won a gold medal with the United States at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.
The coach of Prague is Czech women’s national team boss, Lubor Blazek.
photos Janos Schmidt