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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

DeForge Leads Montenegro’s Cinderella Campaign in EuroBasket Women 2011

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Photo Caption: Anna De Forge (White, No. 6) celebrates after helping lead the Montenegrin National Women’s Basketball Team to a 63-68 upset of France, the reigning European champions, at EuroBasket Women 2011 in Katowice, Poland on June 24, 2011. In its EuroBasket Women debut, Montenegro, once part of the former Yugoslavia, has been a pleasant surprise, knocking off several of Europe’s perennial women’s basketball powerhouses on its way to a 6-0 start and a berth in the quarterfinals as the sole remaining undefeated team in the tournament. Montenegro tips off its quarterfinal match-up against Turkey on Thursday, June 30; the gold medal game is slated for July 3 in Lodz, Poland.

Photo Credit: Courtesy FIBA Europe/Elio Castoria

By Jeff Griesch
Guest Analyst

Special to FullCourtPress.com

Anna DeForge has led a life of unlikely journeys. The small-town girl who grew up Wisconsin and grew her game in America’s Heartland playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, has followed the game of basketball around the world.

The former Nebraska All-American has played in a trio of professional women’s basketball leagues in the United States, including the ABL, NWBL and WNBA. The two-time WNBA All-Star spent eight WNBA seasons with four organizations, after starting her pro career with the ABL’s San Jose Lasers in 1999. The 35-year-old also played professionally in Poland, Turkey and Spain before joining the Montenegro National Team on what is being called a “Magical Cinderella Story” in EuroBasket Women 2011, currently underway in Lodz, Poland.

“I knew I was nearing the end of my WNBA career, so last summer I chose to become naturalized with Montenegro instead of playing in the WNBA,” DeForge said. “I have played with and against many players from Montenegro throughout my European career. My friends and teammates from the past helped me gain naturalization. It was actually a surprisingly simple process.”

Montenegro improved to a perfect 6-0 at the European championships after a 74-70 victory over Latvia on Sunday, June 26, and DeForge has been a major reason for her adopted home country’s run. Against Latvia, DeForge pumped in 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out two assists in her 40 minutes on the floor.

On June 24, in an unlikely 73-68 upset of European power France, the reigning EuroBasket Women champions, DeForge poured in 15 more points, while adding four rebounds and a game-high three steals in 38 minutes of work.

Montenegro has advanced to a quarterfinal match-up with Turkey in Lodz, Poland, on June 30, with a chance to move on to the semifinals July 1. The EuroBasket Women 2011 championship game is set for July 3.

The veteran shooting guard has been a workhouse for Montenegro; DeForge stands at the top of the EuroBasket Women 2011 leaderboard with 37.8 minutes played per game, while ranking fifth in the tournament with 2.4 steals per game. She also ranks ninth in the tournament with 3.2 assists per contest and 16th in the tournament in scoring with 12.2 points per game. She has also added 5.0 rebounds as one Montenegro’s top players.

“At 35, I don’t feel 35,” DeForge said. “Well, some days, of course, I feel all of 35, but I feel fortunate enough to continue playing at a productive level now.”

DeForge’s success in the EuroBasket Women 2011 tournament has come less than a year after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her left knee while training with Montenegro last July. According to DeForge, it was the first serious injury of her career, but she never doubted her own return to the court.

“It was a very scary situation and the lowest point of my career, and when I needed my first surgery, of course I had bad moments,” DeForge said. “But never once did I think my basketball playing days were over. I knew I would return, and I knew that an injury would not be the way I ended my playing days.”

The two-time honorable-mention All-American and two-time first-team All-Big 12 guard at Nebraska did much of her rehabilitation back in Lincoln, and with the support of the Husker athletic medicine staff, DeForge was able to return to the court by January of 2011 – just five months after her ACL surgery.

“It did take some time to re-educate my knee and leg, but at 6 ½ months I felt very comfortable on the court again, DeForge said. “The entire rehab process was very long and demanding. The time and process it took for the ligament to heal was the most challenging part for me. I am extremely grateful to Jerry Weber and Nebraska’s athletic medicine staff, especially Amy Collison, for taking the time to rehab a former Husker. I just felt very comfortable and very confident back at Nebraska.”

Following her rehab in Lincoln, DeForge returned to her Hondarribia Irun team in Spain to play in January, gaining confidence in her knee and preparing for EuroBasket. After completing the pro season in Liga Femenina, DeForge and her teammates from Montenegro began their Cinderella ride on June 18 with a 70-53 tournament-opening victory over the hosts from Poland at Spodek Arena in Katowice, Poland.

For DeForge, who led Montenegro with 18 points and a game-high five steals to go along with three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes against Poland’s National Team, Montenegro’s run has offered another homecoming of sorts. DeForge spent the first three years of her European career playing professionally in Poland from 2005 through 2007.

“Since I was able to play three years in Poland, I am very familiar with the country and the players,” DeForge said. “I enjoyed my three years in Poland, but it hasn’t really provided me with any advantages in EuroBasket 2011 with Montenegro. I have never played at Spodek Arena, but I will say I enjoyed every minute of it, since we finished a perfect 6-0 there.”

After adding nine points, a team-leading four steals, two rebounds and two assists in a 66-57 win over Spain, another European power and tournament favorite, on June 19, DeForge sat out Montenegro’s 76-64 win over Germany on June 20. She returned to the court after three days rest to help Montenegro to an impressive 81-60 victory over Croatia on June 22. DeForge led the Montenegrins with eight assists while pitching in 10 rebounds to go along with four points in 37 minutes of action.

She averaged 15 points per game in key wins over France and Latvia to propel Montenegro into the quarterfinals, and now has her adopted home country, the sole undefeated team remaining in the field, envisioning a EuroBasket Women 2011 championship run in this, its debut appearance in the tournament.

“I didn’t have any clue the game of basketball would open so many wonderful doors and opportunities for me,” DeForge said. “All I knew is that I loved this sport and I always had a deep desire to play. Basketball has been my vehicle, and it has allowed me to experience many parts of the world, and for that I do not have any words, only experiences of a lifetime and many memories to hold.”

Growing up in small-town Wisconsin, DeForge was recruited to Nebraska by Coach Angela Beck in the early 1990s. DeForge joined the Huskers in the fall of 1994 and made an immediate impact in the Big Red’s presence in what was then the Big Eight Conference. She averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a freshman. As a sophomore, she led NU to the NCAA Tournament by averaging 13.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

The Big Eight became the Big 12 for DeForge’s junior season in 1996-97, as her game blossomed. She helped the Huskers to a 19-9 record by averaging 17.5 points and 5.8 boards per contest. But the Huskers were not chosen for the NCAA Tournament that year, and Beck chose to step aside as Nebraska’s head coach to take the top job for the San Jose Lasers in the fledgling ABL.

DeForge returned to Nebraska for her senior season in 1997-98, and took her game to a higher level under first-year coach Paul Sanderford. DeForge averaged 18.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game to capture honorable-mention All-America accolades from the Associated Press for the second straight season. She was also a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Photo Caption: Considered “one of the best all-around players in Nebraska history,” Anna DeForge earned Associated Press All-American honorable mention nods in both her junior (1996-97) and senior (1997-98) seasons, and was named to the All-Big 12 first team both years. She still ranks fifth in school history in scoring (1,859 points), fourth in rebounding (804), fifth in assists (392) and sixth in steals (222). Also an honorable mention Academic All-American, DeForge was named to Nebraska’s five-player All-Century Team in February 2000.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Nebraska Media Relations

DeForge powered Nebraska to one of the best seasons in school history in 1997-98, as the Huskers advanced to the second round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament with a win over New Mexico before falling to Ticha Penicheiro and Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va.

“I will always consider Lincoln home,” DeForge said. “I haven’t been able to return to Lincoln as much as I would have liked over the years because of my basketball schedule, but the friends and fans I have made in Nebraska are irreplaceable. They will be my friends for life.”

After spending her first 22 years in America’s Heartland, DeForge’s basketball journey was really ready to begin. She rejoined Coach Beck as a second-round pick of San Jose in the 1999 ABL Draft. After one season in San Jose, she became the first player in Nebraska women’s basketball history to earn a WNBA regular-season roster spot when she joined the Detroit Shock in 2000. After leaving the Shock in 2001, she rejoined the WNBA in 2003 as a member of the Phoenix Mercury.

DeForge earned her first WNBA All-Star appearance with the Mercury in 2004, when she ranked 10th in the league in scoring with 14.4 points per game. She added 13.1 points per game for the Mercury in 2005, while also spending the 2005 WNBA off-season with the Dallas Fury in the NWBL.

With WNBA success on her side, DeForge traveled to Poland to play for Wisla Can Pack in 2005-06, the first of three seasons she spent with the Polish power. She also continued her WNBA career with Indiana in 2006 and 2007, making her second WNBA All-Star appearance with the Fever in 2007. After averaging 8.7 points per game in 2007 with the Fever, she exploded during the playoffs, averaging 16.8 points per game, including a whopping 25 points per contest in a first-round series win over Connecticut.

Photo Caption: Anna DeForge had some of the best games of her professional career while wearing an Indiana uniform. On July 7, 2007, she led the Fever with what was then a season-best 26 points at Los Angeles, while shooting 11-17 from the field, including 4-5 from beyond the arc. Her 11 field goals in that game tied the most ever by a Fever player in a road game. On August 15 of the same year, she led Indiana with a season-high 29 points, and a season-best five assists, plus five rebounds against Connecticut. Her 29 points in that game included five three-pointers, tying the most ever by a Fever player at Conseco Fieldhouse. DeForge remains one of the top sharpshooters in WNBA history, ranked among the top 20 in three-pointers made with 334 netted on 894 attempts (37.4 percent).
Photo Credit: Courtesy Pacers Sports & Entertainment/Frank P. McGrath, Jr.

She spent the 2008 WNBA season with the Minnesota Lynx, then returned to the team with which she had begun her WNBA career, the Detroit Shock, for her final season in the league in 2009. Meanwhile, she spent the 2008-09 Euro season in Turkey before joining Hondarribia Irun in Spain in 2009-10.

“Just being able to compete in the WNBA for eight years is an achievement I feel fortunate about,” DeForge said. “All the playoff experiences I was able to be involved in and definitely my two All-Star appearances were highlights. But I am not playing right now in hopes of returning to the WNBA. I was ready two years ago for that part of my career to close, and I only want to play in Europe and enjoy my free summers.”

This year, DeForge’s summer might be a little shorter than she had originally planned, but she is loving every minute of it.

Jeff Griesch is the Director of Media Relations Operations for the University of Nebraska. He has known Anna DeForge since both were students at Nebraska and was the Nebraska Sports Information Director for DeForge’s final college games in the NCAA Tournament – the last one to Ticha Penicheiro and Old Dominion. He has even played pick-up ball with and against DeForge and graciously accepted Full Court’s invitation to update our readers on her most recent accomplishments in this feature article.

Originally published Tue, June 28, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
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11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
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19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
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24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
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25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
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Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.