The FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2019 is well underway in the Serbian capital Belgrade, with the best 16 teams on the continent battling it out for the title and six places in the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Looking ahead to the final on Sunday, we spoke with Diana Voynova, Events & Recruitment Coordinator at UCFB, and former professional basketball player, about the growth of the competition and her prediction for the final...

As a former pro, can you give us an overview of the tournament? How big is EuroBasket?

EuroBasket is one of the biggest competitions in women's basketball alongside the Olympics and the World Championships. It is arguably the most competitive continental tournament in the world with some of the top-ranked countries and players taking part such as Spain, Serbia, France, and Russia. Unfortunately, it does not receive the coverage it deserves, especially in this country, but with more and more European players now playing in the WNBA, alongside the use of social media, it has grown massively and it will continue to do so. I am excited to see what the future holds for this sport and tournament, especially with the 3x3 debuting at 2020 Olympics.

As well as the US, Diana played in the UK, Italy and in the German Bundesliga

How is the field looking at the moment, who are the favourites to reach the final on Sunday and get their hands on the trophy?

In my opinion, this is one of the most competitive and surprising championships we have had in a while. All games in the group phases were very close with a few coming down to the wire. This is a tough one to predict because all the teams are really good and as I mentioned, all the games were very close so there is not an outstanding team that is a clear favourite. However, if I had to make a prediction, I would say France vs Serbia in the final with Serbia taking the gold.

Tell us about your time as a pro player. What leagues and countries did you play in?

I’ve played basketball professionally, and at the top collegiate level in America, for over ten years. I’ve played NCAA Division one in the United States for Duquesne University. Professionally, I’ve played National League Division I in Bulgaria where my team won the league, Bulgarian cup and national championship. I then moved to Team Northumbria in Newcastle, part of the WBBL (Women’s British Basketball League) where I played for three seasons and won the cup, as well as the playoff finals. After Northumbria, I played A2 in Italy for Stabia Basket where we were promoted to the top division (A1). After another season with Team Northumbria in Newcastle, I finished my career in the German Bundesliga where I played two seasons for BC Pharmaserv Marburg. With Marburg I won bronze medal at the playoff final four as well as silver medal in the Central European Women’s League (CEWL).

Diana played at the top collegiate level in the US for over ten years

And what were the highlights of your time playing? What are the best things about life as a player?

Some of the best memories from my playing career include wearing the Bulgarian jersey for the first time on home soil in front of my family and friends. This is a moment every athlete dreams of and words cannot express the feelings and emotions. Also, during my final home game with Duquesne University, one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve received is the playing of the Bulgarian national anthem as a tribute for my time and contribution to the team – this is probably the most emotional moment in my career and it still gives me chills thinking about it. Finally, one of the best memories I have is playing against 5th ranked Ohio State University in front of 25,000 people and winning the game. That game was the ‘Olympics’ of my career.

How is the sport different in the US compared to other markets, like in Europe for example?

From a playing perspective, US basketball is more physical and faster. Players are more athletic and the game is played at a higher speed; whereas in Europe the game is more organised and technical and players play with more finesse. From a marketing standpoint, in the US the game of basketball enjoys more popularity, especially women’s basketball. Athletes are more widely recognised, and the game receives more coverage and higher attendances. Although some of the top women’s leagues are based in Europe and games are very well attended, there is not as much media coverage and focus on the athletes.

And how has it led to your role at UCFB? Does the experience as a pro player in the global sports industry help in your role?

When I retired from pro basketball, I wanted to still work in the sports industry and that is when I came across UCFB. As college sport has done a lot during my career, I wanted to give back and share my experience with future students and UCFB provides just the right opportunity to do so. My experience definitely comes in handy in my role especially when I work with people from different backgrounds.