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FIBA U19 World Championship Preview: Croatia

June 27th, 2011 · No Comments

One of the most interesting teams for the upcoming U19 World Championship is Croatia. The team from the Balkan region features some of the most talented players from all of Europe and will be a very interesting mix of players from different ages. Our friend Boris breaks down the forces and weaknesses of Croatia.

Croatia comes to U-19 World Championship with probably the by far youngest team, high expectations and huge, a bit unrealistic, pressure from Croatian media to take gold medal.

Croatia is expected to be lead by young „phenomenon“ Dario Saric. No need for a special introduction as people know pretty much everything about him. We can pretty much expect Croatian game will be built around and as usually controlled by him doing what ever the team needs. His main support is expected to be the 2m06 tall Power Forward Boris Barac. Barac possesses great fundamentals for the PF position. He can stretch defense with his shooting when he has his feet set, penetrate to the basket left or right or use some post game. He is the most experienced player in this team as only kid who saw regular minutes in the good Adriatic league and used them well. Lack of better athleticism and few centimeters are his biggest down side. In this team he will have to sacrifice himself playing at Center where he will be matched by taller players.

Next to him is the 1m85 tall Point Guard Toni Katic. Toni has very good speed, fundamentals and court vision for PG which he can use to penetrate to basket or play some pick-and-roll game. He also shows good mentality and some leadership. On the down side, he has average ball handling for his size and almost not having any shoot from over 5 meters. He can also be a turnover machine even if he played lot of minutes in Croatian A1 league and improved in almost every aspect last season. In this team where is expected that Saric will control offense and ball most of times he will be used mostly to help bring the  ball up court, and from time to time give Saric a rest at point.

With them in the starting five and being the main players we can expect more from two young but very interesting prospects: the 1m98 tall and 1995 born Mario Hezonja and the 2m01 tall Small Forward Marko Ramljak. Hezonja created a lot of buzz around him past few months in recent tournaments and showcases for scouts showing his above average athleticism for a kid from Europe to go along with his unlimited shooting range and poise for the game. He can also use his explosiveness to create his own shoot and appears very strong mentally for such a young kid. On the down side, he shows a lot of cockiness and bad approach on defense, especially when he plays in his own age group. He also tends to shoot to much instead of penetrating more to basket where for now he has poor fundamentals and balance. Overall  he has upside as much as anyone in this team. In this team he is expected mostly to be a shooter from the wing.

The last one, Marko Ramljak, is also very interesting kid. He is a do-it-all SF with a long athletic body. He can do a little bit of everything, though he doesn’t stand out in any area. On the bad side for now it seems as he is the same player he was two years ago when he was best player of the 93 born generation in Croatia. We can expect from him to do little bit of everything for the team, which is the way his game is.

Besides them in rotation we can expect the 1m85 tall PG Martin Junakovic, a natural playmaker who has good shooting touch, good court vision, speed, great ball handling and some leadership and playmaking qualities. The 1m88 tall combo-guard Stefan Zadravec who can score and play some minutes on the point. 1m98 tall SG/SF Mislav Brzoja, MVP of Croatian U-18 championship has perfect SG fundamentals with very high Basketball IQ, good ball handling and very good court vision. Can catch and shoot, slash to basket or create for him self and others. He can also play some minutes as point guard. Below average athleticism is only thing that might limit his future career on the highest levels. 2m06 tall and 1994 born Filip Bundovic, (If he recovers from injury!) is a very skilled lefty big man that only few centimeters stops him from being a high level prospect as his game isn’t what coaches in Europe are looking at PF these days. He has great post game with a lot of moves around basket, can pass outside or for cutters, can play pick-and-roll and can shoot up to the 3 point line with feet set. Has also has good mobility and decent athleticism. In preparation games. the 2m07 PF Domagoj Vukovic also got a good amount of minutes. Last two guys that are expected to fill roster if no injuries or some surprises happen should be 2m06 Stipe Krstanović and 1m94 SG/PG Dominik Mavra, who strangely didn’t get a lot of opportunities in preparation games. He is an interesting creative scorer and slasher who can also play as well point guard position as scoring and „pick-and-roll“ type of PG.

Overall, this is a very interesting talented group of players mixed with players born from 1992 to 1995. Being so much younger than the rest of the competition, not having a true center and (too) high expectations pushed by unrealistic Croatian media caused by recent success of some Croatian teams, hype around some players and win over „arch rivals“ Serbia at Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso might be a too big barrier to get back home with some bigger result, but surely it will be interesting to follow them trough the competition.

My name is Boris Bartolic, I played some basketball when I was younger, but now I’m just a fan who enjoys basketball and following everything related.

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