We arrived only for the second day of the Nike International Junior Tournament which explains the absence of any comment on Day One. So we start immediately with the coverage of the action from Friday of the Finals for this year’s biggest trophy in Junior Club Basketball.
The day started with a Serbia-Croatia clash between FMP Belgrade and KK Zagreb. All eyes were of course on Dario Saric, the 94 born phenomenon. But the Croats had some problems to come into the game as their star forward was struggling in his decision making by taking lots of uninspired shots out of the dribble. The FMP offense looked a bit rusty as well in the absence of their former top scorer Nenad Miljenovic and it was the strong guard Nikola Pavlovic who lead the charge with Stefan Popovski-Turanjanin. In the second half though, the team of KK Zagreb improved their defense and started to hit shots with Dominik Mavra running hot. Mario Hezonja showed his athletic abilities and the Croatian team run away pushed by their special coach on the opposing side of the court. Both teams came even into a small brawl as FMP is not the kind of team used to lose heavily and especially against Croats. But everything finished well and KK Zagreb earned their second win and are now close to the Final.
Fenerbahce came up short in their second game as they got overpowered by a French INSEP squad that started slowly on Thursday. With an impressive first half around the scoring of Livio Jean-Charles and Hugo Invernizzi, the Blues were up big after twenty minutes. The Turkish team could not find any solution to score against the athletic French defense in the paint. In the second half, INSEP managed their advantage until the final minutes where Fenerbahce tried a comeback behind the efforts of the 1995 born Metecan Birsen and shooter Kerem Hotic. However, it was Invernizzi who killed the last hopes of the Turkish team with a big drive in the money time to bring the lead back to double-digits. INSEP has now to win tomorrow against FMP and hope for a Fenerbahce win over KK Zagreb to have a three-team situation where they can still advance to the Final and defend their title.
Barcelona had not too much trouble to overcome a Chinese U19 National Team. Josep Perez seems to slowly find his way back from his slight injury and was the top scorer with 23pts hitting 5 out of 7 from behind the arc. He got some support from Lluis Costa while the inside section around Nick Spires and Alexandr Zhigulin scored 9pts and 9rebs each. In this Group B, the situation of a three-team tie remains possible as well as Barcelona will play against Zalgiris on Saturday and can advance to the Finals with a large win over the Lithuanian team.
A Lithuanian team though that looked like the favorite today as they have talent nearly from position 1 to 12 in the roster. They beat the Belgrade winners Crvena Zvezda behind 15pts and 12rebs of the surprising Arturas Gudaitis and a big effort of Ignas Ramasauskas who had 16 boards, 3 blocks but only 1 point. Tauras Jogela was a bit quieter with only 10 while the PG Kaspars Vecvagars had 15pts. For the Serbian team, two of their loan players showed nice things as Stefan Pot had 11pts and 6rebs while Andrija Bojic turned some heads with his 20pts 7rebs 2asts and 2blks effort. Bojic was one of the players that I really liked on this day, I am looking forward to see more from him. With Aleksandar Cvetkovic out, it will be tough for Red Star to compete for the title but everything is still possible with a win over China on Saturday.