The 9th edition of the Nike International Junior Tournament will be played from Thursday to Sunday at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona. The Euroleague has assembled two groups of four teams that compete in order to follow up on the first French victory which INSEP reached last year at home in Paris. We go through a list of players to watch during the 4 days of competition.
The biggest name for FMP Belgrade would have been Nenad Miljenovic but the Serbian guard has left his team and signed a four-year deal with the local rivals of Partizan Belgrade a few days ago. Without their star guard, it will be other players that have to step up in order to help the Serbian team to reach the Final for the fifth time in a row. The two players that are leading the team will most likely be powerful inside player Nemanja Bezbradica and the multi-use wing Stefan Popovski-Turanjanin. Both will certainly be the top scorers of the team despite the return of 1994 born Nikola Jankovic who had a mononucleosis. His absence was important at the NIJT in Belgrade where FMP lost in the Final against Crvena Zvezda. The rebounding specialist has only played 7 games this season and might be still a bit out of shape but he remains a great rebounder and important rotation in the absence of Miljenovic’s scoring. Additionally, FMP will come with two very interesting 1995 born players. The tiny PG Nikola Rebic had the Starting job in the Serbian Final 8 and immediately played 37 minutes while Jordan Brand Classic participant Dusan Ristic will most likely be an important piece in the paint.
Despite only finishing fourth in the Qualification event in Roma, KK Zagreb will play in Barcelona because of a Wildcard. And this Wildcard is mainly based on two names: Mario Hezonja and Dario Saric. Both are predicted to have a great future which they showed respectively in the Jordan Brand Classic or the Nike Hoop Summit a few weeks ago. But they also have some talent around them. The main support will probably come form the 1994 born Dominik Mavra who averaged 18.5ppg in Rome as a Shooting Guard. The lack of any reliable inside player in the roster will probably hurt the Croatian team even if Saric can play on the PF position to help out. With the 1995 born Hezonja on the wing, KK Zagreb is probably the most talented team on the 2-3-4 spot but they will face Fenerbahce, FMP and INSEP in the group phase and it will be tough to come out of it and reach the final in these conditions.
The winner from the Rome Qualification event comes with a very balanced roster to Barcelona. The Turkish teams features multiple players with good expectations for the future and can be considered to be among the favorites for this event. James Metecan Birsen, Erbil Eroglu, Kerem Hotic and Berkay Candan will bring the necessary size and athletic abilities to beat the teams in their group and advance to the Final. Birsen, who is only born in 1995 lead the Turkish U16 National Team to two victories over France and Greece with respectively 22pts 12rebs and 28pts 6rebs recently.Candan was the scoring leader of the team in Rome and is an essential part of the inside game of the Turkish team. Erbil Eroglu will run the point and has excellent size while Hotic is the team’s sharpshooter. Additionally, Nuri Gul Guney and Turan Oguzhan can score in double figures and it will be very tough to stop the team if it works well.
The defending champions lost in Belgrade during the semi-finals under “strange” conditions and the French team is certainly hot to come to Barcelona and show their real value. The team comes of a tough loss against Challans in the third French League and will unfortunately miss William Howard because of an injury. This means that a lot of the scoring has to come from Hugo Invernizzi in the back court and the absence of a really good PG might be another issue for the French team. In the paint, they have some interesting choices with the highly active Livio Jean-Charles, the rebounder Yannis Morin or the highly improving Mam Jaiteh. Certainly the most athletic team in the event, INSEP is always an important stop for NBA scouts as the French basketball academy regularly features the kind of talent the talent evaluators from the United States are looking for.
The Chinese U19 National Team will play at the NIJT in order to prepare the upcoming U19 World Championships in Latvia. The team will be lead by Ailun Guo who was playing at the Nike Hoop Summit this year. Next to the usual age contestation of the players, the team has come up with a very unusual move as the members of the U19 group demanded in a hand-written letter the removal of their coach Fan Bin because of constant verbal and physical abuse. The coach has been suspended but reinstated recently and will be with the team in Barcelona after their tour in the United States in April. Next to these off-court stories, the Chines team will be the oldest one of the event as it will feature players officially born in 1992. Next to Guo, who was the top-scorer of the U17 World Championship last year, SF Xiaochuan Zhai is a player to follow as well as the 1992 born Tonglin Sun.
Regal FC Barcelona
The hosts and winners of the l’Hospitalet Qualification event can be considered as the favorites of the Group B, if they are in full power. With their imports Nick Spires from Sweden and Alexandr Zhigulin from Kazakhstan not playing, it was Josep Perez who lead the team to a great win in January. Perez played like a veteran in a Youth tournament during the Qualification event and can be considered as one of the most interesting PGs of his generation. Barcelona has one of the tallest teams in the event as they feature the 2m10 Hungarian Mate Borbely next to the two Spanish inside players Aitor Gomez and Carles Gasque. Zhigulin and Spires played in the recent Catalonian U18 Final Four and should therefore be present in the NIJT Finals as well and give the necessary talent level to the roster to go for the win in the tournament.
Despite only finishing third in Hospitalet, Zalgiris Kaunas got invited to the Final event of the NIJT in Barcelona. The roster features barely any changes to the team that competed in Hospitalet in January. The leader on the court is the athletic and physically strong Tauras Jogela who gets some support by Kaspars Vecvagars in the backcourt. Marius Grigonis was a player that we really liked in the Qualification event while the Lithuanians need some bigger contribution from Simonas Kymantas and Ignas Ramasauskas in order to have a chance to reach the Final. Ramasauskas missed the tournament in Hospitalet but was the Starting Center for the 1993 generation during the U16 European Championship in 2009. Kymantas played some good games with the U17 National Team last summer but struggled during the days in Hospitalet. Zalgiris needs some input from their big guys as Jogela plays a lot on the PF position but he is limited in terms of size.
The winners from Belgrade come to Barcelona with an even improved roster. Next to the slightly injured Aleksandar Cvetkovic, who will however play in the tournament, and Ivan Marinkovic, Zvezda has added Andrija Bojic to its roster for the final phase of the 2010/2011 edition of the Nike International Junior Tournament. Bojic finished second in the MVP race of the Serbian Junior League playing for Mega Vizura and averaged 19.7ppg and 8.7rpg. Together with these three, you should take a look at Ivan Saicic who is an important contributor on the wing for the Serbian team. But their overall team play and attitude towards the game helped them to create the big surprise in the Qualification event of Belgrade by beating FMP in the Final. With Cvetkovic fully recovered and the combo of Marinkovic and Bojic in the paint, missing a second inside threat was probably the only weakness of the team in Belgrade , Zvezda can go for it all in Barcelona. However, they play against the hosts directly in the opener in a game that might already be decisive for the qualification to the Final.
Europeanprospects.com will follow the tournament from Friday to Sunday LIVE from Barcelona. You can get real-time updates on our Twitter Account and daily reports on the website. You can also find here the official Media Guide published by the Euroleague.