The Albert Schweitzer Tournament will start tomorrow Saturday in Mannheim into its 27th edition. Considered by many people as the unofficial U18 World Championship, the tournament will feature once again 16 teams from all around the World. We take a quick look at who are the players to follow this year. In a first article, we are analyzing the players in Group A and B while a second article will feature the prospects in Group C and D.
Group A features a clear favorite with the team from Serbia. The team will certainly feature many players that we have seen during the NIJT in Belgrade with key prospects being members of Crvena Zvezda and Partizan. Vojislav Stojanovic will probably have a similar role than he has with his club team as a offensive driver with great physical strength and an unlimited motor. He will be a tough matchup for any team playing against Serbia as he can play the PG position being 1m97 tall. Another tall guard on the Serbian team is Radovan Djokovic who is despite a similar size quite a different player than Stojanovic. More in control and less dominating physically, Djokovic excels with great court vision and superb fundamentals. Together with Vanja Marinkovic, they should form a nice backcourt which makes Serbia a semi-final favorite.
UPDATE: Stojanovic did not make the team.
This Argentina is definitely a B team. They are testing players but this is a very different team from the one that will show up at the U18 Tournament of the Americas . They are missing their injured leader Juan Pablo Vaulet, and PG José Vildoza. Vildoza was the MVP last year at the U17 SAT, and Vaulet only played in 2 games. They have also called up only one U17 guy (Delfino); there could’ve been more (especially Máximo Fjellerup, who is at the Jordan Brand Classic, and big man Onetto). The players to watch though in Mannheim are Martín Gómez (SG, 1996). Maybe not a top prospect, Gómez shined during the last U17 SAT once star Vaulet was sidelined with an injury. Standing at 6’5’’, Gómez possesses good size for a SG playing international competition and is a good shooter. Lucio Delfino (PF, 1997) is Carlos’ younger brother but he lacks the athleticism of his NBA brother. Standing at 6’6’’ and well built, he’s a productive undersized power forward established as one of the main assets of the ’97 class in Argentina. Delfino will have to keep working on his development as a wing if he wants to make it to the next level.
For England, there are two guards that should be followed particularly well. One is Jules Akodo who is a member of Olimpija Ljubljana and he is already quite well known through out Europe as he participated to many international events. With his slashing style and improving shot, Akodo is a key player for the team of coach Karl Brown. Next to him, Josh Steel is considered to be the best 1997 born prospect in Great Britain. The explosive guard from the Barking Abbey program is drawing the interest of a multitude of colleges in the US and he will certainly generate some highlight plays during the days in Mannheim. However, it will be tough for England to advance to the next round despite being in probably the weakest group.
The last team in the Group A is Sweden. Driven by the FC Barcelona signed Ludde Hakanson, who will play his second Albert Schweitzer Tournament, this team can advance to the next round if they manage to beat England and Argentina. Hakanson is a real floor leader with great vocal presence and impressive leadership. He can create his own shot but also find his team mates on hard drives. It will be interesting to see how he is playing with his national team after having worked with Barcelona over the last months. Another player to watch is the 2m16 tall big man Markus Mattiasson. He started playing Basketball only two and a half years ago. Representing Alvik in Basketettan (second league) and participant at Basketball without Borders 2013, Mattiasson has a great physical and mental base to work with. With time and hard work he can become a high level player due to the fact that he hasn’t played organized until this year besides the National Team program. He is behind with technical skills but this is something that can still be taken care off.
In Group B, the favorites are most likely Germany and Turkey. The German Youth program is constantly improving and this year’s team for the Albert Schweitzer Tournament looks once again pretty loaded. Niklas Kiel is one of the players to follow as the 1997 born forward has a great combination of size, skills and athletic abilities. He can play both forward positions but he will most likely operate as a PF in the tournament. The 2m07 player from Paderborn is a great rebounder but he can also handle the ball and score from outside, he looks to have the full package. In the back court, Kiel’s team mate from Paderborn Lars Kamp can be an important factor. The 1m90 guard has already seen quality minutes in the ProA league where he did not have too many problems to hold his position against a lot more physical players. With excellent defense, good shooting skills and a nice drive to the basket, Kamp should be the player to watch in the German back court.
Turkey comes also with a highly interesting team that always gets good fan support in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament. Even if Berk Ugurlu will miss the event, the roster is still loaded. Okben Ulubay should be one of the leaders for this team. The versatile forward has great scoring skills and can play both inside or outside depending on the matchup situations. Ulubay averages more than 30 minutes per game in the 2nd Turkish league which underlines his overall talent and potential. In the paint, the player to follow is probably Egemen Güven. Considered a top 5 player in the 96 generation by Europhopes, Güven has superb length and can run the floor extremely well. He is a good presence as a shotblocker and it will be interesting to see how his offensive game has developed since last year’s U18 European Championship. Additionally, Turkey bring 97 born top prospect Furkan Korkmaz so that they can be considered a true favorite for the Gold Medal in Mannheim.
Slovenia will miss their best prospects since Krka is still playing 2nd division games and Union Olimpija 1997 born players will be at the Milano-Rho tournament. The team Slovenia brings to Mannheim is very young so the focus should be on Tilen Kodrin and Aljaz Šlutej. An interesting player to follow as well is Thomas Jeram who plays in France for ES Lorguaise and has some Slovenian roots. Another name to mention is Luka Kraljević who is born in 1998 and who is the son of ex-Slovenian national team player Mario Kraljević. The team coached by Tone Krump will probably have a lot of problems to qualify for the second round as Germany and Turkey look to be a lot more talented.
The last team in Group B is Japan. They have won the Bronze Medal at the U16 Asian Games last year which means that they have a particularly talented group of 1997 born players. The player to follow there is Rui Hachimura who averaged 22.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in that event. Additionally, Taiga Watanabe is another name to remember. He is (not?) the younger brother of Yuta Watanabe who committed recently to play for George Washington in the NCAA.