This week will start the U20 European Championships of Division A in Slovenia. Next to the main event, there will also be a B Division competition that is the most interesting by far for the last few years. The talent level is excellent as several top nations will fight for the four spots that will qualify for next year’s A Division contest.
The big favorite for the event is of course Poland. The team is built around their “golden generation” of 1993 born players. Driven by Mateusz Ponitka and future Gonzaga Bulldog Przemyslaw Karnowski, the Polish team should not have too many problems to reach the semi-finals which are the promotion spots. There is not much to add because this team has already a big reputation in Europe. In their group B, Poland will face relatively poor competition as they will play against the Netherlands, Belgium, Macedonia and Luxembourg. The Dutch team does not feature any big names and their preparation was not marked by big wins either. In fact, they lost twice against Denmark (57-48 and 65-45) and coach Ferry Steenmetz was unhappy about the minimal preparation phase of only two weeks.
The Belgian U20 team comes in with a better preparation as they could win one out of three against a strong British team. The team has some size with the seven-footer Amaury Gorgemans and features the University of Alabama player Obasohan Ojomoh. Coach Paul Vervaeck has selected a very young squad as only 6 players are born in 1992 and the 12 men roster even features the 1995 born and highly talented Emmanuel Lecomte.
Macedonia will most likely be lead by the 1m95 tall Gorjan Markovski who averaged 13.9ppg and 6.3rpg in last year’s edition of the U20 European Championship. Finally, Luxembourg should have big problems to win one game in the group phase as their teams lacks size and talent to compete on this level.
Group A features the hosts from Bulgaria that come with the clear goal to promote to Division A. They will be driven by Pavlin Ivanov who was the MVP of the U18 Division B competition last year. He will get the support of Tencho Tenev and Dimitar Dimitrov who both will make this team the favorite of their group. Austria could have been a team to watch but they will miss several key players as Carlos Novas Mateo and Jozo Radoz are injured while Nizar Kapic stayed in the United States.
The Slovak Republic will also miss their key player in Richard Grznar but they will have the future Florida State big man Boris Bojanovski who will probably be one of the players to follow in Sofia. For Israel, the main guy will by Or Solomon and he will try to push his team to he semi-finals in order to promote again to Division A. Solomon missed the beginning of the preparation but found his way back to the team recently and will be their main offensive option.
Group C can easily be called the Group of Death – yes even in B Division – as it features the favorites from Croatia but also a strong Great Britain and an interesting Danish team. Croatia is of course far ahead in terms of individual talent and they showed what they come for to Bulgaria by defeating Division A team Italy 95-82 in a recent preparation game where they were lead by Jere Vucica and Roko Rogic.
Denmark has an interesting team that is built around big man Kevin Larsen, swingman Esben Reinholt and the scoring guard Anders Haas. With these three plus players like Andreas Bigum, Sami Eleraky or Philip Hertz, they can be the dark horse of this tournament. As there are only two places to advance in the group phase, it will be very tough between these two and Great Britain. The guys from the island will be driven by the top talent Devon van Oostrum who was only recently been cut from the Senior roster that will play the Olympic games. Van Oostrum will play together with interesting player like University of Maine big guy Ali Fraser or Jesse Chuku who will be a member of LeHigh from next season. Portugal and Belarus seem to be below the level of the other two teams as they do not feature any high level potentials.
The main favorites of Group D should be the Czech Republic and Finland. The Czech should normally have one of the better frontcourts of the event with Ondrej Balvin and Martin Kriz as both of them are used to play on the Senior level already. Switzerland looks interesting as they have a couple of players on their team that are currently in the United States. Evrard Atcho, Milos Bozovic, Michel Ofik Nzege or Brian Savoy are some of the names to follow but their main prospect born in 1992, Stefan Petkovic will not be with the team in Bulgaria.
Hungary does not look very strong while Finland might be the dark horse from this group. The addition of Alex Murphy who plays for Duke University was a huge addition for the Finnish squad. Our friend Hippo has sent us his impressions on the Finnish U20 team that looks promising after beating teams like Denmark, Turkey or Estonia during their preparation.
Alex Murphy is the son of ex-NBA player Jay Murphy and former Finnish women’s league player Päivi Murphy and he can’t really be scouted as a European player, since he has spent all his life in the States. Redshirted last season by Duke Blue Devils, Murphy is now playing his first summer for Finland national team program. Murphy is a tall player with a respectable wingspan, remarkably athletic, tough, good finisher around the basket and should be among the MVP candidates of Division B U20 games. Even though he needs to improve his defense and long range shot, he’s the go to player of this particular Finland team and his dual citizenship makes him a particularly interesting player for Euroleague scouts.
Joonas Cavén is a natural scorer with long hands, an excellent shot/shooting form and a very good ballhandler for his size. When his shot is falling, he can shoot the lights out. Has been starting to fill his frame, but is still far from physical. He has the tools to become a physical finisher and a good defensive player, but he’s still a few years away. He still gets frustrated when his shot isn’t falling and opposing defensive players are roughening him up, but age and experience should fix this habit.
Aleksi Akpaso is an athletic two, a good on-ball defender and a relatively good shooter, who’s still a raw product. He’s a few years away from playing intuitively, and still looking for big minutes in Finnish domestic league. Tutored by excellent national team and club coaches at the moment and his breakthrough in domestic level should happen in a season or two. His skill set and athleticism make him an interesting long-term prospect.
Daniel Dolenc has size and strength, a good low post move or two and his defense is ok. Based on his sheer built, he could become a men’s national team rotation big man one day. He needs to work on his toughness, defensive positioning, inside scoring and rebounding and has signed a contract with Tapiolan Honka until 2015.
Villematti Kopio is a born scorer, with 1051 points in 86 junior national team games. He isn’t too quick and his shot release is slow, but on a good day, he can make 5-6 treys without catching a sweat and also finishes drives well with excellent game reading skills. In last two years, has also become a reliable defensive player. More of a shooting guard than point guard.
A year ago it looked like Markus Molenius has stopped improving but he has found new dimensions from his game this year. He’s been playing with adults since he was 15 and he knows all the grizzled veteran tricks on defensive end and while setting picks and screens. A surprisingly vocal defensive player. While his offensive skills haven’t really improved in two years, he still has an intuitive ability to take over a game in less than 60 seconds.
Finnish Defense Forces Lance Corporal Alex Vaenerberg is the reigning Rookie of the Year in Finnish League after making quantum leaps with playoff team Salon Vilpas. He has improved most of all defensively, excelling as an on-ball defender. Reads the game well as a very classic point guard. He has a lot of work to do developing a reliable shot/drive and bulking up, but so far so good.