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U18 European Championship Division A – Preview

July 22nd, 2008 · No Comments

This Friday will start the FIBA Europe U18 European Championship of Division A in Amaliada and Pyrgos in Greece. I took a closer look at the different teams and collected some expert opinions on the upcoming tournament.

The favorites

If you consider the different tournaments that have been played so far this season, the main teams to win this year’s edition of the competition are Greece and Serbia. After the astonishing dominance in Mannheim, the Greek team around Nikos Pappas showed a great talent level despite missing some inside forces.

On the other hand, the Serbian team, that is build around the FMP Junior Team core of Andrija Milutinovic, Bojan Subotic and Dejan Musli. The non-consideration of Branislav Djekic or Lazar Radosavljevic may be a surprise for some people but still Serbia looks like a clear cut favorite to reach the Gold medal game.

The outsiders

Some other teams can be considered as potential Medal candidates, and those are the traditional teams like Spain, France or Lithuania. The Spanish guys, that will of course play without Ricky Rubio may lack of some size because they don’t have any player taller than 2m06 in their roster. So the paint has to be kept clean by guys like Toni Vicens or Alberto Jodar who either miss the necessary size or are no inside players. The least that one could say is that the Spanish backcourt of David Garcia, Alejandro Hernandez and Dani Perez is ready to face some tough opposition.

I also spoke with Luis from Draftexpress.com and here is his opinion on the Spanish U18 team.

I think Spain has a chance to reach the medals, although I think Serbia is just on an entire different level and no other team should be able to challenge them (perhaps not even Greece, although they are the other top candidate for the final).

Regarding Spain, I like the fact we have a heady PG in Dani Pérez, a skilled guard in Alex Hernández, aggressive and skilled wings in Jorge Santana or Marcos León, both capable of slash and shoot, an all-around physical freak in Alberto Jodar, and finally, we’ve added some size. You probably remember Toni Vicens, the undersized and over weighted hustler quite effective under the rim.

For France, their performance in Mannheim was really bad, but the uncommon practice methods of their coach seem to have some results. Les Bleus won their tournament in Douai behind a great team effort and playing without their supposed best player in person of Christophe Leonard who signed a pro-contract with Cholet recently. Ludovic Puigcerbier, who is following French youth basketball for basketsession.com gave us his thoughts on the chances for the French in Greece:

After a difficult preparation, the French U18 team could hurt more than one team during this year’s U18 competition. Despite some bad results in Mannheim, Euro-Essone and Manzanares, the French team has however beaten teams like Spain, Croatia or Lithuania during their preparation and has also won the tournament in Douai. The team has the necessary talent with players like Christophe Léonard, Andrew Albicy or Alexis Tanghe but we have to see how the team will play and behave during the tournament. But they have the possibilities to beat every team on any given night. On the other hand, the inside sector looks pretty weak though to be a contender for a medal. I think, they will finish between 5th and 7th place.

Lithuania is always present when it comes to Youth Championships. And this year, with super talent Donatas Motiejunas in the middle, Lithuania could eventually be considered as one of the main teams for a medal. But one player does not make them a Gold Medal team as they significantly miss some offensive quality in the back court. For the Lithuanian federation, the official goal is between 3 and 8 but the current results made some people think that this goal will be hard to reach especially if you take into consideration that Motiejunas was injured during two weeks and he is badly wanted by the U20 team to play with them. So eventually, he may leave after a few games if the U18 team can not reach a medal. Because of the lack of potential in the 1990 generation except Motiejunas and Tautvydas Slezas, the coaching staff added some interesting 1991 born guys where especially Gilvydas Biruta showed good talent so far.

Who else do we have?

Another team that has to be mentioned is of course Croatia and their impressive front court composed of Tomislav Zubcic, Mario Delas and Leon Radosevic. With the addition of Toni Prostran in the backcourt since the Albert-Schweitzer Tournament, the team is improving on the talent side but now remains the question if they can translate this into decisive games. The Croats, who should win their group will have their real opponents in the 2nd phase where they will play against France, Russia, Germany or Ukraine.All in all, this side of the table looks a lot easier to reach the semis than the other side where Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Spain and Italy fight for the two spots most likely.

The Turkish team played also a interesting tournament in Mannheim and showed some stints of talent in Douai too. However, I have some doubts if they can go for it all in Greece as they seem to depend too much on their PF beat Deniz Kiligli who is not the most regular player in the world. They have some good scoring in the backcourt and feature 16yr old Enes Kanter who can dominate in the paint but it really looks like the left-handed hook machine from Fenerbahce is the guy that decides about the performance of the Turkish team. And one bad game may be enough to fall from 1-4th to 5-8th place.

Germany played an interesting tournament in Douai where they won the games they have to win. In their home event in Mannheim, they lost the game they had to win to qualify for the Top8. So Kay Blümel and his team know how good or how bad they can play, especially after the poor performances in Spain a few days ago. But the absence of some of the main players may be a reason for this as explains the German head coach:

After the very bad performance during the tournament in Spain, where we played without six of our first 10 players (Maurice Stuckey, Simon Schmitz, Robert Hülsewede, Femi Oladipo, Niels Giffey and Alexander Schrempf) and lost heavily against Spain, France and Croatia, the motivation of the team was really down low. We tried to improve this during our training camp these days. Unfortunately, we have to play without Oladipo (torn ankle) and Hülsewede (broken foot) during the Championships which lets a big hole on our SF position. Our goal is to reach the third place in our group first of all and avoid the relegation round.

The game against France in the beginning will be extremely important for us, because they have a team that we can beat.  Russia has improved and showed good games in the Moscow tournament and seems hard to beat. Ukraine is the unknown team in our group and it’s hard for me to predict how good they are right now. But as it will be our third game in the tournament, we have enough time to scout them during the Championship. If we reach our goal and qualify for the next phase, we will see how we continue. But we don’t want to become to high on ourselves and remain with both feet on earth. A place somewhere around 9th like last year would be very satisfying for us.

The Russian U18 team was very disappointing in Mannheim but has found a way back to be a serious outsider in Greece after their performances at the Petrenko Cup in Khimki. The squad has beaten Italy, and the Czech Republic while only failing shortly against the top favorites from Greece. Currently, no world class talent has emerged of the 1990 generation in Russia but the mixture of aggressive guards and long tall forwards that characterizes the Russian game is still present. So they are definitely a team to watch in Amaliada and Pyrgos.

Italy that played a correct tournament in Mannheim will see their top talent of the 1991 generation Nicolo Melli joining them. And with this addition on the wing, everything is possible for the Squadra. The young forward may be one of the best talents in Europe and if he can elevate his game to what he showed during the LegaDue semi-finals, he may be the leader that could help the Italians reach an unpredictable success in the tournament.

Fighting for relegation

Belgium went up to Division A in 2007 behind a great team effort and the nice games of Jorn Steinbach and Jean-Marc Mwema. But these two guys are born in 1989 and will not be available anymore. But some talent of the last year’s win is still on the roster and the addition of Yannick Moray should give the team of Fred Wilmot the necessary power in the back court. On the other hand, no real inside presence on this level will be tough to handle.

Israel, who plays Belgium in the group stage may be the team that can avoid relegation the easiest way in beating the before mentioned in their opener. The departure of Daniel Rom back to Russia lets a big whole in the middle of course but the typical fighting spirit and the athleticism of Carmel Bouchman may help them to stay in the league. This opener will be extremely important for both teams.

Estonia will feature one of the most interesting players to follow of the tournament with Siim-Sander Vene who played already a good tournament last season. Next to him, not too much talent is to be seen but maybe it is worth to take a closer look at the 1991 born Kristjan Rinaldo (yes, that’s his name) who put up some correct stats with the U16 last summer and plays for the Honka Academy in Finland.

Not much to say about the Ukrainian team as I barely know any player there and could not find any results or comments on them on the net. The main goal for the team is to stay in the Division as they have a pretty interesting 1991 generation that could compete next season on the highest level.

Lauris Blaus tries to lead his Latvian team to the necessary wins in their group to stay away from the Relegation round. He will hopefully get some support from the talented 1991 generation around Janis Antrops and Harijs Rubenis.

Bulgaria will be built around their back-court combo of Hristo Zahariev and Bozhidar Avramov. I have put them in this part of the preview one loss against Latvia could mean that the team has to play on relegation round. On the other hand, the team has the talent to pass against Croatia or Turkey but I don’t know how they could handle the inside presence of these two nations.

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