Not only the Division A of the U18 European Championship will start this weekend, but also the Division B will have its first games on Friday in Debrecen, Hungary. To preview this tournament is quite more difficult because lots of nations are not known for producing elite prospects, but this year, the tournament looks particularly promising.
The first group of the tournament features five teams that with the exception of Norway can hope to advance to the next round. In fact, two teams qualify for the Top8 in each group and have the possibility play for moving up to Division A.
The Czech Republic looks a bit like the favorite in this group as they feature some high quality players like Jan Vesely and David Jelinek but also has quality guys like Adam Zampach or Tomas Satoransky on its roster. However, the team disappointed heavily last year where they could not manage to win more than 4 games in the tournament. But still, on the talent level, they should not have any opposition in this field
Montenegro will be driven by the 2m13 of Milos Lopicic who has already played an interesting competition last year with the U18 team. He will get passes from the 1991 born PG Stevan Lazovic who is currently playing for the Italian team of Bari.
Austria could become the outsider in this group with the best chances to move on. The generation that finished 4th at the U16 B Division level 2 years ago has matured and is now ready to attack the next tournament. I spoke with coach Robert Langer and he gave me the following info about the current situation of his team.
If everything goes well, we can reach the same level of play this year than we had 2 years ago at the U16 tournament where played face to face with nations like Georgia or the Czech Republic. And if we reach the Top8, everything is possible for us.
During the qualification, which was chosen to be especially intensive, we had some bad losses but also showed that we can play the teams we are facing in Debrecen. We lost maybe to the Czech Republic three times, but that was in the beginning of our preparation. We played against teams like Latvia, Slovenia or Turkey to see what the level is. Maybe we lost, but now we have to win. And to win every game is possible.
Unfortunately, we had some injuries during the year and even now, we have to let away some of our important rotation players. This gave us on the other hand the possibility to bring in some talented 1991 kids.
The Austrian team will be led by its combo of Moritz Lanegger who was the All-Tournament PG two years ago and the forward Rasid Mahalbasic who averaged already 7.7ppg in the Austrian Bundesliga. The surprise however could come from scoring guard Jesse Seilern und Aspang of Kapfenberg Bulls.
The Netherlands have put together a team that also has some chances to move to the next round as they showed during their preparation. Especially during the Albert Schweitzer Tournament this spring where the team showed some promises for B Division. And the head coach Tyronne Marioneaux is pretty optimistic as he told FIBA Europe.
My expectation is that we can win it. And the reason I think that is because last year, I was with the U16 and we played against both finalists, Hungary and Poland. We were up 10 points in the first quarter against Hungary and we were ahead of Poland by five points with a couple minutes to go. So the experience was important. If I can get my guys stronger, I really think we have a chance, especially after this (Albert Schweitzer) tournament. When I see what we could do here, it gives me a lot of confidence for what’s coming up.
Luuk Kortekaas, who recently signed for Niagara University in the NCAA seems to be the man in the middle who should help the Dutch team to move to the next round.
For Norway, who probably is the weakest team of the group, Anders Stien has to go for miracles if they want to qualify into the next round. But with their short team, only one player taller than 2m, the Nordics will probably play aggressive defense. At least, they managed to win the Nordic Championship this Spring which is not a bad performance.
In this group, there is a clear cut favorite with Slovenia that had to come down to division B after their mediocre showing in Madrid last year. But this year, the team of coach Rade Mijanovic should be among the best squads in the tournament as the 1990 generation features some interesting players. Matej Bergant, who follows the Slovenian basketball for eurobasket.com gave me his insight on the U18 team from his homecountry.
Slovenia U18 NT goal is to try and qualify from U18 B division again to division A. Our youngsters fall to B division last year after winning only two teams (Croatia and Romania) and losing to Bulgaria, Italy, Germany and Lithuania.
Slovenia U18 performed well in the preparation period, losing only twice, once against Turkey in a strange game (few players responded on Turkish provocations and started a mass fight which ended in a way that Turkish players decided to leave the court) and once against Poland. During the preparation period in my opinion the main roles were given to Sarajlija, Murič and Vranjkovič.
I have high expectations for this team, I believe it’s very talented and I think we have decent chances to qualify to A division of European Championship U18 – although Montenegro and few other National Teams have same expectations as well.
The PG Mirza Sarajlija will of course split some defenses with his drives and Dino Muric will do his job everywhere on the court. The surprise of the tournament may however by the sharpshooter Matic Sirnik who signed his first professional contract with Olimpija a few weeks ago.
The team from Switzerland is a one of the more unknown teams in this competition but it features some guys that could be interesting to follow in the next years. First of all, there is PG Cedric von Düring who played for the German NBBL team of Bonn/Rhöndorf and signed recently a professional contract with ratiopharm Ulm. On the other, and probably even more interesting will be the performance of Stefan Petkovic who played already some ULEB Cup minutes despite being only born in November 1992.
The group of players from Bosnia-Herzegovina will probably be among the teams that has some chances to move up to division A this year. Their back court looks promising with Dino Hodzic and Eldin Camdzic but also the inside section looks interesting with seven footer Aldin Klinac and the 1991 born PF Nermin Buza.
Sweden looks like the biggest competition in this group for Slovenia as they showed during their excellent presentation in Mannheim this spring. Coach Tommie Hansson told me the following about his team and its preparation.
We are getting better every day and thanks to AST we are really well prepared going in to the tournament.
We have a really tough group but if we succeed coming out as one of the two first teams of our group I think we can beat all the other teams in the tournament. We will have a lot of confidence coming in to the playoffs.
Andreas Person, Alexander Lindqvist and Christopher Czerapovich are three players that I think will be really good players in the future. Kevin Okot and Jonathan Larsson are two other players that have developed a lot the last two years.
I think Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia and Poland will be our strongest opponents.
So I don’t have a lot to add here as Tommie already presented the main guys of his team for Debrecen where only Christopher Ryan will not be present because of injury problems.
For Ireland, the trip to Debrecen will probably become pretty tough as the team faces a lot of stronger and taller opponents. Additionally, most of these young kids have never faced such a level of play. This may change however as the Irish Superleague has to decided to have from next season at least 3 home grown players on the court at every moment to give its younger kids playing time at the highest level of their national league.
Coming to the third group of the competition, we have to start with Portugal. Last year, the team feature a high profile player with Claudio Fonseca, but this year, there is no name that strikes out right now. The preparation had some ups and downs with a particularly huge defeat against Spain. So it looks like the team of coach Alvaro Amiel will have some hard work to do in Debrecen.
Another team and another time not that much to say. Even more unknown than Portugal the Belarus roster is filled with names that I am not familiar with. Good luck to them.
Poland features a nice roster built around the Benetton Treviso prospect Jakub Wojciechowski. The Polish big guy with the excellent shooting stroke will try to lead his team to a possible Division A spot but he needs to get some support by his team mates. 1991 born Sebastian Szymanski could be the necessary back court guy to make the game more variable. The team will in any way be among the Top8 and can go for it all.
England features a nice bunch of talent but the problem is if they can stick together and play. In the preparation, with losses against teams like Ireland or the Netherlands, they showed that their team play is still limited. Ryan Richards and his team mates have to improve during the tournament if they want to have a chance to go up.
Romania comes of a terrible tournament last year in Division A after the went up the year before behind their great 1988 generation. Not a lot to add from my side though as I don’t know any players on their roster.
Georgia looks like the big favorite of this group as the team features an incredible amount of young talent. Nika Metreveli, who is playing for Montepaschi Siena’s youth teams looks like the team leader. He gets support in the back court from Konstantine Tomaradze who plays for FC Barcelona. During the preparation, the team has beaten Division A team Ukraine twice and showed their potential.
Denmark is totally unknown to me and they will probably struggle to go for wins in this group. Nicolas Christensen was the name of the 2007 squad that is still there and that had already some impact in the game last summer.
Finland looks like having an interesting roster to play this tournament. With their typical game of outside shooting and team defense, they have the possibility to go to the next round, something that my friend Hippo can confirm.
This team does have the tools to climb up to Division A, but the team can afford no mistakes or injuries. While they have the chance to finish first in Div B championship, they might as well drop down to somewhere between 8th and 12th spot.
The best pro prospects in this team are SASU SALIN, a 187cm, 1991 born combo guard who had a solid rookie season with the Honka Playboys and ROOPE AHONEN of ToPo Helsinki, a 187 cm, 1990 born guard who has impressive offensive abilities for someone so young. Big man SAMULI VANTTAJA (203 cm, 1991) is raw but promising; he can play basically three positions, is faster than most guards but at the same time is physically as raw as tomorrow’s sushi. Vanttaja also has to find stability; he can finish with 14/8 and 3 blocks in game 1, but with 0/1 and four fouls in game 2.
Hungary may come up with some surprises this summer as they have an interesting amount of talent on their roster. David Vojvoda was already a great scorer last year for the team and he should have improved over the season. Additionally, you have the very promising big guy Adam Lepsenyi who dominated during last years U16 European championship. Another player to observe is probably Norbert Takacs who could not play the U16 in 2007.
Slovak Republic is another unknown team that comes to Debrecen and I hope to get some more info on them in the future.