By Simon Jatsch / @sJacas
A personal note: This article had been finished before we received the terrible news this afternoon. I am very sorry to hear about the passing of Rasmus Larsen, a tremendous basketball talent and, from what I was told, great person.
The NIJT final tournament had always been a bit of a mixed bag in recent years, with variations largely resulting from the quality of wild card selections and host participants.
The tournament, now named Adidas Next Generation Tournament, is without a non-European wild card invitee this year, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, Team China (3-6 from 2011 to 2013) and Team Brazil (0-3 last year, all blowouts) combined for a 3-9 record over the years. On the other hand, they added plenty of intrigue, diversity in playing style and talent that hadn’t necessarily been on my radar.
As for host teams, Milano finished 2-1 in 2014, Team England 2013 1-2, Fenerbahce 2012 2-2, Barca 2011 1-2, Real Madrid 2010 1-2, ALBA 2009 0-3; 7-12 combined.
As it happens, this year’s hosts, Real Madrid, are one of – if not the – top title contenders.
Wild card invitees VEF, INSEP, Unicaja and Spars all finished 3-1 in their respective tournaments in Kaunas and Rome. There were no equally qualified teams in the Belgrade and Hospitalet tournaments. They got it right this year.
This is the year of the 1997 generation, lauded by several long-term youth basketball followers as the – at least at the top level – best European generation they’ve seen so far. As every year, most of the generation’s top players (such as Sviatoslav Mikhailiuk, Dragan Bender, Furkan Korkmaz, Lovro Mazalin, Kostas Papagiannis, Ante Zizic, Vassilis Charalampopoulos) will not even be at the tournament, a fact which is made up for by the presence of INSEP’s 1998-born 2014 Under-16 Eurobasket MVP Killian Tillie, VEF standout Rodions Kurucs (1998, too) and 1999-born Real Madrid sensation Luka Doncic, amongst others.
1. Seven players return from last year’s Milano finalist. They lost key players Magdevski, Kasibabu and Niang but added Proleta, Dos Anjos and Doncic.
2. Just killed competition in the Spanish under-18 championships. Doncic had a triple double in the final versus Joventut.
3. Length, athleticism, versatility … and that notorious 667m-nosebleed altitude, of course.
#17 Luka Doncic (1999, SG/SF, 198cm)
Everything has been said already. A playmaking 2/3 with outrageous feel for the game. Incredibly creative and smooth, all within a team concept. A future NBA lottery pick.
#18 Emmanuel Cate (1997, PF/C, 204cm)
Saw him in Milan last year and thought “Felipe Reyes” right away. An obvious comparison as it is a lazy one. Physical, does the dirty work, rebounds, uses elbows, can be a nasty opponent, must learn from Felipe’s screen-flopping abilities. One of my favourite non-star players. He might soon change the “non-star” part of that statement.
#4 Santiago Yusta (1997, SF, 200cm)
A smooth small forward. Can really put the ball on the floor and attack in transition or the closeout in half court. Very good slasher. Pro future.
#16 Felipe dos Anjos (1998, C, 218cm)
High-upside, Brazilian five. Moves well for his size. At this point, don’t expect a defined offensive game from a seven-footer. Early stage of his development, but very promising.
1. Largely the winning team from last year, just older and better. They’re 14-0 since the start of Belgrade 2014. Only one of those games finished in a single digit margin. Ran over this year’s Belgrade tournament in the absence of a legitimate opponent.
2. Play close to positionless basketball. Plenty of wings with above-average all-round skill sets. They all cut and pass extremely well and crush opponents in transition. Having four players who can all push the ball off the defensive rebound helps in that aspect.
3. NBA-oriented scouts complain about the absence of top-level talent.
#9 Vojislav Stojanovic (1997, PG/SG, 196cm)
Needs an extra space for those MVP trophies. Won the award in Belgrade 2014 and 2015, plus Milano 2014. De-facto point guard for this team. Tremendous feel for the game and advanced pick and roll game. Already knows when and where to attack and how to use the re-screen. Loves to drop the quick pass before help the helper arrives. Already plays regular minutes for FMP in KLS.
#17 Borisa Simanic (1998, PF, 208cm)
One to watch. Teammate from FMP. Legit power forward. Three point shooter, cutter, able passer, decent rim protector. Used as clever high post passer versus zone. Showed glimpses of an ability to put the ball on the floor against the closeout in Belgrade, one of the key areas for him to improve in. Expected from a modern power forward.
#7 Aleksandar Aranitovic (1998, SG, 195cm)
Had a very good tournament in Milano last year, when he was two years younger than the oldest players. Legit two-guard. Pro body already. Automatic two-dribble pull up against the close out. No-nonsense transition finisher, just takes it straight to the basket. Routinely plays skip passes with pinpoint accuracy. There’s nothing too exciting or complex about his game.
#13 Stefan Kenic (1997, SF, 200cm)
Another one of those multitalented wing players with legit small forward size who can really handle the ball. Averaged 9.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists in just 17:58 minutes per game in Belgrade 2015. Really like him in transition. Rebounds extremely well and pushes the ball hard. Occasionally served as de-facto half court playmaker off the bench for Crvena Zvezda.
#20 Nikola Rakicevic (1997, SF, 198cm)
Multitalented wing player. Like his feel for the game. Already kicks out of the drive real well. Very good basketball player. Struggles getting all the way to the basket. Slightly sub-par athlete.
1. Always win their home tournament, but this time they advanced past quality competition in impressive fashion. Beat INSEP by 16 (on a *cough* +23 free throw differential ) and VEF by 22.
2. Five players return from last year, but they’re better. Tough, strong, physical players with excellent pro potential, led by Kaunas MVP Echodas and fearless two-guard Varnas.
3. Arguably the most athletic team in the tournament.
#14 Martynas Echodas (1997, PF, 204cm)
Exploded in Milano last year after a quiet Kaunas tournament, won Kaunas MVP earlier this year. Intense, skilled, dominant. Quick jumper off two feet. Dunks everything when close to the basket. Good screens, contested rebounds, hard fouls. Elbow jumper is inconsistent. Sub-par foul shooter. Position is an issue. If you’re going to play the four as a non-three point shooter, you have to be automatic from mid range and/or a beast on the offensive glass.
#13 Martynas Varnas (1997, SG, 196cm)
One of my favourites. Attacks the basket and takes hard hits deep in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Really displayed his on-ball skill set in Kaunas. Was able to keep his dribble alive against INSEP’s aggressive, hard-hedging pick and roll defense and then attacked hard as the big man turned his shoulder to recover. Kicks out of the dribble drive super well. Jumpshot was still more of a set shot.
#4 Laurynas Beliauskas (1997, PG, 185cm)
On loan from Neptunas, already played first team minutes. Creative, clever point guard who played very well against INSEP and VEF in Kaunas. Dealt with INSEP’s great perimeter defense extremely well. Lob pass magician. Moves the ball early, gets it back in close out situations and pick and rolls late on the clock.
#15 Laurynas Birutis (1997, C, 210cm)
Long center, much improved over his 2014 version, when he played for Rytas. Late bloomer with delayed development. Fairly mobile for his size. Very good with either hand. Shot free throws with his left (went 17 for 19 in Kaunas) and often finished hook shots with his right. Keeps the ball high after the catch. VEF exposed his underdeveloped mid-roll game in the Kaunas final, but he’ll get there.
#8 Arnoldas Kulboka (1998, SG/SF, 202cm)
Skinny and fragile, but excellent size. Really possesses a two-guard skill set. Handles the ball, runs pick and roll. One of the best pull-up jumpshooters in current European youth basketball. Second best scorer for Lithuania at the 2014 Under-16s.
1. A talented French generation. Six players of this team played in the 2014 Under-16 Eurobasket final.
2. They defend extremely well and are very talented on the 4/5, but lack playmaking. Bengaber/Loubaki are fantastic guard defenders. Look out for INSEP’s hard-hedging pick and roll defense; ‘five steps out towards the halfway line’ is their rule for bigs until they’re allowed to recover back to the roll man.
3. Were dominated by Zalgiris in Kaunas. Were without Killian Tillie, though.
#15 Killian Tillie (1998, PF, 203cm)
2014 Under-16 Eurobasket MVP, brother of … no, you already know that story. Long, agile, active, shotblocker, multitalented. Very good, quick passer. Will keep expanding his game to the perimeter. 6/19 for three in NM1 this season.
#7 Jonathan Jeanne (1997, C, 212cm)
Improves at a rapid pace. Displayed much improved coordination and footwork in Kaunas, relative to Belgrade the year before. Has turned into an able pick and roll finisher. Dunks everything at the rim. Soft shooting stroke, rim protector. Extremely skinny. Must become a better passer. Some folks see Alexis Ajinca in him. Just found an agreement with Le Mans.
#8 Bathiste Tchouaffé (1998, SG/SF, 195cm)
High-IQ, low-error, jumpshooting swingman. One of the top 1998 shooters. Made the Under-16 All-Tournament team in Riga. Automatic curling to a no-dribble or one-dribble elbow jumper. Automatic from the corners, too. Attacks the close out and finishes on straight lines, but not a creator. Not the athlete/leaper some people think he is. Much more of a finesse guy.
#13 Stephane Gombault (1997, PF, 201cm)
Very quick, active, leaping four. Just finds ways to score (cuts, transition, putbacks). Has some of the quickest hands you’ll see from a power forward. Very good at poking the ball away from playmaker as defensive big in pick and roll defense. Thrives in transition. Decent elbow jumper and ability to put the ball on the floor from the elbow, but no perimeter game. Therefore I don’t see him at the three. Folks say he’s stagnating, but he’s still got plenty of time to prove them wrong.
If you’ve never seen VEF Riga play before, fasten your seat belt; one of the most fun teams I’ve witnessed in recent years. Were getting after it in Kaunas.
One of the many encouraging things about future generations is the quality of wing players, currently a position that is lacking in quality depth on pro level on either side of the Atlantic. Stella Azzurra’s Andrea La Torre, Spars’ Edin Atic and Unicaja’s Romaric Belemene all bring small forward skill set and size/length to the position, not to mention Rodions Kurucs.
#7 Rodions Kurucs/VEF Riga (1998, SF, 204cm)
NBA lottery talent, and there’s no one who doesn’t like his unusual combination of competitiveness, aggressiveness, talent and ability to let the game come to him. To go along with his spectacular offensive skill set, Kurucs averaged 5.5 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.8 blocks per game as a small forward in Kaunas. Goes for risky steals and monster weak side blocks even when playing on four fouls. For the sake of everyone’s entertainment, let’s hope he stays out of foul trouble.
#9 Amar Gegic/KK Spars (1998, PG, 192cm)
Germany-born point guard with very good size. Not a point guard body and acceleration, but court vision and decision making. Inefficient scorer/shooter.
#14 Andrea La Torre/Stella Azzurra (1997, SF, 200cm)
Versatile, lefty forward. Good size for his position. Really puts the ball on the floor well now. Did not blow me away when I watched him in person, but need to aknowledge his versatility/talent. Jump shot has always been a weak point.
#6 Edin Atic/KK Spars (1997, SF, 198cm)
Already averaging 8.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.1 steals per game for the senior team. Tremendous scorer. Really puts the ball on the floor against the close out, very good athlete, court vision. Explosive in transition, becoming a deadly shooter both in catch and shoot as well as one/two dribble situations. Average Euroleague small forward size, pro skill set.
#9 Kristers Zoriks/VEF Riga (1998, PG, 188cm)
Creative/flashy pick and roll passer who pulls up without hesitation when the defense plays him for the shot. Just like Kurucs, made the Under-16 All Tournament team in Riga. Does not dominate the floor but promising point guard skill set and decent size.
#4 Romaric Belemene-Dzabatou/Unicaja (1997, SF, 203cm)
Very long and athletic wing who plays a variety of on-ball and off-ball roles for Unicaja. He’s great in flashes, a huge rejection at the rim or a quick tip-in on offense but is still working on reading the game and when to attack on offense. Be on the lookout for some electric defensive plays, he can make a momentum changing block or steal in the blink of an eye.
#14 Zigmars Raimo/VEF Riga (1997, PF, 197cm)
Raimo, who looks like a [expletive] wrestler, threw five baseline-to-baseline touchdown passes in Kaunas, plus two alley oop touch-passes. He also got so much into Fener’s heads in the de-facto semi final that they were rather unwilling to shake his hand after the game. Yes, he’s the most unusual player you’ll have seen in your life. In a good way.
|14||AHMEDIC, EMIR||KK Spars||202||30-May-97||18.0||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|7||ARANITOVIC, ALEKSANDAR||Crvena Zvezda||194||24-Jan-98||17.3||Serbia|
|5||ARSLANAGIC, ADNAN||KK Spars||179||26-Aug-97||17.7||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|6||ATIC, EDIN||KK Spars||198||19-Jan-97||18.3||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|20||BA, ADAMA EL HADJI||Stella Azzurra||212||2-Mar-98||17.2||Senegal|
|12||BAJO, DARKO||KK Spars||203||14-Mar-99||16.2||Croatia|
|11||BALLESPIN, IGNACIO||Real Madrid||191||18-Apr-98||17.1||Spain|
|7||BARREIRO, JONATHAN||Real Madrid||202||16-Jan-97||18.3||Spain|
|4||BELEMENE-DZABATOU, ROMARIC||Unicaja||205||19-Feb-97||18.2||Republic of the Congo|
|4||BORDAS, MARKO||Crvena Zvezda||188||7-May-97||18.0||Serbia|
|4||CAMPARA, SANI||KK Spars||188||3-Mar-99||16.2||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|18||CATE, EMANUEL||Real Madrid||204||30-Jul-97||17.8||Romania|
|8||DA CAMPO, MATTIA||Stella Azzurra||197||1-May-97||18.0||Italy|
|10||DE LA RUA, DANIEL||Real Madrid||180||30-Jan-97||18.3||Spain|
|17||DONCIC, LUKA||Real Madrid||198||28-Feb-99||16.2||Slovenia|
|16||DOS ANJOS, FELIPE||Real Madrid||218||30-Apr-98||17.0||Brazil|
|14||DRLJACA, JOVAN||Crvena Zvezda||203||25-Mar-97||18.1||Serbia|
|7||DURAK, ATIF||KK Spars||188||20-Mar-97||18.1||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|8||DURMO, IBRAHIM||KK Spars||200||15-Jan-97||18.3||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|6||FONS, MIKI||Real Madrid||185||19-Feb-98||17.2||Spain|
|9||GEGIC, AMAR||KK Spars||192||14-Feb-98||17.2||Germany / Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|17||GRKOVIC, MARKO||Unicaja||199||21-Jan-97||18.3||Montenegro / Kosovo|
|18||GAURIGLIA, TOMMASO||Stella Azzurra||205||8-Aug-97||17.8||Italy|
|13||JAHIC, SABAHUDIN||KK Spars||208||26-Jul-98||16.8||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|5||KAPETANOVIC, NEMANJA||Crvena Zvezda||195||3-Feb-97||18.3||Serbia|
|13||KENIC, STEFAN||Crvena Zvezda||200||27-Apr-97||18.0||Serbia|
|10||LA TORRE, ANDREA||Stella Azzurra||200||14-Jun-97||17.9||Italy|
|11||MANJGAFIC, FAHRUDIN||KK Spars||207||21-Jan-97||18.3||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|9||MASCIARELLI, DARIO||Stella Azzurra||196||29-Jun-98||16.9||Italy|
|15||MILADINOVIC, DAVID||Crvena Zvezda||205||6-Jan-97||18.3||Serbia|
|15||MULERO, GUILLERMO||Real Madrid||190||8-May-97||18.0||Spain|
|12||N'DIAYE, SAMBA||Real Madrid||202||19-Apr-98||17.1||Senegal|
|11||NIKOLIC, LAZAR||Stella Azzurra||200||23-Jun-99||15.9||Serbia|
|16||NWOHUOCHA, CURTIS||Stella Azzurra||200||16-Jan-97||18.3||Italy|
|18||OKOUO, VINY||Unicaja||215||10-Apr-97||18.1||Republic of the Congo|
|7||PALSSON, KRISTINN||Stella Azzurra||197||17-Dec-97||17.4||Iceland|
|10||PENAVA, AJDIN||KK Spars||201||11-Mar-97||18.2||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|15||PIRIC, ALIJA||KK Spars||210||12-May-97||18.0||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|16||POPOVIC, NIKOLA||Crvena Zvezda||206||19-Jul-97||17.8||Serbia|
|8||PROLETA, DONAGOJ||Real Madrid||204||20-Mar-98||17.1||Croatia|
|12||RADANOV, ALEKSA||Crvena Zvezda||201||1-Feb-98||17.3||Serbia|
|12||RADONJIC, TODOR||Stella Azzurra||199||1-Apr-97||18.1||Montenegro|
|34||RADOVIC, MATIJA||Crvena Zvezda||198||25-Apr-98||17.0||Serbia|
|20||RAKICEVIC, NIKOLA||Crvena Zvezda||198||14-Jan-97||18.3||Serbia|
|13||RICO, ANDRES||Real Madrid||185||13-Apr-97||18.1||Spain|
|4||SAVOLDELLI, NICOLA||Stella Azzurra||182||15-May-97||18.0||Italy|
|17||SEYE, BABACAR||Stella Azzurra||207||30-Jun-99||15.9||Senegal|
|13||SIKIRAS, NJEGOS||Stella Azzurra||205||11-Apr-99||16.1||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|17||SIMANIC, BORISA||Crvena Zvezda||207||20-Mar-98||17.1||Serbia|
|9||STOJANOVIC, VOJISLAV||Crvena Zvezda||196||14-Apr-97||18.1||Serbia|
|4||YUSTA, SANTIAGO||Real Madrid||200||28-Apr-97||18.0||Spain|