By: Can Pelister / @HCanPelister
We’ve reached the end of group play here at the U18 European Championships in Konya, Turkey. The next phase starts today, and in Can Pelister’s ELA debut, he takes a closer look at what happened-and, more importantly, who happened-deep in the heart of Turkey.
There was actually one surprise for me in this group: Belgium beat Italy, clinchin their first U18 A Division victory since 2008. But unfortunately, the same Belgian team lost to Poland on the first day and Latvia on the third day and couldn’t manage to qualify to the next round.
Italy won the Albert Schweitzer tournament back in the fall of this year and for me they have the best backcourt duo in the tournament with Federico Mussini and Diego Flaccadori. But unfortunately, they’re missing three important players in this tournament: Daniel Donzelli and Andrea La Torre, their best forwards, because of their injuries and Pierfrancesco Oliva, probably their best frontcourt player because he’s in Vegas for AAU’s.
Back to Mussini and Flaccadori: both players know how to play together and they were the best scoring options of Italy. After three games, Mussini and Flaccadori combined for 31.3 field goal attempts per game, which is most by any backcourt duo in the tournament. Mussini and Flaccadori’s production for Italy on offense is about 40 points, 8 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game. Picarelli also done a great job after three games. Italy’s mostly using those three perimeter players on offense because they don’t have so much contribution from the bigs. Their production from the SF, PF and C’s will be crucial in the next round.
I really liked the way Latvia fights. They’re playing with heart. Maybe they don’t have so much talent but they’re playing tough and after three games they ranked third in points allowed per game (64 points). Rinalds Malmanis and Rihards Lomazs are the guys who stood out from the Latvian team. Given his length and body, Malmanis looks like an interesting prospect. If Latvia wants to make surprise in the second round, they gotta play better on the offensive end.
Poland finished the group third instead of Belgium and they qualified to the second round. They have definitely great frontcourt players with Kulka, Bender and Olejniczak. They’ve done a pretty good job getting the boards for the Polish team. Younger brother of Mateusz Ponitka, Marcel also has done a great job on scoring part of the game but I didn’t like him as a point guard yet. Let’s see if this Polish squad can make a surprise in second round!
Belgium was one of the teams I was watching in the tournament more closely because they had two Turkish players on their roster (Thomas Akyazili and Sami Demirtas). Thomas for me is one of the best guards in the ’97 class and he proved that in the Italy game. He’s a great scorer and has a great body for his position. I see Thomas as a combo guard in the future. Couple of college teams expressing interest on him while I’m sure Turkish teams following him closer in Konya. I don’t think Belgians prepared for the first game in a right way. Poland game was crucial for them, however, and they managed a surprise win vs. Italy but yesterday after they lost to Latvia they lost their chances to qualify for the second round; now Belgium will fight to stay in A Division.
Croatia, by far, is the most talented team in the tournament alongside Turkey. Many scouts from the NBA think Dragan Bender is the best NBA prospect in Konya. I’ve been following Bender like two years and maybe he had his best game against Lithuania, collecting 34 points (68% FG), 14 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks and ZERO TURNOVERS. Croatia is the only unbeaten team in the tournament and leads the tournament in four important statistics after the three games: points per game, total rebounds per game, assists per game, points allowed per game. Not bad…
Maybe as an individual only Lovro Mazalin has played beneath expectations after three games. If Lovro will play his real game as well, I don’t think there’s any team that would stop Croatia. They have two bigs Ante Zizic and Marko Arapovic in painted area which helps the team a lot on both ends and also Luka Bozic contributed well after three games.
Let me remind you something before finishing Croatia: Croatia’s U16 team who had Bender, Slavica, Mazalin, Zizic from this team also started last year’s U16 in Kyiv very good (six wins in a row after second round, they beat every opponent easily) but after that they lost to Spain in the quarterfinal game and were eliminated. I’m not saying that same thing will happen to this U18 team but you gotta always keep focused and concentrated in those kind of European Championships.
I did expect Lithuania to fight against Croatia and at least stay in the game until last minute. I had them after Croatia in this group but maybe Sabonis played one of his worst games offensively, and they couldn’t manage to respond to the amazing Dragan Bender. Zuklevicius shot the ball well but after making five threes, he stopped taking threes, which is strange. Outside of Domas, I liked ’97 born guard Martynas Varnas a lot, again. He’s very athletic and I saw some Marty Pocius in him. To sum up everything for the Lithuanian side, Sabonis needs to play very well if Lithuania wants to win against teams like Italy.
For France, Isaia Cordinier was the only kid who impressed me a lot and he was the reason why I watched France’s games. Athletic guard, playing his first European championship. He was the guy from France who stood out. In this generation, back in 2012, France won a silver medal in the U16 tourney. I didn’t see any major developments so far since then. Only Cordinier…the new kid on the team who will be an interesting prospect to follow in the next years.
England was too weak for this group. After missing their best player Jules Akodo probably for injury, they couldn’t compete vs. teams like Croatia, Lithuania and France at all. Joshua Steel who recruited by some NCAA schools looked pretty good but definitely you can not scout a player in a team that’s losing their games by 30.
Greece has some talent in ’96 and ’97 generations. Actually they didn’t play bad vs. Turkey but for some reason which I don’t understand coach didn’t put Papagiannis in the game last 12 minutes. He was the guy who changed the game in a positive way early on (Greece was down 12-0 early vs. Turkey, Papagiannis’ sub changed things) and Turkey had a hard time staying behind him, which is very normal. They have Charalampopoulos (yes, I checked it) who is a lefty, shooter forward and can do multiple things on the court. He’s leading Greece in three major stats: points, assists, steals. And let me tell you something: Charalampopoulos, who’s averaging 20 points in tournament, only missed five two-pointers. Also ’96 born Mitoglou, committed to Wake Forest, is the guy who can rebound the well when he’s on the court. From the guards, Stamatis was their best scorer and he had great games in first round.
Bosnia made the major surprise of tournament so far. Everybody thought the Greece-Turkey game would have been a game to decide first and second team in the group before the tournament started, but Bosnia thanks to Edin Atic beat host Turkey on the second day. They’re missing Sandro Gacic, who’s their best ’96 born player and probably best player on team, but seems like Edin Atic got the role of Gacic and he was great. Younger brother of Nihad Djedovic, Nedim is kind of an inconsistent guy. He didn’t impress me yet. Atic is a 6’7″ small forward who is a great athlete for European standards, can shot the ball and generally he’s a very good scorer. Their guard Dorde Aleksic was also important in Bosnia’s run. Looking forward to seeing more Bosnian basketball in second round!
Turkey is one of the most talented team in tournament with players like Tolga Gecim, Furkan Korkmaz, Berk Ugurlu, Egemen Guven, Ayberk Olmaz, Okben Ulubay, etc. They have tons of talents. But so far those players couldn’t perform at their best except in that amazing Czech Republic game on Day One. Turkey will play against Montenegro, Spain and Serbia to qualify to quarterfinals. Not easy games at all. I can write a single column about the team but I just wanna keep it simple: “Togetherness” and “mental toughness” will be very key for Turkey in the following games.
Czech started the tournament with a very bad loss vs. Turkey (101-51) and it was not easy to fix the things after that game. However, they were close to winning the Bosnia game but then after Edin Atic, who was in foul trouble and didn’t have a good game, came up with clutch, scoring two crucial three pointers. I really liked their ’97 born kid Simon Pursl, who’s playing in Spain with Zaragoza. Except him, Viktor Pulpan has a chance to become a back-up of Satoransky on the national team in upcoming years. And my favorite player from Czech was David Skranc! This kid can shoot the ball, very active on boards and he if he keeps developing, would be a good Euro player.
I knew about Zoran Nikolic and Petar Popovic before the tournament. But one kid named Aleksa Ilic stood out from the Montenegrin team. He has freakish athleticism which helps him on both ends and he’s using this athleticism on both ends very well. He just needs to fix his turnovers on upcoming games and he would be very effective player. Nikolic is one of the best centers of the tournament. He will have a good career in Europe. He has a great body and size and it’s not easy to stop in him around the rim when he gets the ball. Popovic was more like a scoring guard than a playmaker. He was the best scorer of Montenegro after three games and Popovic’s offense contribution was a key factor in Montenegro’s great run after three games.
Serbia is the team which I watched less, unfortunately. Stefan Lazarevic looks very good from Serbians and I will watch more Serbia in second round. Sorry to our Serbian readers…
Spain was a big disappointment for me so far, especially Marc Garcia. They didn’t give positive signals for the upcoming games and I do see their chances very low to be in the quarterfinals if they play the way they played to start this tournament. They have a defensive coach, Jose Ramon Cuspinera, but they don’t play the best defense in tournament, and their offense is not good at all. Garcia struggled to find his rhytm after three games and they need him bigtime if Spain wants to compete against great teams like Turkey and Greece. Sima is a good rebounder but if he’s going to play big games like he played vs. Serbia (took only two hots, finished with 2 points and 3 rebounds), I don’t know…
Also, shooter Francisco Alonso leads team in assists and Sergi Costa, who was a good prospect in the past, is not even on the roster anymore for the Spaniards.
I don’t wanna talk about Russia, really. There’s no player to watch except Karpenkov (don’t know if he can be high level player though), bad coaching…good luck to them.