By Francesco Cavalli 

Stellazzurra Basketball Academy hosted the 2015 Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Rome from December the 27th to December the 29th.
Final: Mega Leks Belgrade – Stella Azzurra Roma 73 – 71
3rd place game: Virtus Bologna – EA7 Olimpia Milano 77 - 63
5th place game: Unicaja Malaga – CSKA Moscow 74 - 62
7th place game: Umana Reyer Venezia – Anadolu Efes Istanbul 75 – 55
All-Tournament Team: Alexsandar Aranitovic (Mega Leks Belgrade - MVP), Alessandro Pajola (Virtus Bologna), Sandro Mamukelashvili (Stella Azzurra Roma), Nemanja Dincic (EA7 Olimpia Milano), Ablaye Sow (Unicaja Malaga)
Group A
Anadolu Efes Istanbul was the less talented team of the tournament, reportedly missing some key U17 player; but the level of effort, communication and ability to play together as well just wasn't up to the one required by this competition. They were outscored by an average of 23 points through four games, about 0.31 PPP. The team's top scorer was guard Ismet Avsar ('99), a strong player with some talent who will need to work a lot on his decision making and shot selection. Small forward Burak Nurkan ('98) was the one showing the best things on the court though, lacking scoring talent off the dribble but being able to hit shots off the catch and looking like the player with the best attitude in his team. Guard Samet Gulek ('98) showed as well some flash of talent, particularly in P&R plays, but just wasn't able to hit shots.
CSKA Moscow took Stella Azzurra to the wire in the first game of the tournament, but at the end was able to get only one W in Rome (against Efes). Their top prospect is surely big man Andrei Lopatin ('98), but he had some back pain and wasn't at his best; with a tall and still light frame, fluid and coordinated for his size, he showed the best things with his face up game and some nice play off the roll, but his approach to the game was bit too soft. Wing Mikhail Andrianov ('98) was the top scorer for the Russian team: an aggressive player at his best as a pure scorer and more efficient playing off the ball, had the tendency to overdribble and drive straight into the defense. The other starting big man was power forward Artem Kuzmin ('98), a slender player with shooting range, a quick release and solid motor and attitude. Guards Konstantin Shevchuk and Aleksandr Ershov, two 2000-born players, also looked promising coming off the bench.
A pleasing surprise was Virtus Bologna (which brought in Lovisotto, Ebeling and Dellosto for the tournament), a fun team to watch, aggressive on defense and really able to play together on offense. Point guard Alessandro Pajola ('99), in his first season with Virtus, had a breakout tournament, playing with great poise and maturity. Listed at 6'4", he did a great job in running the offense and was as well one of the best defenders in attendance, never shying away from contact and always keeping a focused and aggressive attitude; he can impact the game in many ways, but will be interesting to follow his development as a scorer, since he only took 19 total shots in Rome.
For the second year in a row, power forward Danilo Petrovic ('99) had a productive ANGT, despite playing more on the inside compared to one year ago; he was highly effective as an offensive rebounder, showing good positioning and finishing ability, but missing most of the 14/15 season because of an injury surely had a main role in some lack of improvement in his game, particularly in using his off hand. Point guard Lorenzo Penna ('98) struggled to hit shots for most of the tournament, but step up during the last five minutes of the 3rd spot final; he still has questionable finishing ability at the rim, but his leadership, passing skills and shooting prowess are valuable tools.
Stella Azzurra Basketball Academy was able to put himself in the final once again, coming up short again a more talented Mega Leks team but almost pulling off the upset despite a less talented roster than last year. Missing Njegos Sikiras, they relied heavily on Sandro Mamukelashvili ('99) on offense, who they brought in for the tournament along with Caruso. The American/Georgian small forward, currently playing in Biella, was their main scoring threat, and made the All-Tournament Team after averaging 14.5 points in 24 minutes, shooting 71% on twos and 44% from beyond the arc: listed closer to 6'9" than 6'8", he has huge length to go along with some impressive guard-like skills and mobility, but will need to work on his lateral mobility and defensive footwork to show he can constantly guard wings. Point guard Lazar Nikolic ('99) was bit erratic during the three-day competition: he averaged 4 fouls per game and struggled on defense, mainly because of his too high centre of gravity, and shot wasn't falling as well, but did a solid job in controlling the pace and move the ball from the top of his 6'7" frame. Point guard Emanuele Trapani ('99), a small but tough and thick scorer, had some up and down as well but guaranteed a much needed spark on offense. Standing somewhere between 6'8" and 6'9", Scott Ulaneo ('98) was the second best scorer in the team, showing some nice improvement in his face up game: still by no means a shooter, he's developing the ability to put the ball on the floor and aggressively attack the basket; a strong big man with high-level motor and good rebounding effort, his touch around the rim is still average.

Group B

Umana Reyer Venezia was the only Italian team playing without any player on loan, bringing in a roster which is competing in both U20 and U18 Italian leagues. They had some trouble matching opponents' size and athleticism, but other than that they competed at a solid level. Wing Riccardo Visconti ('98) is the team's top talent and was as well their top scorer, but also took 28% of team's shots while shooting 4/33 from three point range. Despite his bad shooting percentages, he's a good shooter able to create his own shot; will need to work on his defensive attitude and improve his light frame. Center Alessandro Simioni ('98) was the second best scorer in the team, as a 6'8" big man without any leaping ability but with great IQ, passing tools and fundamentals. Point guard Michele Antelli ('98), the team's emotional leader, showed great leadership, defensive effort and ability to create shots for his teammates, he's just still too small. The youngest player in the team was wing Federico Miaschi ('00), who considering his age has some solid physique and athletic tools for his position, while already being able to contribute at this level of competition.
Unicaja Malaga came in with a roster much less talented than last year, whith less depth and less quality backcourt production. Their best player was 6'10" Senegalese center Ablaye Sow ('99), who already played on this stage last year, a huge presence under the basket with good athletic skills. Sow was the tournament's best rebounder, catching 13 offensive rebounds and 35 defensive ones over four games, and ended up in the All-Tournament Team. He always had a high level effort on the court and never shied away from physical contact, finishing well around the rim and pushing hard to get open under the basket, but just wasn't tested against a strong competition on the inside other than the game against Mega Leks. His shooting form looks promising as well and he showed to be able to hit some mid-range jumper, but will need to work on his overall court vision. Montenegrin small forward Ivan Raut ('98) had a pretty good tournament: he's not a player who will create his own shot, but has nice frame, athleticism and body control, can hit shots from beyond the arc, always attacks hard the closeout and can finish around the rim. Another key contributor for the team was point guard Victor Aguilar ('98), a highly emotional player who always plays hard but can have lot of ups and downs even in a single game, with the tendency to be too chaotic on the court.
Armani Junior Milano almost made it to the final, beating Mega Leks in the first game, despite all of the major contributors for their team were on loan just for the tournament (they brought in Dincic, Baldasso, Serpilli and Laganà). Power forward Nemanja Dincic ('98), who is from Serbia and plays in Casalpusterlengo, had a great tournament and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Standing somewhere between 6'6" and 6'7" (despite sometimes being wrongly listed even at 6'8"), he's undersized but has a strong and muscular body and plays with highly aggressive attitude, being able to perform bigger than his size. His rebounding presence and ability to put the ball on the floor made up for most of his production, but he's usually a good shooter off the catch as well despite being able to hit only 1 of his 9 three pointers in Rome; but his basketball IQ is just average, and he will need to work  a lot on his defensive game, as he often lacks even the basic effort. Shooting guard Tommaso Baldasso ('98), who plays with PMS Moncalieri, was able to get in Rome only on Monday, therefore missing the first game; he was the player who averaged the most points in the tournament at 21.7, adding 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 5 fouls drawn while shooting 50% on twos, 41% from beyond the arc and 86% from the free throw line. Gifted with a big offensive talent, Baldasso is though a player who has the tendency to dominate too much the ball and be turnover prove (averaged 5 in Rome); an aggressive and physical player on offense, his defense also is not usually up to the same effort. Shooting guard Davide Toffali ('98) struggled to perform in Rome: he's a strong player who plays with really good attitude, but has tunnel vision on offense and loves too much his mid-range jumper, as he spent most of the tournament shooting long twos after a crossover move. A mention goes to center Michele D'Ambrosio ('98), who stands between 6'11" and 7'0": having started his only third season of organized basketball and having looked out of place at 2014 ANGT, he has made lot of improvement and was able to perform in Rome, averaging 7.8 points and 5 rebounds while hitting 5 of his 7 threes.
The most talented team in attendance was Mega Leks Belgrade, who had some struggle during the first two games, losing against Milano, but came up big in the last two with leader Aleksandar Aranitovic ('98) getting better. Aranitovic, a 6'4" guard who is playing his third ANGT, is a "young veteran" with an impressively strong body: he was the MVP and top scorer of the tournament, scoring 77 points over four games. He wasn't at his best in creating off the dribble and sometimes struggled to beat his man in half court, but was always a threat in transition plays, drew fouls at a solid rate and came up big in the final, shooting 4/9 from beyond the arc and 10/12 from the free throw line, with 19 second half points. Point guard Novak Music ('98) had as well a key leadership role in the team, as a vocal and emotional player who always plays with great motor. His size is still not ideal, but he plays way bigger than that and is always highly aggressive on both ends of the court. One of the most impressive players in attendance was big man Marko Pecarski ('00), who has unreal instincts, awareness and IQ for his age. A fundamentally sound player always moving with right timing and positioning, he ended up as the top offensive rebounder in the tournament, averaging 4.5 rebounds on the offensive end and 4 on the defensive one. He played more on the inside, but showed as well to be comfortable playing facing the basket, with range also from beyond the arc. Georgian center Goga Bitadze ('99), a late addition to this Mega Leks team, still wasn't fully comfortable on the court but had a positive impact on the game. At 6'10" with massive body and some fluid athleticism and coordination, his presence in the paint was always felt despite some positioning issue; he showed as well flashes of good ball skills, even hitting some long spot up jumper. Big man Uros Plavsic ('98) looked intriguing as well, despite lacking quality production over the tournament. Another legit 6'10" player with good length but a slender frame, he showed great mobility for his size and a solid face up dimension. Power forward Bogdan Nedeljkovic ('00) deserves to be named as well, as he earned big minutes throughout the tournament and ended up averaging 5 points and 4.7 rebounds in limited minutes of play; he already has a strong frame, solid motor and fundamentals, and looks like he has much more room to further improve. 

Photo: Lello Vitale