Latvia lacked proper backcourt play in Crete, failing to win a single game in the competition and often displaying a bad body language on the court. Power forward Roberts Blumbergs (‘98) was the most consistent performer, as he was able to score both from the perimeter and inside the paint, putting also good effort in rebounding. He didn’t look in the best athletic shape and lacked some aggressiveness on offense, but not being a player to create his own shot he suffered the team’s poor passing ability. Forward Verners Kohs (‘97) shot the ball quite well in the tournament, with his usual smooth and consistent mechanics which make him among the best shooters in his age group; but he failed to consistently perform in other areas of the game, didn’t have much of an impact inside the arc and displayed shaky attitude and effort.
15) Czech Republic
With solid size but poor overall talent, Czech Republic was able to score an average of only 59.4 points per game (51 per game in group games), barely above last placed Latvia. In a roster where no one was able to average double figure in scoring, power forward Martin Roub (‘97) emerged like the most consistent performer, as a tall and fluid player with perimeter skills, despite having the tendency to settle too much on his three-point shot.
Slovenia, missing some key player in this age group, was the third team relegated to Division B. Also lacking a consistent contribution from his backcourt players, often turnover prone and with shaky decision making, they struggled to generate efficient offense. The most interesting player in their roster was big man Jurij Macura (‘99), also the youngest in the whole tournament: standing somewhere between 6’10 and 6’11, he has a promising frame and he’s also a good overall athlete, fluid and mobile for his size. He was very active in cutting and moving on offense, displaying a soft touch to finish around the basket and showing good upside as a shooter, with his lefty stroke being still not consistent but quick in its release.
Not as deep as a roster in this generation, Italy lacked proper contribution behind the top performers and went winless in its first five games, before winning two to avoid relegation. Guard Davide Moretti (’98) was the only one able to consistently create off the dribble, and struggled during the tournament when the opposing defense was able to focus on him. He ended up having his best performance in the last pivotal game, scoring 30 points while shooting 7/11 from the field and 12/12 from the free throw line. Power forward David Okeke (‘98) continued his breakout performances from the FIBA U19 World Cup, showing great motor inside the paint and developing perimeters skills, despite often having to play mainly into the paint. Power forward Leonardo Totè (‘97) left mixed impressions, as he’s still an intriguing prospect giving his size, athleticism and face-up potential, but his inability to put the ball on the floor on a constant basis is a major concern right now.
With solid outside shooting and some good physical play inside, Sweden was able to put around center Simon Birgander (‘97) a quality group who avoided relegation with relative ease. Birgander, who got injured in his fifth game, had a breakout tournament and was among the top performers in Crete: unusually smooth and quick in his movements for a player his size, his activity level in the paint was hard to match on both ends of the floor; he scored easily in the paint, showing good hands to catch and finish, and showed some unexpected ability to put the ball on the floor. Other players performed at a good level in the Swedish roster, the most intriguing flashes being probably displayed by power forward Craig Lecesne (‘97): he has a good combination of size and athletic tools and showed some promise in his face up game.
Montenegro came in Crete with an undersized but tough and dynamic team who put lot of pressure on teams more gifted, both from a size and a talent standpoint. The face of their team was undersized big man Milos Popovic (‘98), a strong player with great motor and extremely physical attitude. Popovic played only five games, but averaged the most minutes in the tournament (38.8 minutes per game); he was highly effective moving without the ball and cutting to the basket to finish around the rim, his ability to play both the high and the low post was a key aspect in his team’s success. He was able also to hit some outside shot, but this is something he’ll further need to work on for his future as a player. Wing Milic Starovlah (‘98) also left good impressions, as a tall and strong wing who was able to make plays attacking the closeout for his team, handle the ball a bit and attack aggressively into the paint.
It was a solid but not great tournament for Ukraine, with Kansas’s standout Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (‘97) surrounded by an athletic and quite deep roster. A dominant athlete who was hardly stoppable in transition at this level of competition, Mykhailiuk made good use of his size and explosiveness to match up against smaller wings, being always extremely aggressive off the dribble and finishing as the tournament’s top scorer (20.4 points per game). His shot selection has improved but is still erratic, and he’ll need to cut down turnovers, another statistic category in which he led by far the competition (6 per game): he has good vision and hands to pass off the dribble, but bad timing in his passes makes up for a good amount of his turnovers. 7’1 center Dmytro Skapintsev (‘98) had a solid tournament, showing good activity level and finishing strong in the paint, having also the ability to catch and score above the rim. His explosiveness and mobility for his size are still intriguing if properly developed, but looks like the amount of weight he has added lately is hurting his quickness and coordination. Big man Sergiy Pavlov (‘97) showed a good array of offensive skills, being able to score both from the perimeter and in the low post, and his IQ and instincts for the game where often above average for this level of competition. He lacks some explosiveness to beat his man off the dribble on the perimeter and to finish strong in the crowded paint, but his ball skills and solid footwork still make him valuable.
Turkey wasn’t consistently able to take advantage from a team gifted with above average size, lacking some toughness and consistency during the tournament. Center Omer Yurtseven (‘98) had a very good showing on the offensive end, using his wide array of moves and soft touch to finish in multiple different situations; his lack of aggressiveness is still a concern though, as he was often overmatched by opposing big men, particularly in the first games of the tournament. He’ll need to also work on his defensive effort and focus to maximize his high level potential. 76ers’ Furkan Korkmaz (‘97) missed the first two games of the tournament and wasn’t at his best for couple more, as he came to Crete straight from the USA after having played the NBA Summer League. He brought a burst of confidence and a major scoring option in the backcourt in the last three games, being able to consistently create and be effective with his size and length. Wing Egehan Arna (‘97) had a very good tournament, despite streaky shooting: his aggressiveness off the dribble and scoring attacking the rim were a major backcourt option for his team, and his size and mobility brought also a much-needed defensive presence.
A disciplined but not overly talented team, Iceland was able to grab the 8th spot while being led by 7’1 center Tryggvi Hlinason (‘97), the main story of the tournament given his amazing development over the last two years. Hlinason ended up averaging 16.1 points, 11.6 rebounds (4.7 on the offensive end), 1.9 assists and 3.1 blocks, earning a spot in the All-Tournament Team. His combination of strength, reactivity and quickness on offense made him extremely hard to match on cuts and P&R sets, and he was a major force crashing the offensive glass even outside of his area. He has strong hands to catch the ball even in difficult situations, and he was able to finish easily around the basket with both ends, also playing above the rim with ease. His lateral mobility is still below average and he’ll need to work on lower his centre of gravity on defense, but he was surely among the most intriguing prospects in the tournament. Wing Thorir Thorbjarnarson (‘98) didn’t have his best scoring performance in Crete, but his instincts and craftiness off the dribble are interesting, and he made a bunch of solid plays attacking the closeout or playing some side P&R.
Germany had a good showing in the tournament, despite having a roster not filled with scorers and which relied a lot on power forward Moritz Wagner (‘97) on offense. Wagner started slow in Crete, but increased the level of his performances in the last games, being extremely effective when playing the 5 in small lineups. His outside shot didn’t fall, but he was hard to stop when facing the basket inside the arc, hitting mid-range jumpers with ease and being able to comfortably attack off the dribble the recovering defense. His defensive impact was erratic, not always looking committed to use his body to stand physical contacts. Center Leon Kratzer (‘97) was solid, playing with impressive motor and physical attitude, but his range on offense is extremely limited and his ability to finish inside still below average. Small forward Karim Jallow (‘97) had again some impressive showing on defense, thanks to his above average physical and athletic combination, but still has to find a role on offense: his shooting looked improve (71.4% from the free throw line), but he still lacks consistent ball skills to be a constant threat even in basic off the catch situations. Wing David Kramer (‘97) was a unexpected key factor for Germany: not much of a ball-handler, he was extremely effective as a spot up shooter and attacking the closeout, playing also aggressive defense on the other end.
Featuring a physically gifted team but lacking elite ability to create in the backcourt, Lithuania put often on the court big, powerful lineups which lacked quality ball-handlers on offense. Top prospect in the team was 7’0 center Laurynas Birutis (‘97), who as the main scoring option for his team averaged 17 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Birutis’ footwork and soft touch with both hands around the rim are interesting tools, and he still has an intriguing combination of mobility and size to finish off dynamic situations. But looks like his added weight limits him on defense, where he struggled to contain a smaller and quicker Israeli team. Big man Martynas Echodas (‘97) was the top scorer for Lithuania and averaged 17.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game in the tournament: a player with impressive motor and physical attitude, his activity level in the paint leads him to get a lot of clean looks inside which he can finish powerfully even inside a crowded paint. Still in between the two frontcourt positions, lacking ball skills to consistently play the 4 spot, his instincts for the game and non-stop effort still makes him a valuable prospect. Wing Martynas Varnas (‘97) left mixed impressions: he was asked to handle the ball too much, as he showed to lack the needed ball-handling and change of pace off the dribble to be a creator in the backcourt, but he was effective with his jump shot and playing off the catch, finishing as the top three point shooter for his team.
In a Serbian team which lost only two games in the tournament, the most pleasing surprise was the improvement of wing Vanja Marinkovic (’97) as a ball-handler and P&R player: coming from being mainly an off the ball player, Marinkovic acted often as the primary ball-handler for his team in Crete. He still lacks elite change of pace off the dribble, but showed great patience and awareness, using crafty starts and stops to gain advantage over his defender, good body control to change direction and score in the paint and solid vision to pass the ball coming out of the ball screen. Adding this off the dribble dimension to his outstanding shooting ability and good physical base is something extremely intriguing for his future development. Big man Nikola Tanaskovic (‘97) had a breakout tournament in Crete, playing aggressively all the time, running the floor hard in transition and finishing few athletic plays: a lefty inside player who lacks a reliable perimeter dimension, he’s a smart contributor who plays within his limits and makes lot of intangible plays at the right moment. Point guard Stefan Peno (‘97) once again put on the floor up and down performances, being effective with his quickness and creativity but at the same time struggling in scoring at a decent rate. Power forward Borisa Simanic (‘98), who played in only four games, showed some flash of aggressiveness and commitment, but overall lacked the mental focus to play extended minutes.
Spain ended up in 4th place, losing the last two games in the tournament. Wing Santiago Yusta (‘97) started strong in Crete, underperforming in the two losses for his team: an off the ball player gifted with size and athleticism, he was effective attacking the closeout and filling the lanes in transition, finishing a good number of athletic plays. The best news from him was his shooting consistency in the tournament, as he shot almost 45% from beyond the arc on 4.1 attempts per game. Center Ramon Vila (‘97) had a good impact in the paint, not playing above the rim but using well his strong body to fight and get position inside. His upside is limited, giving his average size and explosiveness, but he has effective shooting touch around the basket and can finish with both hands. Power forward Marc Marti (‘97) was another key piece for Spain, playing mainly on the perimeter but showing a smooth jumper from both mid and long range.
In a French team which lost only one game in the tournament, big man Amine Noua (’97) was the best performer, averaging 12.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1 block per game while shooting 53% from the field, and ended up in the All-Tournament Team. A strong but not very explosive player, Noua showed physical attitude to battle inside and good rebounding instincts, finishing at an excellent rate inside and showing solid consistency in his jump shot. He’s an effective first middle runner in transition, often leaking out and outrunning other players on the court; he’ll need to work on his lateral quickness, as so far he’s not explosive enough to efficiently guard on the perimeter. Guard Elie Okobo (‘97) wasn’t always aggressive in Crete and tended to settle on pull up jumpers. He’s still in between the two guard positions, but showed good pace and vision playing as a point guard. Power forward Digue Diawara (‘98) played both forward spots, being effective attacking from spot up situations, shooting off the catch and running the floor in transition. His body is still too skinny though, and he struggled to have an impact inside the paint and to absorb contacts when attacking.
The most pleasing surprise in the tournament was a well-coached Israeli team, able to play up-tempo basketball with good spacing and ball movement, taking open shots without hesitation. The main performer for Israel was point guard Tamir Blatt (‘97), who earned a spot in the All-Tournament Team. Blatt was the best point guard in Crete and averaged 16 points, 4.6 rebounds, 10.1 assists and 1.3 steals, while shooting 43.2% from beyond the arc. He lacks above average explosiveness, and his body isn’t the most athletic one, something which limits his potential; but he’s an impressive P&R player, with great court vision and fundamentals, who always showed the right timing to change pace and turn the corner. He was able to easily find his cutting teammates in the paint and showed elite court vision to find the open man on the perimeter as well; not the best finisher inside the paint, he showed as well deep range from well beyond the arc. Wing Yovel Zoosman (‘98) also had an impressive showing in Crete, shooting very well the ball from outside and being able to make plays attacking the closeout or off the dribble, despite lacking elite explosiveness and change of pace. He was able to run the transition right off the defensive rebound, and finished a good number of plays also filling the lanes. He was also the best defender for Israel, with high-level instincts in using his size and length. Center Daniel Koperberg (‘97) showed some promise as well, as an explosive big man able to run the court and cut hard to the basket, finishing well off the P&R and being able to play above the rim.
Home team of Greece won it all going unbeaten in Crete, with couple of impressive comebacks during the run to the title. Power forward Vasileios Charalampopoulos (‘97) earned his third consecutive MVP over the last three years in FIBA youth competitions, leading his team in points (14.4), rebounds (5.9) and assists (4) per game. Opponents were never able to solve his versatility, as he was able to comfortable playing both in the post and on the perimeter, both rolling or popping after screens, shooting almost 44% from outside, attacking every mismatch and passing the ball with impressive vision and timing out of opponent’s defensive adjustment; the turning point for Greece in the tournament was when they started to play a large amount of minutes with him as a center, being Charalampopoulos able to guard the position at this level of competition thanks to his strong body, and at the same time to switch on the perimeter and defend the P&R. Point guard Antonios Koniaris (‘97) also was named to the All-Tournament Team: a key emotional leader for Greece, he played with great poise and showed good decision making on offense, as a methodical P&R player with excellent timing as a passer; he also shot an impressive 18/33 (54.5%) from beyond the arc, with his best shooting performances coming in the most important games. His defensive presence was as well extremely important, he put pressure on opposing ball-handlers, was able to guard both backcourt positions and was always a threat with his length and quick hands, generating deflections and turnovers. Center Vasileos Christidis (‘98) had a solid impact as well, a strong big man with solid footwork and defensive presence who finished well around the rim.
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