By Eugenio Agostinelli

The 3rd ANGT stage of this season took place in Kaunas, Lithuania from the 8th to the 10th of February.
Final: Zalgiris Kaunas – Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius 92 - 79
3rd place game: CFBB Paris – Stellazzurra Rome 67 - 49
5th place game: CSKA Moscow – L’Hospitalet 64 - 62
7th place game: Lokomotiv Kuban – DBA Copenhagen 94 - 84

All-Tournament Team: Kerr Kriisa (Zalgiris Kaunas - MVP), Modestas Kancleris (Zalgiris Kaunas), Azuolas Tubelis (Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius), Juhann Begarin (CFBB Paris), Yannick Nzosa (Stellazzurra Rome)

Group A

The host team of Zalgiris Kaunas reached the first place after a 3-0 record in the qualifiers, beating Lietuvos Rytas in the championship game with an almost perfect performance. Estonian point guard Kerr Kriisa (’01) earned the MVP award with a remarkable statline: 19.0 points (shooting 60% 2P and 48% 3P), 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. He led his team to the 1st place with a relentless fighting attitude. Loves to step up in the clutch hitting tough shots. He plays the pick&roll craftly handling with both hands, should dribble less as sometimes breaks up team’s flow. His shooting stroke is pretty fluid and efficient from every range. His skills as a passer are good overall, but transition passing selection is a bit shaky. Pesky defender on the ball, he’s always focused on the game and very talkative with teammates. Forward Modestas Kancleris (’01) has a very intriguing frame with room to fill out. He’s very good at spreading the floor, attacks closeouts with surprisingly good handle for his size despite lacking physicality to absorb contacts. His three-points shot is still in the making: he has a good stroke with a high release, but tends to be streaky off the catch. He showed flashes as a good passer from the post, where he timely seeks cutters or open shooters on weak side. Defensive effort comes and goes: he mainly relies on his length and his good timing for blocks (averaged 2.3 blocks per game). Struggles to switch and stay on guards, his footwork is still inconsistent. Gabrielius Celka (’01) put on the court key effort for his team. He’s a 6’5 forward that plays with high motor, thanks to solid frame and explosiveness. Despite having a weak shooting motion, he was pretty efficient shooting threes off the catch. Able to run ahead of the ball in transition, he can grab it going through contacts and finish around the rim. He ended with 11.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Paulius Murauskas (’04) had only 5 minutes on the court but deserves to be mentioned. The local youngster has a solid body with wide shoulders and long arms. He’s positively confident and self-aware of his skills, and wasn’t afraid to hit a early three-pointer in his first game.
One of the youngest teams in Kaunas was CFBB Paris, which ended with a good 3rd place after beating Stellazzurra Rome thanks to a solid defensive performance. Juhann Begarin (’02) showed glimpses of talent, ending the tournament with 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, adding 4.3 steals and 3.3 assists. His strong frame helps him a lot on defense, as he brings intensity both on and off the ball with steals, blocks and deflections. He has a good attitude on the floor, always focused and ready to step up in crucial moments. Begarin is able to get above the rim easily with both hands, but lacks an explosive first step to beat his man anytime. His shooting stroke is not broken at all, but struggles hitting threes off the catch. He plays with unselfishness, gives rhythm to spot up shooters or big men moving in the paint, but his passing selection is shaky when doubleteamed. Timothe Crusol (’01) had a sizeable impact in his team’s chemistry. He uses properly his body to take advantage against smaller guys. He’s not well-known for his three-point accuracy, but was quite a threat shooting off the catch (31% from distance). His hooting stroke is not natural, release is a bit slow. He’s pretty poised handling the ball, knows when to push the tempo or attack in early transition and has a good court vision. The use of his off hand is questionable, especially against pressure. Among big men, Maxime Carene (’01), listed at 6’10, was one of the most intriguing ones. His frame is still skinny but has room to fill out: wide shoulders and wingspan, light foot, good leaper. He’s still an average rim protector, his length is a factor but must learn how to use it properly. He has good instincts for rebounds on both ends, never backing away from contacts around the rim. Carene excels in moving off the ball, finding the best spot to get the ball behind the defense. Offensively he has limited solutions, but has potential to build some midrange shooting.

L’Hospitalet traveled for the first time outside Catalunya to play an ANGT stage. The team lacks physicality and athleticism, but loves playing high motor and finding quick buckets. Mauro Abad (’01) brought a great effort coming off the bench, averaging 17.0 points (with a solid 50% from distance) and 3.8 assists. He’s a fearless slasher, loves leading the break and driving through contact, he was the player with the highest number of free throws attempted. His impact on defense is pretty much limited, as he’s a guard listed at 6’0 and too skinny to be able to stay on physical guards. Daniil Cherneha (’01) is a tough guy to guard for a big man. He’s able to finish smoothly around the rim or spread the floor with a solid outside shot. His body lacks explosiveness and his physical tools are weak, as he struggles to finish against length in the paint. Smart playing the pick&roll, reads situation and he’s able to both pop or finish in short rolls. Isaac Mayo (’01) also had a good impact for his team, bringing toughness on defense and under the boards. He played aggressively attacking the rim off the dribble, finding his way to the rim absorbing contacts. Mayo can spread the floor well thanks to his three-points shot, but accuracy was extremely low during this tournament (23% in 4 games). Nice effort crashing the boards on both ends, he can finish with soft touch over defenders despite being not physically gifted measuring 6’4.

Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar was one of the less talented teams in the Lithuanian stage, finishing 7th and getting their only win in the last day. Big man Egor Sychkov (’01) took the spotlight with his skills: listed at 6’8 with chances to grow more, he’s able to stretch the floor with his long-distance accuracy (7/14 from long range) or attack closeouts handling the ball surprisingly well. He sets solid screens and takes deep position after the pick&roll, but lacks a wide skillset to finish inside the paint. Defensively active, has good timing for weak side helps and deflections. His passing skills and court vision are above average, he can kick the ball out from the post or hit cutters from the top. Swingman Gleb Bednyakov (’01) has good size for his position, still a skinny frame but long arms and wide shoulder. He has an interesting array of moves, uses properly his body in the low post shooting above defense or fading away from it. He’s able to find his own way to the rim with good handle, using equally both hands to finish. His shooting motion is not that natural and release is slow, so his jump shot efficiency comes and goes. Bednyakov struggles moving the ball when double-teamed, committing many turnovers, but has good passing skills overall especially out of the pick&roll. Guard Daniil Sereda (’01) effort was erratic during the whole tournament, but he established himself as a threat from distance. He ended the stage shooting 60% from 3-points range, the second best shooter in the competition.

Group B

Last year’s champions Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius were expected to make a run for the first spot also this year, but the injury of Marek Blazevic (’01) in the semifinal changed the odds.The 6’10 big man at this level has a strong impact on both ends of the floor. His post-up skills are extremely efficient, as he uses well his strong frame to get deep position and finish smoothly with both hands. Blazevic is an above-average passer for his size, reading defensive rotations and seeking shooters/cutters from low or high post. Defensively he’s tough to overcome in the paint, but he’s still not a big time shot blocker due to his lack of explosiveness. Ended the tournament with 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds in only 21 minutes, being the second best offensive rebounder with 3.6 per game. Forward Azuolas Tubelis (’02) dazzled everyone in Zalgirio Arena with his explosiveness and his improved skillset. He plays with impressive high motor on both ends of the court, running hard in fastbreak and recovering with big time chase down blocks on defense. Thanks to his powerful frame and nimbleness he can guard multiple positions on defense, and his athleticism allows him to fly above the rim and finish with contacts pretty well. His outside shot lacks accuracy, but he already has a decent stroke to start working on it. Lefty, he handles the ball surprisingly well but must improve in his off hand. Augustas Marciulionis (’02) had an important role in his team’s chemistry. Point guard listed at 6’2, he’s the vocal leader of the team. He has a great ability to hit the best positioned teammate playing simple, but in transition sometimes forces passes ending with turnovers. His outside shot is quite good, but he lacks burst to beat his man changing pace off the dribble. Guard Mantas Rubstavicius (’02) also deserves a mention, being a key player off the bench for Rytas. He’s able to fill the stats sheet thanks to his scoring abilities and his self-awareness, being fearless of contacts driving at the rim despite having a skinny frame.

The Italian side Stellazzurra Rome failed its run to the championship game due to few health problems during the competition, struggling to find the right chemistry on the court. All-Tournament Team member Yannick Nzosa (’03) was the most tantalizing prospect in Stellazzurra, and he didn’t fail living up to the expectations. His frame is skinny but incredibly wide, his impressive footwork allows him to switch on the pick&roll staying with guards. He’s a threat protecting the rim but must learn how to use his body in the best way, as he gets into fouls trouble very early. He makes smart movements off the ball, can finish against length also dunking on defenders. Finishing with his right hand is still hard for Nzosa, as he prefers to turn on his right shoulder and go for lefty baby hooks. He always takes good positioning to grab boards, boxing out his man and grabbing the ball at a very high point. Leo Menalo (’02) struggled during the whole tournament, but it’s clear he has huge upside. The Croatian guy is a swingman listed at 6’9 with smooth handle and an unusual array of moves, with a dazzling feel for the game. He can grab the ball and lead the fastbreak with ease, attacking his man with sudden change of pace getting to the rim. His shooting stroke is pretty clean, he can also hit pull-ups from distance. The most disappointing feature is his attitude: he often looks soft and seems to lack mental toughness. Abramo Pene (’02) had to fight against a bad flu from Thursday to Sunday, and he was visibly exhausted in games against CFBB Paris and Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. He plays with remarkable attitude and high motor on both halfcourts. He’s always focused on and off the ball denying every passing lane, while he rarely commits turnovers on offense. Pene loves running hard the court, trying to get through defense and finish at the rim with great burst. Special mention for Nicola Giordano (’03), a 6’0 guard who stepped up and put together solid performances, getting his job done on both ends of the court. He finished with 12.5 points, shooting 55% from inside and 50% from outside the perimeter.

CSKA Moscow could count on their size and physicality, but lacked talent and depth in their roster to be a serious contender for the crown. Vladislav Goldin (’01) brought a solid effort despite a low playing time, being a tough guy to overcome inside the paint. Listed at 6’11, he has great timing for blocks (4.8 blocks per 40’), affecting almost every shot around the rim. Goldin mobility is good given his size, he’s able to roll at the rim pretty well and catch very high lobs. His touch from inside the paint is decent, but  his skillset is quite limited as he lacks a decent midrange game. Size helps him a lot rebounding the ball, but he also has good feel for positioning and timing to grab offensive boards. Good attitude on and off the court, pushes his teammates from the bench. Big man Viktor Lakhin (’01) came up a bit short in relation to the expectations. He has a wide and solid frame measuring 6’9 with long arms, but he’s still somewhere between the 4 and the 5. He can attack slower opponents off the dribble, but loses too easily his balance getting nudged in the paint, and his 47% from 2-points range is way below average. Lakhin seems to get nervous very easily, playing too soft for a guy with that body. Should develop a decent mid/long range game to be less predictable.

Danish team DBA Copenhagen participated for the first time in an ANGT Qualifier. The level of physicality was lethal for them, as they were unable to match the average size of their opponents. Jonathan Klussmann (’02) had a good showing, ending the tournament with 24.7 points, 4.7 assists and 7.7 fouls drawn per game. He’s a natural ball-handler who can change pace off the dribble, using his bulky but short body to drive through traffic. Klussmann brings a solid amount of energy on both ends, being pesky on the ball and pushing the break anytime he can. His decision making is still shaky, forces shots in the paint instead of kicking the ball out. Shooting motion is solid, quick release off the catch. Gustav Knudsen-Lund (’03) is a forward with an extremely interesting frame measuring 6’8, and he showed glimpses of talent with a proper use of his wide body and athleticism. His offensive skillset is limited, but has nice burst to beat his man and finish with explosive dunks above the rim. He crashes the boards well, diving and fighting for every loose ball and being the last to give up. His shooting motion is unnatural and pretty weak pulling up off the dribble, but can hit spot up shots off the catch. His focus on defense comes and goes, especially off the ball where he gets punished with backdoor cuts.

Photo by: photo Zalgiris