Games will be conducted in Podgorica, Serbia and Montenegro from September 16th to 18th
Read more about the Eurobasket tournament at the informative official website Eurobasket2005.com
Nikola Vujcic, 6-11, Center, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 27 years old
Vujcic plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv, a dominant force in European basketball over the past few years, where he has won the Euroleague title over the past few years playing with a wonderful supporting cast that compliments him to a T, helping him be amongst three Maccabi players named to the All-Euroleague first team this past season. At age 27, he is in his prime and will be expected to play a major role for the Croatians in Belgrade if they are going to be able to overcome their relative lack of experience and reputation for coming up just short when things get close.
Vujcic is a mobile Center who offensively plays more like a Power Forward. He is extremely skilled in most facets here, whether its his ability to put the ball on the floor with surprisingly good ball-handling skills, shoot the ball with decent accuracy all the way out to the three point line, or best of all use his high basketball IQ to pass the ball with purpose taking full advantage of his height. His ability on the pick and roll made this one of the signature plays between him and Sarunas Jasikevicius or Anthony Parker over the last two years with Maccabi. Vujcic also can score with his back to the basket, a skill that could pay great dividends for Croatia should they decide to take advantage of it.
His shortcomings fall in the defensive and rebounding categories mainly. His motor is not off the charts, nor is his level of conditioning, and his play can often be described as extremely soft by people who are used to seeing their big men fight and claw in the paint. His face-up skills often lead him to fade to the perimeter at times, and he does not seem to be the type to demand the ball and change the game by himself as the go-to guy for his team. How well Vujcic can mesh with his teammates leading into this tournament and just how much he will decide to take on his shoulders will play a big role in how far his team can go here in Belgrade. Considering that this is a contract year for Vujcic and Croatia would like nothing more than to stick it to their arch rivals Serbia and Montenegro on their home floor, we might see a Vujcic here who has some more fire in his belly than weve grown accustomed to here in the past. Reports out of Israel this summer quoting his Entersport (led by Marc Fleisher) agent in the States have indicated that Vujcic is more interested in playing in the NBA than hes previously indicated. NBA scouts will surely be watching him closely here at the Eurobasket.
Roko-Leni Ukic, 6-5 PG/SG, Tau Vitoria, 21 years old
Playing for a club which includes no other major talents but him until this summer, Ukic has learnt to do everything on the floor well enough, aided greatly by his superior physical skills. He is a very good, naturally born PG, smart enough to organize the game for his teammates while still finding enough room to get off his shot. His penetration skills are much above average, while his outside shooting has deep, although inconsistent range. His passing is excellent and he really shows flashes of becoming a great PG in the making at times. He can find the open shooters and cutters on his team (with Gordan Giricek being his best weapon lately) and in general his passes are most of the time accurate and his game often makes his teammates shoot confidently.
What he seriously lacks and should become more than obvious in this Eurobasket, his first major career competition, is consistency and mental strength. He simply doesn't seem experienced enough in knowing how to run a team and make good decisions with many different options available offensively at this point, especially a team that needs to play every possession as if it was its last.. Hell make an unbelievable play one moment and then, the next minute make a terrible mistake that easily could have been avoided.
Defensively, Ukic has shown great potential. Although he lacks bulk and experience on this end of the floor, his smarts and mobility help him become a nice defensive contributor and he can do a very good job staying in front of his man. But, once again, one can easily notice that, whenever he gets caught off guard, an opponent can outsmart him easily. In general, a player like him seems destined to succeed in the long-term, but isn't mature enough to lead a contending team right now.
Ukic will stay in the court long enough in this Eurobasket and will probably share time with the older and more mature Zoran Planinic of the New Jersey Nets, who will probably start at the point. Because of the unfortunate injury to sharpshooting guard Marino Bazdaric, Ukic will see even more minutes at either the 1 or the 2 for Croatia. Hes definitely one of the more interesting prospects to look out for here. Tau Vitoria will certainly be keeping a watchful eye.
Marko Tomas, 6-8 SF, Real Madrid, 20 years old
With Croatia, and next season with Real Madrid, he wont enjoy as much ball control, but whenever he does, he will have even more problems to beat his matchup, also not being able to shoot over them as easily. So it will be a matter of adjustment, of learning to play off the ball, in catch and shoot situations, or using cuts to more easily beat his rival. On preparation games he has looked a bit lost in his new role. At least, he has been playing decent defense, and that was another concern regarding his game. Nevertheless, Croatia doesnt enjoy too much depth at the SF position, so Tomas is expected so see some playing time during the tournament. Shooting guard Marino Bazdarics injury could open up even more time for him on the wing next to Gordan Giricek.
Ramunas Siskauskas, 6-6, SG/SF, Benetton Treviso, 27 years old
The 66 natural swingman Ramunas Siskauskas would perfectly blend with the players mentioned above. He always has done so. Siskauskas is your typical team-oriented player, but in this years situation, he could be forced to take the leadership burden onto his shoulders. Being only 27 years old (birthday on September 10th) Ramunas is already called a veteran in the version of the Lithuanian National Team. Hes the only player left from the 2000 Sydney Olympics squad the one which frightened Dream Team for the first time (Lithuania lost by 2 points in the semifinal). His nickname in those days, the Baltic Pippen, reflects the versatility of this interesting player. Siskauskas has a variety of tools in his offensive arsenal: good long-range shooting, decent penetration skills, relying a lot on his athletic ability. He is one of the best perimeter defenders of the team (along with Dainius Salenga), using his long arms and athleticism in that department, allowing him to defend positions from 1 to 3.
With Jasikevicius resting, Lithuania lacks a top class PG. Playmaking itself doesnt give so much problems for a team as this which shares the ball so well, but bringing the ball up the court is a headache arriving with the smallest pressure from the opponent team. Out of necessity on this Lithuanian team, Siskauskas will have to taste PG bread as well. Though most of time he will probably spend in his usual swingman position.
Ramunas, although a highly-gifted player, has earned a reputation throughout his career as one who is content to remaining in the shadow. He will have to demonstrate a lot more assertiveness - even healthy egoism - in order to carry his team in Serbia and Montenegro.
Darjus Lavrinovic, 6-11, PF/C, Zalgiris Kaunas, 25 years old; Ksistof Lavrinovic, 6-11, PF/C, Unics Kazan, 25 years old
The brothers were sued and convicted in a rape case 5 years ago, involving a local girl, with whom they had sexual relationships. The real details of the story still remain murky. It's been speculated that the twins had become targets of blackmail. Actually, the victim allegedly changed her mind during the litigation process and even fictitiously agreed to marry one of the brothers, trying to prove that the sex had been consensual. Nevertheless, the court found the brothers guilty and sentenced them to imprisonment. They disappeared from the public eye for a few years, and during that time the twins spent all their time in jail playing against each other every single day. When they came back, only few could believe their eyes. Remembering only two tall kids with limited potential, people saw two matured players with a nice shooting touch arriving out of nowhere. However the delight of playing was soon stopped for one of the brothers, Darjus, who tore knee ligaments just before the 2003 Eurobasket (he aggravated the same injury in 2004 and started playing again only in January 2005). His brother Ksystof at the time enjoyed a gold medal at the Eurobasket that year in Sweden (though being more of a reserve) and was a much bigger part of the team in the unlucky Athens Olympics showdown for Lithuania. A few months before that Ksistof drew the interest of the Toronto Raptors, who invited him for tryouts, but his past conviction played a part here as he couldnt get a visa in time.
The preparation for this Eurobasket was harmed again when Ksystof suffered a broken nose 3 weeks before the tournament. Lithuanian fans and him are hoping that the rustiness of skipping 12 days and wearing a mask in the remaining practices wont be seen in the Championship. The two brothers have a big task both on offence and defense and will see plenty of time to fulfill it. The upside of the twins is well known for Lithuanians, the duo just needs to show it to the masses and Eurobasket is the right place to do so.
Mehmet Okur, 6-11, Center, Utah Jazz, 26 years old
But the key question is: What about the condition of Okur? Will he last for many minutes? Okur is facing serious conditioning problems since the last European championships in Sweden. This was also the reason why Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was not satisfied with the way Okur came to Utah. Fans often see him dominating the first quarter but for the rest of the game Okur struggles, and badly. Okur now has a special Croatian coach who helps him in this area. It will be very important for Turkish coach Tanjevic to use him as much as he can. With Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu in the mix as well, Turkey does not face any problems with depth at the frontline, but keeping Okur on the court opens up many options for the team which benefits from his versatile play. And it will be very important to create room and position for Okur, too, the because latest games of Turkey showed that the Turkish players are facing serious problems using their big men. Considering also the fact that he is able to collect many assists, Turkey has to deviate from its focus on the forwards and use a smarter inside-out system in hope of seeing a maximum performance by Okur, who will be the key for Turkeys chances here in Serbia and Montenegro.
Cenk Akyol, 6-4, PG/SG, Efes Pilsen, 18 years old
Akyol is a shooting guard with the ability to also run the point very well. He can shoot, penetrate and dish out several assists per game. He is not a spectacular player but everything he does on the court is well considered and often ends up being positive for his team.
In the scenario that Akyol will play in Belgrade it would be obvious that he could have much more room than he was used to playing at the U-18 European Championships in Belgrade. And without any doubt he has shown to be ready to play for this team and be a member for many years.
But there are some critical points. First we have to wait until the final roster will be announced by Tanjevic. It's a big probability that fans will see him on this roster but, not making it shouldn't come as a huge surprise since only 10 of 12 players are safe at the moment. Akyol is tired and had an illness which caused him to be out for few days. So, at the end of the day it will be the coachs decision.
But in case he will be on the roster it will be interesting to see how much playing time he will get. Especially the shooting guard position is filled with very good players like Kutluay and Erdogan. But there is a lack in the roster at the small forward position. For now there is no real small forward who can back up Türkoglu. Akyol might be used as a shooting guard if one of the duo Kutluay-Erdogan will be placed at the three.
The Star: Todor Stoykov, 6-6, SG/SF, Academic Sofia, 28 years old
Stoykov combines his shooting pretty well with his slashing game. Hes a real gunner, perhaps not in the sense of outstanding accuracy, but his peculiar mechanics are rather quick, and he doesnt need too much space to fire, which in the end leads him sometimes to questionable shoti selection. Hes rather quick, and using his good handles, hes a real slashing threat, becoming another source of scoring for him, but also a chance to break defenses and find a teammate open. All in all, hes a bit of a prototype of a shooting guard star: more of a scorer than a shooter, a good slasher and a player who likes to have the ball in his hands. However, hes not a loner out there, playing integrated in the team, being a rather good decision maker despite his eventually poor shooting selection, and in the end hes quite an effective guy. Finally, just in case anybody is wondering, he doesnt feature the kind of athleticism to think about NBA potential.
Deyan Ivanov and Kaloyan Ivanov, 6-9 PFs, Avtodor Saratov, 19 years old
Both are modern power forwards, skilled players that show nice versatility in their game, being able to play in the perimeter or in the paint. They show a decent stroke with three-point range, although they need to gain consistency. They can also put the ball on the floor to penetrate, taking advantage of their nice mobility. Another option is the low post, where they show a few movements. The twins are fundamentally sound players that know the game pretty well; they are nice passers, both from the low or high post, who can read every situation fairly well. Effective rebounders in junior categories, in this much higher stage they may struggle given their average size and underdeveloped body (although they are fairly strong for their age). It wont be much different on defense, where they might be forced to fight with much more mature players. However, they are not soft by any means, and will try their best. All in all, this Bulgarian couple shows a very complete set even if their potential doesnt let us think in a future beyond European basketball. In the end, their athleticism is average and neither is their size anything outstanding. This tournament is a good chance for them to face high level competition, as they regularly play in the Russian second division with Avtodor Saratov.