U-18 European Championship: The Wings

U-18 European Championship: The Wings
Aug 31, 2007, 11:58 am
All photos courtesy of FIBA Europe.

Although two of the players featured here, Edwin Jackson and Dairis Bertans, were rightfully rewarded with all-tournament-team honors, you won’t find any clear-cut top NBA prospects on this list. The superb streak of small forward projects seen in the 1987 and 1988 classes hasn’t found continuity in the 89/90 age groups. It’s mostly a collection of promising shooters that should be able to feed the European ranks with firepower for years to come.

1989, SG, 6-3, France; 18.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg


This was a rather streaky showing by Edwin Jackson, pretty much in line with what we've come to expect from this player. But still, the great performances outnumbered the poor ones, providing him a spot on the all-tournament team. Finishing as the fifth best scorer in the championship, Jackson delivered five games where he scored over 20 points, while being unable to reach double digits in the remaining three. When he’s on fire, it’s really difficult to stop him, but he doesn’t always find the rhythm.

In spite of being the clear-cut scoring leader for France, Jackson failed to emerge as a go-to player. He was not a go-to guy in style: he’s not particularly creative, and when he creates, it’s for himself, even if he fared a bit better in this championship when it came to passing the ball (1.8 assists per game, quite a nice amount for him). He was neither a go-to guy when his team needed him to be, as he usually disappeared down the stretch in the most important games. A good example was the do-or-die thriller against Greece. Despite delivering a terrific scoring performance with 28 points on 12/17 shooting, he provided his last points with three and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter (actually his only points in the last five minutes of the game). In the end, he’s a bit of a role player, a shooter, a scorer, still not a leader, and not a consistent reference on the court.

Focusing on his game, we’ll rely in what we already discussed in the U-19 World Championship reports. But for the sake of providing a brief picture here, we’ll summarize. He’s an undersized shooting guard, quite strong, athletic, with very good legs, who primarily lives off his jumper. Pretty much a pure finisher, he can deliver his jumper off the dribble (using crossovers to unbalance his defender), off screens, in spot-up fashion, almost in any way he can figure out. He has a great ability to balance himself in the air for the release. Pretty one-dimensional, he can slash towards the basket and isn’t afraid of contact, but it’s not a pattern in his game. Solid on defense, he’s not your typical scorer that only plays on one side of the court.

In the end, a guy with his shooting touch and solid athleticism should find himself a place in the basketball elite.

1989, SG, 6-3, Latvia; 17.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg


Earning a very well-deserved spot on the all-tournament team, Bertans was the heart and soul of the Latvian team that surprisingly clinched the Bronze medal. Nobody expected such an excellent performance from the Baltic team, and Bertans himself exceeded the hopes we had from him. Unlike Jackson, Bertans was a real go-to player for his team, a catalyst that regularly created options for himself and his teammates. While sitting on the bench, Latvia was often helpless trying to get anything going on the offensive end. This is the third tournament where we see this undersized shooting guard, and although he proved to be a very solid shooter and scorer at U-16 stage, his physical profile raised doubts about his ability to adapt to older categories. But Bertans showed up in Madrid in enviable shape, showcasing significantly improved athleticism and, particularly, excellent reactivity, that allowed him to stay extremely active all over the court.

Long armed, still skinny but nicely built, Bertans stayed very active and aggressive playing off the dribble. He showed very nice ball-handling skills to attack his match-ups, ability to change direction and gears, usually looking for the pass or the mid-range jumper. Dairis is a very nice shooter, solid from behind the arc and able to knock down complicated off-the-dribble attempts. Still he often overdid himself, abusing his ball-handling skills and taking bad shots, which ultimately affected his percentages (also decimated by the scarce amount of short range attempts at the basket) but still it worked pretty well for his team, as he drew a lot of attention from opposing defenses and opened spaces for his teammates. A decent passer from the wing, he found his teammates on drive and dish plays on a regular basis. He also contributed on defense, using his quick legs to stay in front of his match-up and help on team rotations.

His potential is obviously limited by his lack of size. He’s neither very imposing physically, and while his athleticism is nice, we’re not talking about an athletic freak. Summarizing, he basically looks like a prospect for Europe.

1989, SF, 6-8, Russia; 9.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg


Just like he did back in May in the Euroleague Junior Tournament, Shashkov again delivered another extremely inconsistent performance. Enjoying only a couple of good games, he struggled for the most part to get any kind of game rhythm. And while he shows some of the best potential in his age group, his apparent lack of competitiveness and any kind of steadiness results into a very big question mark.

His conditions to play the game are awesome. He’s a big guy at 6-8 with very solid athleticism and an excellent frame, precisely in the mold of so many Russian small forwards over the last years. He’s a guy with a pretty complete package, although all his tools seem fairly raw. He can shoot the ball with range and in off-the-dribble fashion, but he’s very streaky. He can attack his match-ups putting the ball on the floor and going both ways, but he still needs to be more aggressive in his attempts. He can finish around the rim with both hands. He displays the abilities of a perimeter player, but played a lot of power forward in the tournament, which didn’t help him. Shashkov is not much of a post player, where he doesn’t show reliable footwork, unless he goes for the turnaround jumper. Also, he’s not a great off-the-ball player, sometimes staying too static. He’s quick enough on defense to match-up against perimeter guys, while he’s also a bit too soft to keep up with big men. He can come up with spectacular stuff relying on his length and athleticism, such as dunks or blocks, but those are just isolated reflections of his potential.

Shashkov needs time, work and probably an improved mentality. He has the tools, he seems to understand the game, and just needs to put everything together. Few guys in this tournament enjoy his potential, but it’s very questionable whether he will be able to fulfill it.

1990, SG, 6-4, Bulgaria; 23.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg


The second best scorer in the championship, Zahariev was left too open on the Bulgarian team when it came to being picked up on the perimeter. He didn’t seem to care too much and was pretty effective taking advantage.

Although an undersized shooting guard (he’s 6-4 at best), and not a great athlete, Zahariev is a very smooth shooter, gifted with a silky stroke. He can release his jumper off the dribble, with fade-away moves, coming off a cut, in catch-and-shoot fashion-- he’s always extremely fluid in the release. A solid ball-handler, he’s not particularly prolific attacking the rim, although he can go both ways and finish with a variety of lay-ups and even floaters; still he prefers to settle for mid-range shots once he manages to unbalance his opponent. However, he’s not a dominant ball-handler; he also works off the ball, cutting and searching for open looks.

Zahariev doesn’t seem to enjoy superb potential given his physical profile. Although he’s physically underdeveloped and might grow a little, the final result is not expected to look very NBA friendly. However, given his scoring prowess, he might emerge into a very interesting player for the European scene down the road. Born in 1990, next year he should challenge for the best scorer title in the next edition of this U-18 championship. Euroleague Champions Panathinaikos must have been paying attention, as they already purchased his rights just last week.

1989, SG/SF, 6-5, Serbia; 14.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg


Stepping up from his crucial, but secondary role in the U-19 World Championship, Stojacic was the main scoring sidekick for Macvan on the Serbian team this time, a deadly shooter when left open to compliment the spaces generated by his star teammate.

Stojacic is a wing with the size of a shooting guard, but with little of the creative game you often look for in that position. Not a great slasher, he still can attack his match-ups going both ways, looking for the layup or the pull-up jumper, but rarely to dish the ball to an open teammate. His ball-handling skills and first step are somewhat average, while he’s not that prolific in his drives, preferring to fill the shooting role. That’s where he feels at home, delivering his perfectly shaped jumper, a fluid effort that usually ends up with the ball in the net. He was really effective from three-point range, while he showcased his nice ability to pull up off the dribble, always showing remarkable balance on the release.

A nice defender, Stojacic doesn’t save effort on this end and shows solid lateral quickness. Pretty strong for his age and well-built, he’s not a guy who stands out with his athleticism, but he does enjoy enough to get the job done. Obviously, it does limit his future potential, but there’s no reason to think that he can’t become a very solid player on the European scene.

1989, SF, 6-10, Germany; 9.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg


Perhaps the most freakish combination of size relative to his position, Benzing plays like a real wing despite standing around 6-10. However, he’s a very raw player, particularly in terms of his physical profile. He’s a long and skinny kid who shows a pretty average frame, enough for a perimeter player but rather underwhelming if we envision a possible future at the power forward position. His lack of strength limited his effectiveness on court, not allowing him to operate comfortably on both ends of the court.

Anyway, it’s pretty remarkable to see a 6-10 guy like Benzing putting the ball on the floor as easily as he does. He’s not the quickest guy around, but he can attack the basket going both ways and shows nice footwork. Still, he struggles finishing his slashing attempts, lacking some ability to score around the basket in traffic, but also some aggressiveness to attack the rim. He can pass the ball off the drive with mixed results: his intentions seem pretty interesting, but he’s not that precise with his passes. In the shooting department he looks quite inconsistent. He enjoys range out to the three point line, but his mechanics probably need to be polished. Benzing barely uses his size to post-up his opponents, emerging as virtually a pure face-up player at this point. Perhaps when he gains some strength he will try harder to cash in off his size. Defensively, he enjoys the lateral quickness of a small forward, although again he sometimes gets outmuscled.

A long term prospect, Benzing displays raw, but intriguing characteristics. Still, we’re yet to see how much of that potential he can fulfill, because he looks a bit of a soft player at this point.


Siim-Sander Vene was one of the youngest kids in the tournament and certainly the most interesting Estonian player. Showing good size at 6-6, with a promising frame, he’s a very well built wing with a nice shooting ability. Still not greatly explosive, he struggled trying to beat his opponents off the dribble despite enjoying decent ball-handling skills, opting instead to pull up for mid-range jumper. He’s obviously more of a shooter, showcasing very fluid mechanics in the release regardless of whether he’s firing off the dribble, and range out to the three-point line. All in all, he’s a player with nice potential who is worthy of keeping on the radar, especially given his great youth (almost a cadet playing with juniors).

Charalampos Giannopoulos was one of the best supporting pieces for Kosta Koufos in the Greek team. Early this year he enjoyed a very nice performance at the L’Hospitalet Tournament, where he emerged as the top scorer. Logically not as productive given his secondary role, he still showcased his solid shooting stroke, pretty reliable whenever he was open, displaying also off-the-dribble mechanics. Giannopoulos is more of a shooter than a slasher, and actually his average quickness prevents him from consistently beating his opponents off the dribble, despite showing decent ball-handling skills and solid footwork. Featuring good size at 6-7, he enjoys a notable wingspan and a very interesting frame. Indeed he eventually spent some minutes at the power forward position. He’s a guy who can play off contact and rebounds the ball really well, displaying very nice positioning and using solid leaping ability. Actually, he’s not that bad of an athlete, although neither impressive.

Filip Kruslin delivered pretty much the same stuff he has been showcasing in the past year. He’s a very skilled and fundamentally sound player who primarily lives off his shooting touch. Enjoying fluid mechanics, he’s extremely solid from any range and also in off the dribble fashion. He often uses a crossover to unbalance his opponent before going up for the jumper. Despite being a solid ball-handler, he’s a poor one-on-one player who can’t beat his opponents on a regular basis, primarily because he’s not a very quick guy. Athleticism is an issue when talking about his potential. Anyway, he’s a fairly strong player that can take contact and still score from short distances.

Can Ozcan was the main compliment for Dogus Balbay when it came to scoring points. Displaying a nice combination of size and shooting ability, he’s a clear-cut small forward at 6-8, with limited athleticism, but still enjoying nice mobility to evolve on the court. He can easily put the ball on the floor and attack the basket going both ways. He’s a pretty tough guy, and can go all the way to the basket (being able to finish with both hands), but his average athleticism doesn’t always allow him to beat his match-up. So the most usual strategy for him is to stop at some point off the dribble to deliver his mid-range shot, sometimes even with a fade-away; or he can also force the drive in order to get as close as possible to the basket and then use his superior size to score over his opponent. Still, he’s primarily a shooter, especially a three-point shooter, a bit streaky, but who usually displays solid accuracy when he’s left open. Actually, he often relies on his perimeter stroke excessively and forgets about other offensive options. Not a bad defender, he’s not the quickest guy around when it comes to moving laterally.

Raphael Wilson filled the stereotype of several French players in this tournament: he looked very promising on paper but didn’t deliver on the court as expected. Still the tools and the potential are there. He’s a wing player born in 1989 with an excellent physical profile. Listed at 6-6, he could easily be around 6-7. He enjoys a nice wingspan, a very good frame, and is already rather strong and pretty athletic. Wilson can attack the basket going both ways, although his average ball-handling skills limited his activity. Instead, he mostly settled for jumpers, showing three-point range and off-the-dribble ability from mid-range. Despite some nice passes, he doesn’t look particularly creative, and, on top of it, he leaves a feeling of coldness, of a player who’s not very involved in what’s happening on the court.

Elias Harris showed up for this championship considerably stronger than we had seen him last year, still athletic and explosive, pretty reactive also, but probably less fluid in his moves. He played full time as an inside player, although he also showed his increased shooting range, netting some three-pointers with apparent easiness. Still he shows very little stuff off the dribble and not a particularly great feel for the game. At around 6-7, he’s undersized to play inside at a top level. We were certainly expecting a more skilled player at this point.

Recent articles

4.7 Points
1.0 Rebounds
1.3 Assists
5.1 PER
14.0 Points
0.0 Rebounds
2.0 Assists
54.0 PER
16.0 Points
8.3 Rebounds
1.7 Assists
32.9 PER
0.4 Points
0.6 Rebounds
0.6 Assists
6.3 PER

Twitter @DraftExpress

DraftExpress Shop