Unfortunately, this hasnt resulted in a particularly interesting edition; actually, it probably qualifies as the poorest in several years. However, an excellent final, where FMP Zeleznik brilliantly beat Real Madrid, came to rescue the tourney from mediocrity and left a final sweet taste.
The selection of foreign teams for this edition looked significantly better than last year.
The Balkan teams were good calls. FMP Zeleznik, one of the best talent producers in the recent years all over Europe, is a very competitive team and proved it by coming away with the title. Cibona, a young squad featuring intriguing potential, made it to the semifinals but couldnt battle against its own immaturity and a plague of injuries. CSKA was a questionable pick, as the Russian powerhouse seems to be paying less attention to its junior squad lately (the extremely powerful junior crops they had in 2004 and 2005 seem very distant now). PAOK struggled a lot as expected; they barely featured any player from the Greek National Teams and, regardless, this Greek class doesnt look intriguing at all. At least, Charalampos Giannopoulos (a sort of poor-mans version of last-years Bojan Bogdanovic who led the tournament in scoring with 23.3 ppg and 10.3 rpg while showing a nice perimeter stroke) saved them from total oblivion. Actually, CSKA and PAOK finished in the last two positions.
Anyway, we missed a top-notch foreign team like Olimpija Ljubljana in 2002, Oak Hill in 2004 or CSKA Moscow in 2005 to be remembered for years to come. Our particular wish list for this year included the likes of Zalgiris or INSEP, teams that would have likely provided more competitiveness and intrigue, but we dont have any idea about the politics behind the selections and the availability of these teams to come to LHospitalet.
In the Spanish front there was one clear favorite in advance, Real Madrid. They even headed the final as favorites, but foul trouble and lack of depth in the frontcourt enabled MVP Milan Macvan to lead FMP to victory. Besides Real Madrid, only Winterthur F.C.Barcelona looked like a potential contender, but as usual, they severely underachieved. Both powerhouses have in common a policy of importing big names to their youth squads. Actually, most Spanish teams are following this trend with more or less intensity.
Still, not enough to overcome a very poor class. 1989 and 1990 look like rather weak years for European basketball so far. The last two editions of the U-16 European Championships did suggest it, and not many names have emerged since.
Also, it didnt help that a few interesting guys couldnt make it to the tourney. Semen Shashkov, although already recovered, stayed in Moscow due a minor knee injury. Neither was Serbian center Dejan Musli, perhaps the top European player born in 1991, able to travel, and actually he will be sidelined for a month. In Barcelonas bench, but not dressed to play, Michel Diouff was the third big absence.
None of them was as missed as much as Ricky Rubio, though. The Spanish wonder boy, who attended a few games from the stands, was meant to dominate this edition, but settling down as an important piece for DKV Joventut in the ACB and Euroleague made it impossible. Actually, he might have changed our entire perception on the tournament had he played.
Anyway, a very big chunk of the most interesting action seen in LHospitalet came from the Balkans. Lets take a look why.
THE BALKAN INFLUX: MILAN MACVAN
However, lets leave clear that Macvan is not what youd typically call an NBA prospect. A 6-9 big man, hes a versatile guy who perfectly combines his outside-inside game, takes advantage of his big body and shows a terrific basketball IQ. But athleticism-wise, he just does not seem to make the cut for a hypothetical future in the worlds most powerful and athletic league. Still, hes a guy who will surely make a very nice career in Europe.
Macvan was the centerpiece of FMP. A lot of his teams game run through him or finished with him. Actually, he played a lot of point forward, even occasionally taking the ball up-court and distributing it from the arc. Milan enjoys a very solid skill set. He can easily put the ball on the floor, has a nice stroke out to the three-point line (with some off-the-dribble skills) and hes pretty effective from the low post, particularly because he uses his very wide and strong body very well. Anyway, hes not really a great one-on-one scorer, and this is where his passing ability chimes in. Its probably the most surprising part about his game. Particularly, he likes to attack his matchup from the high post to unbalance the defense and feed a teammate, but hes also pretty effective distributing from the low post, from the arc or in transition.
A very smart guy who perfectly knows the game, his character looks rather odd. He surprised the audience with his reactions on court (it was difficult to tell whether he was celebrating his plays or just joking), but he was the only player receiving a long ovation. His final averages where 22.5 ppg, 17.7 rpg (leading the tournament) and 4.5 apg.
Macvan aside, there were no big names in FMP, but a bunch of very nice and solid players. Still, lets mention Branislav Dekic, an extremely immature 6-9 1991-born power forward who might develop into an interesting player.
THE BALKAN INFLUX: POTENTIAL FROM CIBONA
Precisely Zubcic is one of the players that enjoy the biggest potential among all the tournament participants. We had introduced him following his performance in the U-16 European Championship last summer, and he didnt show anything we didnt know in advance.
The Croatian forward is a skinny player 6-10 and who likes to face the basket (in part due to his own physical immaturity). Able to beat his opponents off the dribble (thanks to a nice first step and crossover dribble), he enjoys nice athleticism and a decent, albeit very inconsistent, perimeter shot. Regularly outmuscled and suffering on defense from his poor lateral quickness, foul trouble didnt allow him to contribute as expected. His stat line, 9.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
With no previous experience in big tournaments with the Croatian National Team, we hope to see him again this summer in the U-18 European Championship.
THE BALKAN INFLUX: SPANISH IMPORTS
Not every former Yugoslavian player came from a Balkan squad. The best-two wing junior prospects in the area are under contract with Spanish teams, and both showed up in LHospitalet.
Of course, Bogdanovic is the same very fundamentally sound player, but he keeps struggling in certain areas. Particularly, his perimeter stroke hasnt gained a bit of consistency and he occasionally suffered trying to get past his opponents off the dribble. He does not have any trouble with enough spaces or in transition, but when he needs an extra degree of explosiveness, its not so easy for him. We had always praised his excellent footwork in the slashing department; well, he put it to good use also in the low post. Actually, Bojan played some power forward and eventually center given the thin Real Madrid frontcourt. He looked surprisingly comfortable there, showing good moves and resources to score over his rivals with a nice soft touch, while he contributed greatly in the rebounding department. Actually, standing 6-7, he might be heading towards the small forward position. Bogdanovic also showed an improved use of his left hand finishing near the rim.
It was a nice performance he averaged 18.7 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists- but perhaps not as intriguing as expected.
A regular starter in the top Balkan competition, Djedovic showed a very uncommon maturity on court for such a young kid (1990 born). Nicely athletic and quite strong for his age, hes a smart and very complete wing who displayed almost everything you can ask for this type of player. Basketball seems easy for him and he looks very natural playing the game. A quick guy, he was rather aggressive attacking his matchups with nice explosiveness, being quite effective finishing himself but particularly shining while finding his teammates open in the perimeter. All in all, hes a very good passer and decision maker. Djedovic also qualifies as a nice shooter despite looking a bit inconsistent. However, he has a very quick release and enjoys the ability of shooting off the dribble.
We have to devote special attention to the level of activity he shows on a regular basis. Nihad is restless, appears everywhere on court, never hiding himself on the offensive end and doing a terrific job on defense. Hes quick on his moves, aggressive on the ball, and takes care of team defense, always willing to give a hand. Indeed, he got in foul trouble as a result in some games, limiting his minutes on the court (he finished averaging 14.2 points and 4.2 rebounds).
Despite all these accolades, which point towards an excellent career in the international scene, Djedovics NBA potential appears rather diffuse. His athleticism, even if good for European standards, doesnt get to whats usually required to fill the most athletically demanding position, shooting guard. Perhaps depurating his shooting abilities he could make himself room as a specialist, but its a long shot, and still too early to reach any solid conclusions.
A growing trend, Spanish teams are turning their eyes to the potential of Africa, looking for the size they cant always find at home. Its quite an unexplored path, following the steps of high school and college basketball in the USA.
With Michel Diouff sidelined in Winterthur F.C.Barcelona due injury, three other African players stepped on the LHospitalet floor.
The second guy is Gora Gueye, almost seven feet tall, born in 1989, who shows a good frame and nice athleticism, but who does not know how to play the game.
When Mamadou left the paint to play facing the basket, usually deep into the game, things went a bit better. For one, he showed a very nice perimeter stroke. Samb enjoys three-point range and a good form on his jumper. However, there wasnt much more to speak of. He barely put the ball on the floor, and when he did, it wasnt pretty. On defense he gets regularly outsmarted, biting on almost every pump fake. Hes a very athletic 6-10 player with a great wingspan, so obviously he gets a fair share of blocks and rebounds, but hes far from maximizing his efforts. Another issue is his size; we were hoping to see him on his way to a growth spurt considering his youth and the fact that his brother Cheick Samb (selected by the Pistons in last years second round) stands 7-1. But he doesnt seem to have grown from last year.
Mamadou averaged 15.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in the tournament. All in all, we can only say that his performance was certainly disappointing, despite having learnt that his knee was bothering him (the doctors had to extract him liquid from his knee before the tournament started so he could play).