We are approaching U19 World Championship which will tip off tommorrow in Heraklion, Greece. Below we are presenting our usual rundown on the most talented players from rosters of six participating European teams.
Latvia surprisingly almost won it all at home during U18s. Unfortunately we won’t see fans favourite Arturs Zagars in action this time. Talented playmaker decided to focus on recovery process. During his absence Latvia will have to rely heavily on Baskonia’s lead guard: Arturs Kurucs. Last summer he created with Zagars fantastic duo which to some degree resembled Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez and it will be interesting to see if younger brother of Brooklyn Nets forward will be able to make teammates better on his own. Other notable players are Davids Viksne (guard, warrior spirit, almost died in gas explosion and was back on the court shortly after), Oskars Hlebovickis (swingman with great bloodlines who just recovered after shoulder injury). As much as half of the roster reside in Spain. Other five players besides mentioned Kurucs there are: Ojars Berzins (UCAM Murcia), Valters Veveris (Andorra), Anrijs Miska (Fuenlabrada), Armands Berkis (Andorra) & Marcis Steinbergs (Gran Canaria).
Team will lack star power in Detroit Pistons stash Deividas Sirvydis. It means heavier scoring and playmaking burden for Rokas Jokubaitis. Lefty guard logged over 400 minutes past season under Saras in LKL & Euroleague and this experience will likely be visible on the court in Heraklion. He should be supported in backcourt by tough duo in Dovydas Giedraitis who can shot the ball well + sneaky athletic Domantas Vilys. Swingmen: Martynas Arlauskas (high upside, versatile, Zags commit) and Simas Jarumbauskas (brave and savvy lefty baller) are interesting and will play substantial role as well. In frontcourt there are Erikas Venskus (efficient, great touch, always in the good spot) or Giedrius Bergaudas but as usual strength of Lithuanians will be the teamwork, discipline and lack of weak link.
Undoubtedly main weapon of Russians will be highly touted wing Nikita Mikhailovskii. Prospect who is already fully fledged part of Avtodor Saratov VTB roster played also big minutes internationally in FIBA Europe Cup and was followed by NBA scouts all season long all over the continent. Another well known talent is powerful guard from CSKA Moscow: Aleksandr Ershov. We can also highlight Mikhailovskii’s teammate: Anton Kvitkovskikh, Zakhar Vedishev (talented comboguard with nice stroke, former Montverde, privately son of Lokomotiv Kuban president), Viktor Goldin (muscular center with good length, easy projection for good domestic backup for Russian powerhouses), point guard Alexandr Shcherbenev or wiry inside/out forward from Khimki: Dmitry Khadoshnikov.
Serbians won U18 Championship and their size combined with the talent in the starting lineup is simply tremendous if coach decides to put Uros Trifunovic, Zoran Paunovic, Dalibor Ilic, Marko Pecarski and Filip Petrusev at the same time which often was the case in Riga last summer. Uros Trifunovic had a breakout performance with U18 golden team and his career is progressing nicely as Partizan made him a cornerstone of their affiliated team in KLS (Zemun). Dalibor Ilic possess terrific physical profile and will log big minutes also on PF position, recently he left Igokea to join Mega Bemax. Filip Petrusev had ok freshman year at Gonzaga and after withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft is looking to out up bigger numbers in 19/20. Transition to pro basketball of Marko Pecarski and Zoran Paunovic is going rather slowly. They didn’t have a lot of trust from their coaches in ABA Liga and often struggled during the stretches they spent on the court but should excel in Heraklion at U19 level thanks to veteran like savvyness (Pecarski) and electric ability to get downhill (Paunovic). The most valuable bench players on paper seem Luka Cerovina and Altin Islamovic.
Greece participates in the event thanks to hosting it and was be very far from making it. In fact they would relegate to U18 Division B after being 14th last summer in Riga if they didn’t…host the next championship in that age group. Regardless of that they will have huge support from fanbase which can help a bit down the road. The hottest name is definitely Nikolaos Rogkavopoulos. Long and wiry wing displays NBA physical profile and is great in open court. Comboguard with good size and advanced shot making ability: Nikolaos Arsenopoulos or athletic forward Aristotelis Sotiriou will most likely lead his supporting cast. Honorable mentions should go to Chrystosomos Sandramanis (early bloomer, 2 guard) and Nikolaos Chougaz (tall point guard, son of the coach with long term upside).
French team has all the athleticism and length to match up with American or African teams. Joel Ayayi recently scored 20 pts against Canada in scrimmage and seems like he is poised for another great FIBA youth event after disappointing playing time with Gonzaga. He will share playmaking duties with Kartlon Dimanche who has tremendous wingspan, drive and kick ability but needs to make strides as a shooter. Yohan Choupas is a pesky defender with incredible lateral quickness who may hit some open shots. Kenny Baptiste is a fluid forward with elite measurements whose basketball IQ is still getting there. Last year during Albert Schweitzer Tournament he introduced himself to the international scouts together with Yoan Makoundou who made a roster for U19s as well. Below and above the rim, huge inside presence will be provided by Mathis Dossou Yovo who is tough as a rock. Another raw potential is his back up Florian Leopold.
NOTABLE BASED IN EUROPE:
Leonardo Bolmaro (Argentina), Amar Sylla (Senegal), Khalifa Diop (Senegal), Biram Faye (Senegal), Ibou Dianko Badji (Senegal)