Its been a couple of months since Serbia and Montenegro won the gold at the U-20 European Championships, and despite the fact that DraftExpress couldnt be in Turkey to watch it live, we take a look at some of the players that shined there by taking advantage of footage we were able to acquire.
This stage lacks the tradition and importance of the junior (U-18) championship. Many players reach an age in which, if they are really good, they get invited to the senior National Teams, so most of the squads were left without their biggest stars. Actually, every single drafted player but the Turkish ones (who played at home) were nowhere to be found. We talk about the likes of Belinelli, Rodríguez, Petro, Biedrins, Andriuskevicius or Korolev, joined by some of the most interesting prospects such as Dragic or Tripkovic.
Also, its a stage where big surprises are more limited. Between what you can see in previous youth tournaments and in pro competition during the season (these guys are old enough to start getting regular action in their domestic leagues), you get a rather clear idea of what you can expect from many players. Still, its an excellent chance to check the reality of these pre-assumed individual trends or to give second thoughts about certain players.
But first, lets take a look at the tournaments outcome.
Serbia And Montenegro Takes the Gold
Their senior National Team might be suffering the most important crisis in their basketball history, but these kids are certainly doing everything possible to make Serbian optimistic of the future. Serbia and Montenegro won the gold, being the third time that the 1987 generation does it (its the first gold for the 1986 guys), every time in a different age stage (cadet, junior and U-20). Actually, half of the team is born in 1987, and five players have conquered the triple crown: Milenko Tepic, Dragan Labovic, Nenad Mijatovic, Nikola Dragovic and Branko Jereminov.
The other side of the coin is Turkey, who enjoyed an awesome generation as well, but have always fallen one step short of the victory. Ersan Ilyasovas injuries, in 2003 and 2004, or voluntary absences, in 2005, were a big reason for it. However, this time the championship was played at home, and they brought the entire team. Actually, four guys (Ilyasova, Akyol, Demirel and Erden) joined the senior Turkish National Team as soon as this tournament was over to play the World Championships in Japan. It was useless, though, as their fate caught them once again with a silver medal.
Slovenia, the bronze medalist, was a huge surprise, as nobody counted on them to get anywhere far into the tournament. It comes to show how much faith you can put in earlier results: you have always to take into account the maturity of the players, and Slovenia had shown weak teams filled with very immature players at the junior stage in the previous seasons. Actually, this summer was a bit of the same at both junior and cadet category.
This is not an exhaustive list. We couldnt get to watch some teams (France or Latvia, for example), meaning that a few important players are missing, but the gross majority are here. Also, considering the limitation of games watched and the fact that theres plenty of information on most of these guys on the site, we have limited the depth of the reports.
Jose Angel Antelo (Spain)
Despite coming off a successful season in LEB (Spanish second division), he drew a lot more interest because of off-court issues rather than his actual play. He was set apart from the team mid-way the tournament because of his behavior (hes apparently a well-known spoiled brat and troublemaker with a history in the young Spanish national teams). On court, we didnt see anything different from past occasions: a face-up power forward who bases his game on either shooting 3-pointers or slashing towards the basket (depending on how hes defended). Hes not really great at any of them, as his stroke is very inconsistent (his mechanics are pretty ugly), hes not lighting quick and tends to go strictly right on his drives. However, he manages to produce. He can draw fouls in penetration and he seems to have some kind of gravitational force over the ball, showing a terrific knack for offensive rebounds that allow him to consistently produce off second-chance options. He will make a good living in Europe, but its hard to count on anything else.
Albert Moncasi (Spain)
This is the first international competition where Albert Moncasi gets any significant playing time. His size (6-11), solid frame and nice athleticism were his credentials to be considered an intriguing player, and thats just what he delivered. He worked well on both ends of the court, but didnt show anything special. He played mostly off the ball, looking for spaces in the lane or offensive rebounds to get production near the basket. We will have to wait for further occasions to see something more out of him.
Xavier Rey (Spain)
Its hard to understand why this excellent U-20 player received so little playing time for Spain. Its not like everyday you have an extremely reliable post presence that takes good decisions in the offensive end and intimidates on defense. He showed his very nice passing out of the post, some low post skills to put the ball on the net, his mid-range jumper and his remarkable defense. He was also extremely solid in the low post, showing good positioning, being very team oriented, and having quite an intimidating presence with his shot-blocking ability. Anyway, Reys potential keeps bumping into the fact that hes a 6-9 center (6-10 at best) with decent, but not great athleticism.
Carlos Suarez (Spain)
This small forward led the tournament in rebounds. He was the only Spanish player with some serious experience in the ACB League (the top domestic competition in Europe), and thats something that certainly provides toughness. Hes a highly regarded player in Spain given his intelligence and reliability playing the game as well as his hard-working attitude, but we still miss more offensive game out of him. He still doesnt seem capable of creating his own shot with any consistency. His ball-handling skills are not that good (he has a past as power forward), and his athleticism just decent. Hes more of a complementary player that knocks down his shots with good range when he receives them open, works on the defense and, obviously, in the rebounding department. He has no NBA potential, and we wonder if he has real stardom potential for Europe, although he will surely become an awesome role player, the kind of player every coach loves to have.
Anton Ponkrashov (Russia)
He was the clear-cut leader for the disappointing Russians, having a hard time trying to make things happen on his own on a team that struggled with the absences of Korolev (in the NBA summer leagues) and Shabalkin (who could only play two games). He did show some of his repertoire, particularly his excellent passing abilities, but struggled a little bit with his perimeter shooting. He also suffered while being defended by smaller and quicker opponents, as well as showed once again a concerning lack of athleticism. Still a terrific player, but would his skills translate well to the NBA?
Maxim Sheleketo (Russia)
One of the top scorers in Russia, but he isnt showing anything we didnt know for over a year. Hes the same athletic combo forward with a nice frame but limited skills. Static and open three-pointers, baseline cuts, penetrations in little-to-no traffic, thats pretty much it. His off-the-dribble skills havent improved a bit, and thats not good news when it comes to establishing himself as a quality perimeter player.
Dusan Sakota (Greece)
For a guy like him, not finishing among the top-5 scorers cant be considered anything but a disappointment. Sakota again showcased his terrific perimeter stroke, but his flaws where as evident as ever. A player apparently allergic to the paint, Sakota hung around the three-point line to display his perimeter-oriented game. He exposed a very average first step when putting the ball on the floor, which paired with a certain lack of aggressiveness, limited his effectiveness a lot in his timid slashing attempts. Besides, he left little trace of any kind of low-post game. Hes a 6-10 power forward without the athleticism of a wing nor the toughness of a frontcourt guy (for example, only 5.3 rebounds in 34 minutes per game). We were certainly hoping for more after spending a few years under the guidance of coach Obradovic in Panathinaikos.
Vasily Zavoruev (Russia)
Inconsistency keeps dominating the play of this promising (international basketball wise) shooting guard. His perimeter stroke looked better that it did in Treviso, but thats not saying much; in the end, hes struggling too much for a guy who is advertised as a shooter. Actually, he himself is trying to fill that label by sticking primarily to his perimeter shooting, but this way hes probably going to end up as a pure specialist.
Igor Milosevic (Greece)
Most of the interesting players at this stage are used to seeing consistent minutes of action for their teams during the season. Not Milosevic. After blossoming in the 2004 Greek playoffs, he has riding the bench for one year in Iraklis and another back in his hometown of Belgrade in Crvena Zvezda (Red Star). Regardless, he played a decent tournament. He looks bigger than in the past (hes listed at 6-4 now) and still keeps that remarkable ability to beat his matchups off the dribble. With his very good ball-handling skills, excellent first step and great footwork, very few defenders can contain him. Hes skilled enough to drive in traffic and finish with a layup (usually right-handed regardless of where hes attacking the basket), while he has looked more inconsistent with his shooting. Anyway, Milosevic is a scoring playmaker, still not a solid distributor. He can nicely dish off the dribble, but he looks too much for his slashing game and doesnt always succeed giving fluidity to his teams offense. However, hes good and promising enough the get a chance to play somewhere.
Vilmantas Dilys (Lithuania)
You will find very few guys as inconsistent and irregular as Dilys. We had seen him earlier this year winning MVP honors with Zalgiris in the Vilagarcía Basket Cup with an impressive outing (its always impressive when you see a 6-9 athletic guy playing almost as a guard, regularly hitting his perimeter shots, passing the ball very well or even successfully attacking the basket), while he went completely unnoticed whenever we saw him in this tourney (he had a few nice statistical efforts, though). Hes still the very same gifted and talented player, with a long and promising physical set, athleticism, some serious flair playing the game and a bunch of guard-esque skills; but his mental struggles are really hard to swallow. He gets dissolved as easily as sugar.
Martynas Pocius (Lithuania)
A top-3 scorer in the tournament averaging 20 points per game, the Duke Blue Devil basically reproduced what he had shown a couple of years ago in Zaragoza at the junior stage. Hes an extremely incisive guy, whose first impulse is always to aggressively attack the basket (perhaps his American heritage after spending several years there), but also a very nice shooter, proving that he has Lithuanian blood running through his veins. An athletic player with excellent legs (that he uses nicely on defense), size is what hurts him potential-wise. Perhaps you can miss a bit more of creativity team-wise playing off the dribble, involving his teammates while taking advantage of his ability to beat his matchups. Anyway, he should become a valuable player in Europe when he finishes his college tenure.
Mantas Kalnietis (Lithuania)
Right before joining the senior National Team to play the worlds, Kalnietis had the chance to showcase his abilities at the U-20 stage. Hes easily the most athletically exuberant point guard in his generation, a guy extremely difficult to stop given his quickness and nice handles. Not a bad passer at all, especially in drive & dish situations, hes still far from becoming a reliable distributor, even if everyday he looks better in this department. Also, he has significantly struggled with his perimeter stroke, getting most of his scoring production in penetrations. Intense, very active, an interesting defender, Kalnietis was one of the most intriguing prospects in the tournament.