I’ve written a small piece about the best performers of the U18 European Championship, which is under way here in Vilnius. Having sat in the arenas for most of the last three days, I’ve compiled a list of players that I most liked. Enjoy! This piece is taken from LithuaniaBasketball.com, where I also write regularly.
The first three days of the U18 European Championship in Vilnius have flown by in an instant and so has the first group stage. Vilnius has organized a nice tournament so far and the arenas are starting to fill-up day by day, which is nice news after a slow start in this aspect.
There have been many nice performances in the tournament we are presenting you the ten players that have left the biggest mark in the tournament so far. The best performers are organized into the first and second teams by positions.
GUARD | Roko ROGIC – Croatia
In a tournament that hasn’t got many top-class point guards, Roko Rogic hasn’t provided a glimmer of hope in this aspect either, but that’s not why he was selected into the Croatian roster anyway – the sharpshooter is averaging 15,1 points per game and is currently hitting 61,1% from beyond the arch, good enough for third best in the whole tournament. After a slow start against Serbia, where Rogic scored only 7 points and couldn’t help his team escape defeat, the guard found his rhythm and was firing all cylinders in the next two. He ended the next two games, against Germany and Greece, with a 5-7 mark from downtown and helped Croatia seal the second place in Group D.
GUARD-FORWARD | Alessandro GENTILE – Italy
Alessandro Gentile could easily be called the MVP of the tournament from what we’ve seen so far – not only does he rank first in scoring with a staggering 31.3 points per game, but is doing it with amazing efficiency nailing 63.3% of his shots from the field. And that’s only the beginning – all of the scoring comes with an additional 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. If you were to choose a player, who stood out from the crowd in the tournament – it’s got to be Gentile, he’s just above the rest and does everything on the court with astonishing ease. There is one flaw in his game and that’s turning the ball over as he’s committing 4.7 turnovers a game, but one thing has to be said though – he’s not surrounded by good players and the whole team of Italy relies on him to bring victories. Italy finished first in Group C despite losing the last game to Russia, where Alessandro Gentile scored 42 points, grabbed 7 boards and dished out 7 dimes.
GUARD-FORWARD | Patrick HECKMANN – Germany
Many expected Germany to do well in this tournament with Philipp Neumann as their key player. Things didn’t go entirely according to plan – Germany finished last in Group D and Neumann was outshined by his fellow teammate Patrick Heckmann, who’s the tournament’s second leading scorer with 18 points per game. Heckmann’s name came out of the blue as he had never been seen as one of Europe’s elite prospects, but the last group game against Serbia must have left everyone watching very impressed – the German scored 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting from two-point land. His great finishing near the basket saw the German move up to third place in two-point field goal percentage with 65.5% shots finding the bucket. To say the least, Patrick Heckmann was one of the most pleasant surprises in the whole tournament.
FORWARD |Edmunds DUKULIS – Latvia
Latvia has surprisingly finished the first stage atop Group B and is only one of two teams, together with Lithuania, to have maintained a clean record and won all three games. The Latvians confirmed their intentions by pulling of an upset against the favorite Spain in the last group game and forward Edmunds Dukulis has played a major role in the team’s good performance so far. Dukulis was third in the scoring list with 17.3 points with an additional 8.3 rebounds per game. The player has remained a question mark to opponent defenses and has had a consistent tournament so far scoring 22 points against Sweden, 13 versus France and adding a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds in the final game against Spain.
CENTER | Jonas VALANCIUNAS – Lithuania
With the absence of Turkish monster Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas hasn’t found a worthy opponent in this tournament so far and there aren’t many chances that he will. Valanciunas dominated on the court as Lithuania blew past everything opposition had to offer to win all three games by more than twenty points. The center is fourth in scoring in the whole tournament with 16.7 points, second in rebounding numbers – 12.0 boards per game and also fourth in blocks with 2.0 on average. Valanciunas’ game has been eye-candy for fans as the Lithuanian was just better in every sense of the word. In a game against Polish big man Przemyslaw Karnowski, his toughest challenger so far, Valanciunas finished the game with a massive double-double of 16 points and 18 rebounds. Looking at the long-term perspective, it looks like only the Lithuanian center will be able to give Alessandro Gentile a fight for the MVP honors – and at the moment, Valanciunas has been playing about ten minutes less on an average and his statistics can only grow from here if needed.
GUARD | Safak EDGE – Turkey
The Turkish guard scored 2 and 3 points in his last two games, but his name still deserves a mention. Safak Edge was by far the most impressive player of day one – scoring 35 points in late comeback win against Russia in two overtimes. The player scored 9-of-17 three-pointers that brought his team back into the game and, in the end, helped Turkey prevail. However, it was all pretty quite in the Turkish camp after an opening night storm, which was created by no other than Safak Edge is still averaging 13.3 points and 2.7 assists despite a poor showing in the last two games.
GUARD | Dmitry KULAGIN – Russia
Statistics don’t tell the full story in the story about the Russian talent Dmitry Kulagin, though, they haven’t really been bad either – 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists, which is the second result in the whole tournament. The player can play positions from point guard to small forward and has been really nice to watch, especially in the first game against Turkey, where his creative skills and instinctive feel for the game shone through the best – 15 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists tapped his performance that day.
GUARD-FORWARD | Deividas PUKIS – Lithuania
Deividas Pukis, who is playing basketball across the Atlantic, was as big of a surprise as any in this tournament. The player has been a sixth-man in the deep roster that Lithuania has got but is second in the team and eight in the tournament when it comes scoring with 15.0 points per game. All of this comes with great three-point percentage (45.0%) and solid numbers across the stat sheet – 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals per game in a mere 22.7 minutes.
FORWARD | Linos CHRYSIKOPOULOS – Greece
Point difference left Greece in the third position of Group D, but the team still got to wins and that’s mostly because of the Greek go-to man Linos Chrysikopoulos surname was not only a tough challenge to the announcers’ tongue but also to the opponent coaches, who couldn’t figure out how to stop the forward. Chrysikopoulos averaged 15.0 points and 6.3 rebounds adding 2.3 assists per game as well as being one of the most fouled players with 5.3 free-throw attempts per game and using full advantage of this as the fourth most accurate free-throw shooter – 81.3%.
CENTER | Przemyslaw KARNOWSKI – Poland
The wide-bodied Pole has been one of the younger players of the tournament, but hasn’t failed to impress – Przemyslaw Karnowski used his body well to get his average effort to 13.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game. As well as being a defensive anchor to Polish game, Karnowski provided rebounding and nice touch around the rim to help Poland achieve the second place in Group A, where Lithuania dominated the rest.