|07 August 2012|
While last year's semi-finalists Italy look like they could well be the team to beat, co-hosts Lithuania will have something to say about that along with newcomers Denmark, and a Greece team hoping to improve on last year's underwhelming display.
|Italy expect point guard Matteo Imbro to develop into a leader on the court, but could he help them repeat a top four finish? |
Having made the semi-finals last summer, Italy will be aiming for another strong showing and that is because despite losing ten of their roster from Wroclaw 2011, they keep two of the most important and influential players.
Matteo Imbro is a guard who showed his capabilities last year with a team-high 3.4 assists per game and with everyone inside the Italian camp raving about his progress and the way he has matured during the last 12 months, he will be a real floor general when the action tips-off.
In the paint, Italy welcomes back leading rebounder Amedeo Tessitori, an excellent player who can play at either the four of five spot. He has also been working hard to develop a consistent outside threat so he may well be found drifting more and more to the perimeter.
Franceso Candussi may well work in tandem inside with Tessitori and the center is another fine prospect for Italy in the medium term. He is efficient, will rebound and at 2.11m, has the size to cause match-up problems under the hoop.
Italy last found theirselves on the podium seven years ago, when Luigi Datome and a certain Danilo Gallinari helped them secure bronze.
Last summer was almost a disaster for Greece as they dodged a major bullet by barely surviving relegation to Division B - certainly a far cry from the gold medal success of only a few years ago.
In their defence, the team did have a fair chunk of younger 1994-born players - half the roster in fact. So, the theory goes that if they can learn from their mistakes they they will make a better fist of things this time.
But, they will be taking nothing for granted and will have to compete to the peak of their powers to attain the top-eight finish they crave.
Eleftherios Bochoridis is a 1.94m shooting guard who can certainly achieve an uplift in performance from Wroclaw and he showed that during the Albert Schweitzer Tournament earlier this year when he poured in over 14 points per game. Despite his age, he has played extensively for Aris both in the Greek league and also the Eurocup.
Similarly, small forward Dimitrios Agravanis can have a big influence coming off the wing, crashing the offensive glass and his quick hands will continue to be a force defensively.
Georgios Diamantakos is an exciting center, recently picked up by Panathinaikos and if he steps up with anywhere near the production he showed at the U16 European Championship last summer then this will be a real bonus for the Greeks.
For the first time in their history, Denmark will step out in Division A and somehow try to continue the momentum gained from last year's silver medal in Varna when they secured the move up a level.
Just as was the case with their fellow promotion team Bulgaria, they won't be able to rely on their marquee player to try and stay in the top flight. For Esben Reinholt, who averaged more than 15 points per game is 1993-born and moves on, although Denmark will still have the supremely talented Rasmus Larsen.
The 2.12m center is a dynamic presence who can utilise all of his power and quickness in the paint but also play in the four spot and drift to the perimeter to knock down triples. He continues to be rated by many as the best 1994-born frontcourt player in Europe right now.
Denmark also has Peter Moeller, a playmaker who averaged 9.1 points and 2.9 assists last summer and this gives them important continuity in the backcourt as well as the frontcourt.
|Lithuania's Lukas Lekavicius is an old hand at the U18 European Championship, having played last summer in Poland |
The 1995-born talent beginning to make an impression meanwhile is power forward Rasmus Hansen who poured in over 17 points and seven rebounds per game last year at the U16 European Championship.
With three podium finishes during the last six years including that glorious gold medal in front of 13,000 fans in Vilnius in 2010, Lithuania is resurgent at this level although expectation is arguably dampened a little this year.
For the co-hosts certainly don't have the equivalent of a Jonas Valanciunas to inspire them back to the top of the podium.
Last year, they finished in fifth spot in Wroclaw led primarily by 1993-born duo Simonas Kymantas and Martynas Paliukenas who of course, now move on.
The 1994 Lithuanian generation won a silver medal at the U16 European Championship two years ago in Montenegro although the 1995-born players followed this up by only just surviving relegation to Division B last summer.
Returning from Wroclaw will be point guard Lukas Lekavicius who recently led Lithuania to a convincing preparation win against fellow co-hosts Latvia, while 1.98m forward Marius Grigonis fro whom fans have high hopes can be more dominant this year, will also be back.
He will be joined in the paint by center Augustinas Jankaitis who impressed at the U16 European Championship two years ago with nine points and seven rebounds per game.
Shooting guard Jokubas Gintvainis meanwhile brings experience from playing Baltic League and Lithuanian league basketball with Sakalia Vilnius last year, which should also make him a pivotal contributor.
Perhaps the most interesting player to step out will be Benas Griciunas, a power forward who has spent recent time in the NCAA attending Findlay Prep and this could be the first time he gets to pull on a Lithuanian vest at youth level.