By Yarone Arbel
Yarone Arbel is the founder and editor of the Israeli basketball web site www.salnews.com and an international scout. He is a regular contributor to many basketball web sites and publications across Europe including eurobasket.com and euroleague.net. A basketball junkie with an encyclopedic knowledge of the international game, Yarone provides basketball insights in the form of his blog and column.
When Branislav Djekic pulled down an offensive rebound that secured Serbia's gold medal in the 2007 European U16 Championship, he probably wasn't aware that he was writing history.
In a period in time when the Serbia senior team is struggling to persuade its talented individuals to wear its colours in EuroBasket the youth generations prove that Serbia remains European basketball’s driving force.
The summer of 2007 is the first one that Serbia competes without the "help" of others. Serbia separated also from Montenegro, meaning that Yugoslavia is now completely broken up to pieces. As a result it lost several players who went to play for their new country.
Nevertheless, 2007 is also a summer that so far has been nothing but near perfect for the Serbs. They are only one goal shy of completing a perfect season in the youth categories – having already shown to the world they are doing better than fine by themselves.
Although Serbia has already set a new record for titles won in the youth categories, it doesn’t look that their hunger is satisfied.
Serbia's gold medal in the U16 tournament for men comes after the gold medal Serbia won in the U20 tournament only ago weeks ago. This may sound nothing special for some of you, but actually it's the first time ever one country won the gold medal in two different youth categories in the same year.
|Dejan Musli was the driving force behind Serbia's second Men's title of the year|
This is just the bottom line. The details above it are by far more impressive.
Not only no one country has ever won two youth categories since FIBA-Europe started to hold the youth tournaments every summer in 2004, but it is also true that no country has managed to have a team in two finals.
For the past three years the two finalists in each of the three youth category were from six different countries. Considering this year we already had two finals in which Serbia faced Spain, it's clear 2007 is something special.
Before 2004 the youth tournaments were held every two years, but while the U20's (which was U22 at some point) and the U18's were played in every even year, the U16 was played in every odd year.
Nevertheless no country has ever won both U18 and U20/22 at the same year. The only similar cases were when a country won the U16 a year after or before it gained the gold in one of the other competitions.
Yugoslavia was the first to hold two such titles at the same time, but celebrated it in different years. They won the gold in the first ever U16 tournament in 1971 and the following year won the U18 title. USSR did the same in when they won the U18 titles in 1980 and 1982 while in between added the U16 title of 1981.
Yugoslavia, once again, played the trick. This time they won the Cadets in 1985 & 1987 while celebrating the 1986 title with the Juniors. Italy followed in 1990 and 1991 and then added the first ever U22 title in 1992.
Croatia came next with the 1995 U16 gold and the U18 in the following year, while the last to win this sort-of back-to-back title was Yugoslavia who won the 1998 U22 and the Cadets title the following year.
Keep in mind that in between the U16 and the U20 gold titles Serbia has also won the U19 World Championship. If they win the U18 tournament Serbia will complete four gold medals in four youth competitions in one summer.
Three out of four is already impressive; when such achievement would be matched again is anybody’s guess, probably the year when Maccabi will not win the championship title in Israel.
With the U18 championship starting in Spain this week Serbia has an amazing chance to complete a perfect European summer. They have a great team coming to that championship, and since it is hosted by…Spain, we might even see a third edition of the Serbia-Spain finals this summer.
When the Juniors championship will kick off keep an eye on Serbia's Milan Macvan. He was the key guy and MVP when Serbia won the U19 world title. Being more than a year younger than the other players in the U19 championship had no effect on Macvan's dominance.
Against players his own age, he is set to attract a lot of attention in the last youth competition of this summer. One that can complete an unbelievable summer for the basketball nation of Serbia.
July 16 is an important date in Sports History.
Some remember it as the day the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil drew the largest crowd in sports history, nearly 200,000 fans.
Others, with a different perspective on what really counts, will tell you that it was "the day after." The day after an era came to an end.
When Milos Teodosic carried Serbia to victory at the 2007 U20 European Championship, he completed one of the most successful journeys of any generation in European youth basketball history. The 1987 born Serbians dominated the continent for four years, and now that they have graduated from Europe's youth tournaments the run for gold is open once again.
Such domination by a single generation is nothing the continent has witnessed before. The '87 generation started its journey in Spain by winning gold at the U16 Championship in 2003. The following year was the only title they missed, and since then they have won three titles in a row from 2005 to 2007 in the championships that matched their age. That's a total of four titles out of possible five per generation, but like any magical group it wasn't only the bottom line, it was also the way they did it, through total domination.
In 2003 the cadet National Team of Serbia & Montenegro shocked everyone who came to follow the new talents. Such a deep roster with just about everything a team should dream of. Pure talent oozing off almost every player on that squad. Milos Teodosic, Milenko Tepic, Dragan Labovic, Nemanja Aleksandrov, Nikola Dragovic, Nenad Mijatovic and co. were exposed to the eyes of basketball fans in that championship. The result was a perfect championship. They didn't drop a single game, the smallest margin was 15 and that was in the finals. They won their games by an average of 25 points.
2004 was the only championship the '87 generation missed. Spain, led by Sergio Rodriguez, hosted the U18 Championship in Zaragoza, and dominated its way to the gold, but that had nothing to do with Serbia's failure.
The true reason was that in 2004 the age group of the U18 championship was 1986-1987 born players, and so only four of the "Magical Cadets" made it to that team. Aleksandrov, Labovic, Tepic and Mijatovic are their names. The others were left at home, and so Serbia & Montenegro finished only fifth.
One year passed and total domination was back. In 2005 the U18 European Championship was hosted by Serbia & Montenegro, and the '87 kids were back on top. Despite their biggest prospect (Aleksandrov) not showing up, they once again played a perfect competition.
It started with a 48 point win over Poland that sent out a message, but two tough wins over Croatia (in overtime) and Turkey (2 point difference) followed, which raised doubts. Not for long. Two double digits wins in the semi-finals and the gold medal game paved the way to the podium.
It was another 8-0 tournament, made even more impressive by the fact they won every game by an average of 14.3 points. In 2005 Ivan Paunic and Vladimir Stimac, who weren't part of the "golden cadets", joined the gang and showed this generation is even deeper than what we believed.
The Year 2006 was probably when the golden era kids showed their greatness in the U20 European Championship. Once again the competition's generation was 86 born, but unlike two years ago, this time the team was based on the '87 born kids. Half of the team was 1987 born - Tepic, Labovic, Mijatovic, Jereminov, Paunic and Dragovic.
Even without Aleksandrov and Teodosic Serbia & Montenegro won it all, once again without losing a single game on the way to the trophy and they won by an average of almost 12 points.
What made it sweeter and more impressive was that this championship was played in Turkey. The Turks, blessed with a great 1987 generation (Ersan Ilyasova, Cenk Akyol, Oguz Savas, Semih Erden & Engin Bayav), wanted a piece of gold for their own. When Serbia & Montenegro won the gold in the U16 and U18 the finalist in both finals was Turkey. Now, on their home court, it was time for revenge. Or so they thought.
In front of a packed arena with thousands of passionate fans, the Serbian kids made it again with a 64-58 win. It must also be mentioned that two 1986 Serbian players (Nikola Pekovic and Tadjia Dragicevic) played a key role in that title, but the golden generation surely had a big impact.
And then came 2007. The last time this group would be assembled. Very few of them will make it to the senior team and so 2007 marked the end of their run.
Take one look back on each competition and you’ll see that it was never the same team. Always at least one key player was missing. Never the same group of main guys led the team. One way or another someone stepped up and showed his talent was hidden behind another big rising star. The last title was no different.
Aleksandrov, once again, wasn't on the team (called for the senior team), while the split between Serbia and the new rising country of Montenegro took Mijatovic out of the plans. Nevertheless, once again it was title time. Serbia did go down in the first game, a two point loss to hosts Slovenia, but from there didn't look back. Seven straight wins on the way to gold, with an average of almost 14 points difference per win. The win in the finals over Spain made Serbia the first National Team ever to win the U20 European Championship back to back.
There it is, the 15th of July. The last time the '87 golden kids grouped together to dominate Europe. It was a five tournaments stretch that had resulted in four gold medals. One U16 gold, one U18 gold and two U20 gold. Their only "failure" came when only four of them were on the team. They were an amazing 31-1 in the four tournaments in which they won gold, and had a list of impressive wins.
Good morning Europe. The golden era is over. The road to the gold medal is open again. Start dreaming.