By Luis Cristovao
|Croatia's Ivana Dojkic, who turns 15 in December, is one of many players in Miskolc playing beyond their years.|
They are the surprise guests in this year's U16 European Championship Women, having arrived earlier than expected to this level of competition.
And they're not only appearing as guests, but stating they're some of the best players in the tournament.
They are the class of 1997.
If there is a team prevailing with players born in 1997, this team is Croatia.
Not only have they had seven players in their squad born that year, it is these players who lead the team in different ways.
Asked to comment on the fact that she is part of the group of older players, Klaudia Perisa assumes that no one thinks about it.
"There is no difference between us," she says.
Ivana Dojkic,still 14 years old, was the first to show up, delivering dream performances in all Preliminary Round games.
She is still leading the team both in points and assists, averaging 15.7 and 2.5, respectively, per game.
Entering the Qualifying Round, Iva Slonjsak carried the team on her shoulders, and trusted in another player born in 1997, Anita Kelava, who dominated in the paint so far, averaging 9.2 rebounds.
DESTINED TO BE STARS
According to Zuzana Borgulova, member of the Slovak coaching staff, Veronika Remenarova is likely to be the team's leader next year.
It is easy to understand why.
Considered by her peers as one of the more mature players on the team, Remenarova has "a mind far beyond her age," confirms Borgulova.
With an average of 8.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, Remenarova feels comfortable playing under the basket, but does not shy away when it comes to bringing the ball.
She's capable of playing multiple positions on the court and, with the experience granted in this tournament, all her attributes are strengthening day by day.
Next season, she will be part of MBK Ruzomberok's senior team, and as Borgulova states, the challenge is "getting to play enough minutes to continue evolving at the same level and pace."
Evaristo Pérez, Spain's head coach, regrets not having at least one of the players who were crowned champions last year at the U16 European Championship Women in Cagliari.
"Nobody's better than a teammate to convey the experience of playing in a European Championship," he says.
That's what Angela Salvadores will do next year. But the young player, integrated in the team of Siglo XXI, does not think about "the age difference."
"I'm one more player, like all others," she says.
However there is something that makes her stand out in this competition.
Salvadores has been the major driving force of the Spanish victories, summing up 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists on average.
On court, she is also showing a determination and a willingness to lead the team that surprises those who know her shyness off the court.
There is, however, no doubt that she is destined to be a star.
|A hard worker, Janis Ndiba has evolved into a leader for the Netherlands, almost averaging a double-double so far in the tournament. |
TEAM PLAYERS GROWING INTO LEADERS
Janis Ndiba has grown into the Netherlands' main frontcourt presence during the Qualifying Round.
What a year this has been for the 15-year-old power forward.
"Last January, I would not have said that she will take a place in the team.
But she grew very fast, she has worked hard and is very strong, " Netherlands head coach Bart Sengers told FIBAEurope.com
With 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds on average, Ndiba is slowly evolving into the team's leader.
"She's a great rebounder, but has yet to improve and look for more shots."
Sengers has high expectations for his player.
"This year she can still be part of the U17 World Championship roster.
She's a very coachable player, she likes to work, and I just hope she can also grow a few more centimetres, " he added.
France head coach Arnaud Guppillotte believes that the 1997 generation is much stronger than the one of 1996.
He thinks that Lisa Berkani still needs to "evolve more, as a player, she is a bit immature."
But it is undeniable that the French guard has shown potential and she assumed an important role in France's team, being the top scorer with 9.7 points on average.
Interestingly, the French statistical leaders were all born in 1997, as Alix Duchet leads her team with an average of 2.2 assists and Ornella Bankole is the best rebounder with 6.2 rebounds per game.
In the home team, Hungary, the class of 1997 is also very well represented in the starting five.
Debora Dubei has amassed 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, while Virag Weninger has averaged 7.2 points and 2.2 assists.
They are only two more examples of a trend that spreads among several teams present in Miskolc.
Evidence enough that one more glorious season is coming, when the U16 women's teams return to play for a European title in 2013.