***The 2012 edition of U18 European Championship Women Division A tips off on Thursday 26 July in the Romanian capital Bucharest. Follow the action minute by minute on our dedicated Event Microsite***
|Belgium celebrating their win in the 2011 U18 European Chmapionship Women final - the reigning champions are fielding another strong team this year, hoping to defend the title they conquered on Romanian soil last summer|
There is a strong argument which suggests the U18 European Championship Women Division A can be considered the most important of all continental championships in the three youth categories.
Sandwiched between those initial toe-dipping experiences at U16 level and the exit door after U20 level, when many players have already confirmed their potential in club competitions, the U18 Championship represents serious summer crunch time for many aspiring women ballers.
The 2012 edition of the Championship in particular is an essential launch-pad for those girls hoping to not only make it professionally, but also continue representing their respective nations for many more years to come.
Of course there are some notable exceptions. Players like Spanish talents Leticia Romero and Astou Ndour for example, have already sampled life at the highest level in the Spanish Liga Femenina and the EuroCup Women.
Nevertheless, even players who have found a degree of success at a very early age know the importance of continuing that momentum with strong performances in Bucharest this summer.
The most exciting and talented players in Europe have of course, stepped out at this level down the years.
Only just last summer in Oradea, the event was headlined by FIBA Europe Young Women's Player Of The Year Emma Meesseman who grabbed gold with Belgium and was crowned MVP.
Two years ago, it was Nika Baric of Slovenia scooping a FIBA Young Women's Player Of The Year and MVP double.
Indeed during the past five or six years alone, the names of those who have made the All-Tournament Team roll off the tongue - Sandrine Gruda, Jelena Milovanovic, Katerina Elhotova, Frida Eldebrink and Sonja Petrovic, all giving us an indication of the potential quality we can enjoy when tip-off time arrives.
Belgium have a decent shot of successfully defending the title which they won on Romanian soil last year, with the emergence of stellar talent Hind Ben Abdelkadar, who was MVP at the U16 European Championship Women last summer.
With some crucially important 1994-born returnees, including Antonia Delaere who has been representing the senior national team of late, the reigning champions could be strong once again.
Predicting who is going to reach the podium is always a difficult task.
Take last summer for instance, when the mighty Russia who used to dominate at U18 level only just avoided relegation. That in itself shows just how competitive this category has become.
And, the dog-eat-dog ferocity of youth basketball has been taken up another notch with three relegation spots to Division B this year which will make the relegation round even more intense.
The U18 European Championship Division A was a great success last year and heading back to Romania once more there is just as much, if not even more to whet the appetite this time around.