By Daniel Aubrey
As the final stage of the games dawns we look back at some of the players who have so far taken the tournament by storm with some great individual performances.
There have been a number of surprises already in the tournament, and some great team showings from the likes of Latvia especially with their long unbeaten run taking them to the semis, but here we present the players who, irrespective of team performance, have simply been a pleasure to watch so far.
With the help of the head coaches, giving opinion and assessment on the players, these are the seven ones to watch at this year’s UMCOR U18 European Championships.
Dogus Balbay (Turkey)
The talented Turkish point guard is enjoying his second U18 European Championships after having done well in the tournament in Greece last year too.
|Dogus Balbay has played well for the Turks, averaging 17.5 points per contest. |
He was also one of the best performers for his country at this year’s U19 World Championships in Novi Sad.
According to his coach Taner Günay “he controls the play for us with great performances. He’s very vocal, always shouting commands to his teammates, but he’s not afraid to take the initiative himself and I think he has shown here how well he is able to get to the basket”.
His stats heading into the final stage of the competition are 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
Antoine Diot (France)
The star of the defending champions, his presence in the national side had seemed almost a guarantee of a medal before his luck ran out in this tournament.
In his three previous European Championships he’s won three medals: two gold (U16s 2004 and U18s 2005) and one silver (U16s 2005). He also won bronze this summer with France at the U19 World Championships.
Despite missing out on the medals here he has still been one of the top performers in the competition.
A vocal team leader, his favourite role seems to be the player who takes charge of the play with the ball in his hands during the key moments of the game.
So far he averages 13.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Zygimantas Janavicius (Lithuania)
|Janavicius has experience at this level and it shows, with 12 point and five assists per contest.|
This is the second time at the U18s for the Lithuanian point guard, as last year in Greece he made the All-Star team of the tournament and finished the competition with a silver medal.
Says his coach Sigitas Krukis: “Zygimantas is very talented. He controls the flow of game well, and runs the play very well for us. His assists are a vital part of our game plan, but he will also shoot the ball himself too when the situation requires it”.
This tournament he has linked up well with all his teammates, especially another young star Donatas Motiejunas.
He is currently top of the assist charts, having been there or thereabouts throughout the whole competition this year.
His averages are 12.2 points, 5 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Kostas Koufos (Greece)
The American-born center with a Greek mother who comes to all his games is a rookie here at the tournament, and so far has probably been the revelation of the show.
He already has five double-doubles in six games, while he has led both the points and rebounds charts for the past few days now.
At 2.16m tall he’s one of the biggest players in Madrid this year, and has shown great movement at the low post and a knack of getting the tap.
|Konstantinos Koufos has been dominant for Greece, recording a double-double most nights. |
He himself says of his game “I just want to have fun and enjoy my basketball. It’s strange because I used to play a different way but I just kept growing, you know, so I’ve had to change my style completely”.
Despite his height he was once accused by his critics of not being physical enough for his size, a criticism he seems to have answered remarkably at this tournament, averaging 23.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
Despite being raised in the US he says his dream is to play in the full Greek National Team, a dream he may achieve in the not too distance future should he continue playing as he is now.
Next year he’ll be a freshman at Ohio State University.
Filip Kruslin (Croatia)
Perhaps a surprise inclusion with his side having tasted victory just once in the competition, but guard Filip Kruslin has shown in every game that he has excellent ability and can play well despite some of the performances of those around him.
He was key to his side’s solitary victory against Germany and consequent qualification to
the next group stage, and has managed big points in every game in some often spectacular performances.
|Though Spain failed to make the semi-finals Rubio has impressed.|
His averages are 19.2 points and three rebounds per game, keeping him constantly at the top of the scoring charts.
Milan Macvan (Serbia)
Big man Macvan is the key performer in a powerful and highly talented Serbian side, and is performing excellently here after winning the MVP award in the U19 World Championships last month.
An intimidating sight for the opposite side, Macvan scores well, especially from the free throw line, and despite his size and bulky form is still quite athletic.
His best attribute, however, is his game intelligence as he brings those around him into the play magnificently.
His averages thus far are 17 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Ricky Rubio (Spain)
The celebrity of the tournament and the darling of the Spanish fans, Ricky possess a maturity beyond his years in the game and already has two seasons at the top level of European basketball under his belt with DKV Joventut.
It’s a level he’s performed well at since his debut at 14 years, 11 months and 24 days old (the youngest in the history of the Spanish ACB league), as last season he led the ACB in steals.
A real force in the full court, with excellent vision and great composure in clutch time, he has led the Spanish side here with superior performances in the big games against Serbia and Lithuania, averaging 18.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.8 steals per game.
His coach, Luis Guil, while keen to play down his obvious talents for the sake of team unity still can’t help but sing his praises: “With his talent and his superior experience from the other guys at this level Ricky was always going to stand out here,” he said.
“The kid really is something else”.