U18 MEN DIVISION B
Austria, the Slovak Republic, Luxembourg, Estonia and Czech Republic are the five teams that will try to get out of Group B with a valuable ticket to the Second Round in their hands.
|Simon Krajcovic doing what he does best: setting up his Slovak Republic teammates|
Last summer, Slovak Republic finished 10th and that was their best finish since 2008 although it remains to be seen how much of that was due to the impressive productivity of Boris Bojanovsky who, as a 1993 born player, won't be available this time around.
At least they can still call upon the exquisite passing ability of Simon Krajcovic, who topped the assists chart last summer in Varna by dishing up a stunning 7.4 per game.
Up and coming guard Vladimir Nemcok should also add sparkle to the backcourt after showing a lot of promise at the U16 European Championship last summer although worryingly, the 1995 generation did finish bottom of Division B.
That has, perhaps, dampened enthusiasm of bettering last year's 10th place.
|Radovan Kouril had an incredible 9.6 assists per game for Czech Republic at the U17 World Championship|
Last summer was such a disappointing one for Czech Republic who slipped out of Division A after a poor showing in Wroclaw.
They will be looking to bounce straight back and that scenario is a distinct possibility with a talented 1995 generation having won a silver medal at the U16 European Championship last summer and went on to play last month at the U17 World Championship in Lithuania.
Led by forward Martin Peterka who not only made the All-Tournament Team on home soil in Pardubice and Hradec Kralove but also stepped out in EuroChallenge last season with BK Pardubice, Czech Republic can expect to be one of the main contenders.
With forwards Jan Svandrlik and Petr Herman the main returnees from the relegation nightmare last summer, Czech Republic should have enough to be a big threat and especially with a backcourt combo of point guard Radovan Kouril and shooter Jiri Dedek.
For the past few years, Estonia have pushed really hard to attain one of the golden promotion tickets which would get them back into Division A for the first time since they played during back to back summers in 2007 and 2008.
Last year, Estonia was once again in the hunt but ended up finishing in fifth spot after facing both eventual promotion teams Bulgaria and Denmark during the qualifying round which was unfortunate.
This year the task of reaching Division A looks to be a little more difficult with most of last year's team now ineligible to return, forward Martin Jurtom one of the few returning players from last summer in Varna.
It's uncertain what kind of level Estonia will aspire to since the U16 European Championship players only achieved a mediocre mid-table finish in Division B last year, guard Sten Olmre very much the best prospect with his quick hands and versatile offensive skills.
|Timur Bas and Austria wantto avoid another winless performance like in 2011|
Austria finished joint bottom of the pile last summer along with fellow Group B rivals Luxembourg and unsurprisingly, Austrian head coach Gerry Vogler has demanded an improvement having voiced some confidence his team can take a step forward.
For that to happen, Austria must somehow overcome their lack of firepower which affected them last year and rather worryingly, was also an issue at U16 level last summer with the bulk of those players now moving up.
Guard Georg Wolf looks to be the pick of the crop and he will have to be in good shooting form if the aim of an improved Austrian performance is to be realised.
Meanwhile look out for the rebounding and leadership of center Timur Bas.
Luxembourg will also be targeting an uplift in performance to last year in Bulgaria and a sizeable chunk of their hopes are likely to rest in the capable hands of 1.96m guard Bob Melcher.
Having led his team in assists last year, the playmaker should have even more to offer this summer with the added experience and it will be needed with top scorer Gilles Polfer now too old to qualify for this age group which leaves a sizeable void to fill.
Thankfully Luxembourg has someone who could just fit the bill with all-action small forward Thomas Grun. The 1995 born player was a stand-out last summer at the U16 European Championship Division B in Strumica where incredibly, he led the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
There is also a slim chance Luxembourg could make a late decision to bolster their offensive weaponry by moving up Timothy Kauffmann who has just finished lighting it up at the U16 European Championship Division B in Bucharest where he poured in over 20 points per game.