There are a handful of players at the 2005 ACI Trading Ltd U20 European Championship Men who are representing their side at this age group for the second successive year.
Some have even played major roles, such as Slovenia’s Jure Mocnik, whose 7 points in the closing 60 seconds of the 2004 final led his side to a gold medal against Israel.
Others, such as Russia’s Egor Vialtsev are looking to improve on a disappointing performance in 2004 (Russia finished 6th).
But perhaps the most interesting of these “veterans” is Israel’s Lior Eliyahu.
Eliyahu, a 204 cm forward, played a sparing role in his side’s 2004 run to the silver medal, showing flashes of brilliance (such as a 16 point, 6 rebound performance in the semis against Greece), but not the kind of consistency that marked him out as a can’t miss prospect.
Fast forward to 2005 and things have changed considerably.
Eliyahu has matured into Israel’s go-to guy and there is even talk of him becoming his country’s first NBA player.
The groundwork for Eliyahu’s rise to prominence came with his club side Hapoel Galil Elyon, who are under the reigns of former Israeli star Oded Kattash. Kattash granted his prodigy plenty of playing time this season and was rewarded with some healthy numbers.
Eliyahui put up 19.1 ppg (11th among all players) and 5.8 rpg in the FIBA Europe League, including a 30-point, 11-rebound expolosion against Czech champions CEZ Nymburk.
Eliyahu maintains that confidence and hard work were key factors in his dramatic rise, but he is far from the finished article.
“I worked very hard this year on a lot of things but there is still room for improvement,” he told fibaeurope.com.
“When you have something good you can always make it better. This year I worked very hard and this season I can work on tactics, shooting, rebounding and I want to work a lot on my body. I need to add 4 or 5 kilos.”
Eliyahu also credits his young coach, calling Kattash “not only a great guy, but a great coach”.
Ironically, if Eliyahu does become the first Israeli to play in the NBA, it will be an achievement that should have gone to..Oded Kattash.
Kattash was drafted by the New York Knicks, but his NBA chances were put on hold due to the 1999 lockout. He then suffered a knee injury, which forced him to retire after 4 years of unsuccessful treatment in 2004.
Eliyahu understands the hype surrounding his future, but is philosophical of where it may lead.
"You know a lot of people talked about it (the NBA) and they are waiting for the first one. But I don’t really worry about it. If I am meant to be there, I will be there," he said.
Right now his main focus is the U20 European Championship and the goal will be to match or improve on the 2004 silver medal winning side.
There are, of course, plenty of differences between the 2 teams, a fact which Eliyahu readily acknowledges.
"You know, these are 2 different teams. In Brno we had 2 excellent guards in Yotam Halperin and Raviv Limonad and they were the key. In this team it is more on me and Anton (Kazarnovski). We also have good guards Avraham Ben Chimol, who is a good point guard and also plays on my team (Hapoel Galil Elyon)," he said.
It will certainly be a tough task for Eliyahu and co. Although they looked strong in preliminary round action, they will face a tough task to earn a medal at a tournament in which Lithuania, Russia, Serbia & Montenegro and Greece have staked early claims as potential medal contenders.
Whatever happens in Chekov, Eliyahu will not have much time to reflect. Immediately after the tournament he will join his former team-mates for five preparation games and then they will fly to Argentina for the FIBA U21 World Championship.
Israel’s chances at that event will be improved due to the new-look Eliyahu, but the young phenom is ready to do whatever it takes for success.
"I think that a team is not made of only one player or one star," he says
"If I need to be on the right or the left side for the team to be better, I’m going to be wherever I need to be. Everything for the team."