U18 MEN PREVIEW
Lithuania are defending champions at the U18 European Championship Men but will have difficulty repeating with a different team from last summer while hosts Poland, Russia, Serbia and Spain are expected to compete for the title.
|Vladislav Trushkin is expected to provide the firepower for Russia|
Croatia were believed to be one of the contenders as well after winning the U16 crown last season, but they will be without one of their finest young talents of Dario Saric in Wroclaw, Poland.
The Lithuanians last summer were guided by superstar Jonas Valanciunas in claiming their first U18 gold since 1994. Head coach Darius Dikcius will have a different group this time around led by Tauras Jogela, Mantas Mockevicius and Paulius Semaska. That trio carried Lithuania to the silver medal at the U16 tournament in 2009.
The host nation Poland has realistic chances to win its first ever men's youth medal with a squad full of talent throughout with the likes of Przemyslaw Karnowski, Michal Michalak, Grzegorz Grochowski, Piotr Niedzwiedzki and Mateusz Ponitka.
That group finished fourth at the 2009 U16 European Championship behind Spain, Lithuania and Serbia before taking sixth at the U18 European Championship and then seventh at the U19 World Championship after losing to eventual champions Lithuania in the quarterfinals.
Russia took bronze at the 2009 U19 Worlds after winning silver at the 2010 U18 European Championship - the first U18 medal for Russia since the then CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) won bronze in 1992.
The leader of the Russian squad in Poland will be Vladislav Trushkin, who was the team's third leading scorer at the U19 Worlds. Also on hand at the Latvian tournament were Andrey Loginov, Gleb Goldyrev and Aleksandr Gudumak. But Russian head coach Sergey Skorochkin will not have the services of Sergey Karasev - second leading scorer for Russia at the U19s.
|Dario Saric's absence might hurt Croatia|
Serbia have plenty of hardware at the U18 level, winning gold in 2009, 2007 and 2005 (as Serbia & Montenegro). Head coach Marko Icelic's bunch in Poland come off a silver-medal finish at the U19 Worlds in Latvia with Luka Mitrovic as the team's second best rebounder (4.3 rpg). Icelic will have star guard Nenad Miljenovic helping run the show but Serbia's U19 leading scorer Aleksandar Cvetkovic is not in Poland.
Despite having loads of hardware in the youth ranks, Spain have only grabbed one U18 medal since their title in 2004, taking bronze in 2006. Jaime Fernandez, Daniel Diez and Jorge Sanz are out to change that after teaming up for U16 gold in 2009.
Croatia meanwhile were legitimate title contenders with the versatile superstar Dario Saric. But with the injured forward not travelling to Poland the Croatians will have a tough time winning their first U18 title since 2002 - or even collecting only their second medal since then to go with bronze in 2008.
Other nations who could challenge for a medal are France (2006 and 2009 silver medalists), Latvia (2007 and 2010 bronze medal winners) and 2009 bronze medalists Turkey.