|07 August 2012|
U18 MEN DIVISION B
There's a distinctive Nordic flavour to Group C as Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden are alongside Montenegro and Switzerland.
|Nikola Ivanovic is a huge absence for Montenegro|
There was heartache last summer for Montenegro after they were denied promotion by hosts Bulgaria in the Semi-Finals and that meant they just missed out on making history by reaching Division A of the U18 European Championship for the very first time.
They will however have a great chance of getting it right this time with a healthy number of 1994 born returnees.
The highly influential Nikola Ivanovic who is rated by many as one of the best prospects in Europe will be sorely missed when the Montenegrins aimto reach the top level.
The guard was invited to the senior team, but Montenegro also has some new talent to add including guard Luka Djurovic and forward Luka Savic whom despite being relegated from the U16 European Championship last summer, both stood out.
Other players from that the 1994 generation that was successful at the U16 European Championship Division A in 2010 who are supposedto make an impact are center-duo Dusan Perovic and Milos Pajovic.
Switzerland are nothing but consistent at the U18 European Championship Division B level with a series of mid-table finishes during the last few years.
Whether they can finally make a push towards a flirtation with promotion remains to be seen although this next crop of players have the hallmarks of continuing stability rather than being a frontrunner.
Sadly it looks like they could be without dynamic forward Clint Capela, a do-it-all player that can carry the team on his shoulders. The forward, who is on the books of EuroChallenge finalists Elan Chalon, was rampant in Varna last summer, averaging a quite remarkable tournament double-double of over 15 points and 15 rebounds per game. In fact, he was the leading rebounder in the tournament.
They will however have some potent offensive capabilities in Mathias Tolusso, a talented guard who steps up having been the top scorer at the U16 European Championship last summer while 2.00m forward Daniel Andjelkovic is a reliable presence inside and brings the experience of playing in Varna.
Losing the prolific Chris Ndow gives Norway an offensive headache they really don't need since even when they had the 1993 born swingman, his 22 points per game still wasn't enough to help the team rack up anything but one win against fellow strugglers Austria last summer.
At least they will be able to count on power forward Marco Lepovic who did a great job on the glass in Bulgaria last year while Espen Fjaerestad who played at the U16 European Championship a couple of years ago is a dangerous three-point shooter so will have to be guarded closely.
Realistically it should be another struggle for Norway who if they can collect more than a solitary win will show signs of some progress.
|Ludvig Hakanson was part of the All Tournament Team at the Dadu U16 European Championship|
Sweden can at least share that sinking feeling experienced by group rivals Montenegro since they were the other beaten semi-finalist in Varna, crashing in spectacular fashion 78-54 against silver medallists Denmark.
Making amends and going that one step further this time in Sarajevo is the mission although they will miss William Magarity and Tobias Borg who were the main architects of that near promotion last year and both featured in last year's All Tournament Team.
Power forward Jesper Eliasson does remain and he will be a powerhouse on the boards once again while point guard Ludvig Hakanson who was terrific for Sweden at the U16 European Championship Division B in Strumica last year could be the player to make the team tick and ensure they challenge once more.
He is a combo guard who poured in over 22 points and dished up almost five assists per game so he is a player worth keeping an eye out for.
Continuing the other Group C theme of having a number of teams with plenty to be disappointment about in terms of last year is Finland who lost their Division A status after just one summer at the elite level.
Charged with trying to make amends will be a number of returnees including shooting guard Niko Mattila and small forward Iikka Maki two of a quartet of bench warming 1994 born players who will be ready to exert some influence this time.
Alexander Madsen is an interesting prospect meanwhile, standing at 2.05m in the paint, he starred in one of the warm-up games recently- an impressive success against Czech Republic.
It's some three years since Iceland last took the floor at the U18 European Championship Division B and with their younger players not participating in an U16 European Championship during recent times either, they can justifiably be labelled an unknown quantity.
Martin Hermannsson will be directing traffic on the court with the point guard having just completed a second season in the Icelandic league with KR Reykjavic.
Hermannsson was the youngest player for Iceland at the U20 European Championship Division B in 2011 and brings the experience of 7 minutes and 3 points per game to an unexperienced squad.
In fact, Iceland can boast two strong playmakers with Valur Valsson having also achieved the same feat to impressive effect with hometown club Keflavik.