|A good number of players that won gold for Spain last summer are back on the team for the 2012 Samsung U18 European Championship, but they will have to fight off many contenders to defend their title |
Latvia and Lithuania are co-hosting the 2012 Samsung U18 European Championship, which promises to be another excellent event with fans able to see some of the best young talent around.
It will inevitably be tough for Lithuania to replicate the gold medal success of two years ago - witnessed by a record 13,000 fans in Vilnius - of a team led by Jonas Valanciunas, a player who epitomizes what this tournament is all about.
Even at the age of 17 or 18, the competition has given many players the launch-pad to go on to greater things with their respective club and senior national teams. In some cases, it has been a spectacular and rapid rise to prominence.
Defending their U18 European Championship crown are Spain and they will have to work hard to keep it with the likes of Serbia, Turkey and Croatia, all touted as big challengers this summer.
The Serbians reached the final last year and a repeat of their Dejan Musli-fuelled gold medal during 2009 in Metz isn't out of the question.
Turkey has pushed hard for success in recent years and they can boast some of the most exciting 1994- and 1995-born players around, including Kenan Siphai and Burak Yildizli.
Croatia, having won gold at the U16 European Championship last year and bronze at the FIBA U17 World Championship earlier this summer, have the momentum. Especially with the irrepressible offensive talent of Dario Saric on their roster.
But, Spain will be tough champions to overthrow, led by a potentially devastating frontcourt partnership of Guillermo Hernangomez and Ilimane Diop, both of whom at this stage look on course to eventually play a major role for Spain at senior tournaments in the future.
France can't be ruled out either and especially with a true powerhouse and explosive talent like Mouhammadou Jaiteh. Italy also look like they have a chance to make up for losing the bronze medal game last time with the return of Matteo Imbro and Amedeo Tessitori giving them a great shot.
For sure, Greece has a big challenge ahead after their near disastrous campaign in Wroclaw last summer when they almost fell through the Division B trap-door.
Arguably living in the shadow of the golden 1990 generation of Kostas Sloukas, Nikos Pappas and Kostas Papanikolaou, they will be desperate to attain a significant improvement, even if the podium looks a long way from them.
For newcomers Bulgaria and particularly Denmark, who steps out for the first time in Division A, it will inevitably be a baptism of fire. And, with three teams due to be relegated this year, it won't just be the fight for medals which will get everyone on the edge of their seats.
|In 2011, Bulgaria, led by an inspirational Pavlin Ivanov, clinched gold at the U18 European Championship Division B and earned promotion. 22 teams will try to follow their example this year in Sarajevo |
The stage is set for the U18 European Championship Division B in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 2011, Tournament MVP Pavlin Ivanov led Bulgaria to a gold medal on home soil and fans of Bosnia and Herzegovina would certainly love a similar outcome for the host nation this time around.
The year before in Tel-Aviv, Devon Van Oostrum of England found himself in the All-Tournament Team and 12 months later stepped out for Great Britain at EuroBasket 2011.
In 2008, Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky made the All-Tournament Team as well as helping the Czech Republic clinch promotion on a great night in Debrecen.
Four years later and the Czech Republic are back in Division B after dropping through the Division A trap-door last summer.
However, they are one of the most serious contenders to grab promotion and take the step back up to the top level.
After all, the rising stars of last year's U16 European Championship silver-medal winning team recently competed at the U17 World Championship in Lithuania and will be expected to continue the momentum with a strong promotion push, led by the supremely talented Martin Peterka.
Israel are hoping it's a case of third time lucky when they step out after two years of trying to gain promotion back to Division A, and they are also being touted as a potential front runner.
Hoping to ease the pain of an entirely forgettable 2011 at U18 European Championship level last summer are Finland, Sweden and Montenegro.
The former dropped out of Division A and will be keen to bounce straight back, while both Sweden and Montenegro experienced the agony of losing the all-important promotion semi-finals in Varna last year.
This summer there is an extra place available as three teams gain promotion, which will give an additional incentive for those teams who seriously feel they can make a play and land coveted Division A status.
The U18 European Championship Division B also continues to be a valuable platform for those nations who are merely trying to secure incremental improvements in both development and performance at youth level.