|02 August 2013|
Having tasted success with Barcelona and Catalonia, three amigos will next week take aim at the U16 European Championship Men in Ukraine.
Spanish trio Ramon Vila, Jaume Sorolla and Alejandro Mazaira have grown up together with Barca's youth system, more than just three key cogs in the team but also three close friends - and that makes them key to the close chemistry inside Jose Ignacio Hernandez's team.
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Together they won the youth championships both in Spain and Catalonia, but their goal in Kyiv over the next fortnight is to get Spain back into the podium positions after they missed out in Lithuania last year.
Jose Silva, an assistant to Hernandez, has worked with the trio and several other members of this team for many years during their development within the national academy.
"I will not deny that this generation is special to me because I have worked with them and grown up with them," he said. "I will do all I can for them. I hope all the sleepless nights we have spent together bring their rewards."
Spain, who capped their preparations with victory at the Memorial Tiziano Ciotti in Italy, have been drawn in Group A alongside Russia, Greece and Belgium, the latter having won promotion to Division A by winning last year's Division B tournament in Bucharest with a 56-46 victory over Montenegro.
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Greece are another team who have been demonstrating their credentials in test games over recent weeks, winning a tournament in Turkey with an undefeated run to the final where they topped Serbia 53-44.
Although these remain difficult times in Greece, coach Manos Manouselis admits there has been a silver lining for his youthful charges.
"One of the ‘good' consequences of the financial crisis is that clubs have turned to young Greek players," he said.
"It is only a matter of time before these kids get even more playing time, especially the ones who are a little older."
Group B matches defending champions Turkey with last year's hosts Lithuania as well as Germany and newly-promoted Sweden, who took third place in the Division B tournament by routing Hungary 79-55.
Turkey head to Ukraine after an 83-78 victory over Latvia in the Baltic Cup final, while Germany recorded an encouraging 72-64 win over last year's third-placed team Serbia during their preparations.
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Serbia themselves are in Group C alongside France, Poland and Montenegro, while the hosts Ukraine will face Latvia, Italy and Croatia in Group D, where coach Vitali Usenko is determined to make the most of home advantage with a young but experienced squad that includes Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, a key part of last year's team.
"We have five players of BC Donetsk on the list of candidates for the national team - (Vitaly) Zotov, (Anatoliy) Khytov, (Anton) Musiyenko, (Igor) Starodub and (Sergiy) Pavlov - who this season won the Premier Division of the European Youth Basketball League in the age group U16" he said.
"(Sviatoslav) Mykhailiuk and (Volodymyr) Potapenko played for the Cherkassy Monkeys in the European Youth Basketball League team for players born in 1996 and became bronze medalists.
"Undoubtedly, this experience will be useful for the players, the more matches they play at international level, the more confident the players will feel, especially when faced with any difficulties during the competition.
"Our rivals are very strong. We face a difficult task but we can manage it."