|Jules Dang Akodo will return this summer for his second stint with his country's U18 team|
By David Hein
England took a big stride forward at the 2013 U18 European Championship, reaching the second round and finishing ninth overall. However, the task will be quite a bit more difficult this summer as England prepare to take on a lethal first round group.
Karl Brown's team has been drawn into Group B with basketball powers Lithuania, Croatia and France at the tournament in Konya, Turkey which runs from 24 July to 03 August.
One of the players who will need to have a strong showing for England to advance past the first round, and if not then remain in Division A, is guard Jules Dang Akodo.
As a 17-year-old, the Yaounde, Cameroon native played on England's U18 team last summer - the country's first appearance in Division A. Akodo led the team in assists with 3.7 per game while also averaging 9.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
"It was great. It was a great opportunity to learn from the older guys. We played hard and it was a great thing to stay in Division A," said Akodo, who helped England beat Ukraine twice and Spain, the Czech Republic and Italy all once to take ninth place.
Akodo and Co. beat Ukraine in the first round to stay away from relegation last summer but none of the first round opponents will be easy in Konya.
"It is a pretty tough group, but we believe in our team. We believe we can beat those teams if we go out there and play hard tough defence," said Akodo.
"We'll be alright."
|"I just like the European style of game, that's it" - Jules Dang Akodo|
Brown will undoubtedly call upon Akodo to be one of his team's leaders, something the bulky guard knows.
"Being in that team last year will help me a lot to lead the guys on and off the court," said Akodo, who only turned 18 in early May.
The guard has been making a name for himself outside of England as well, playing his third year with the Slovenian powers Union Olimpija Ljubljana.
"They picked me up really early. My coach from England was friends with the scouts from Union Olimpija. I was there for a couple of weeks and they liked me," recalled Akodo, who decided to go elsewhere in Europe while many young English players elected to go to high school or college in the United States.
"I just like the European style of game, that's it," reasoned Akodo.
He also played this January for Ljubljana at the European club competition Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) in L'Hospitalet. Akodo was Olimpija's third leading scorer at 10.4 points per game to go with 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals. The team finished third, losing only to Unicaja Malaga and eventual NIJT finalists Real Madrid.
"It was disappointing, but we went there and fought and played like a team and had some good results," said Akodo, whose team beat Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, Joventut Badalona as well as hosts CB L'Hospitalet.
Akodo also played at the 2014 Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, Germany, providing European and NBA scouts plenty of chances to see him play. Still, Akodo is in no rush to take the next step.
"I am still at Olimpija, just taking it slow. I'm not in a rush. I'm still young. Whatever comes will come."
Next for sure is a tough test in Konya for Akodo and the English team.