There are no easy groups for anybody at the Samsung U18 European Championship but for sure a pool which features the likes of Spain, Serbia, Germany and Ukraine seems to be one of the toughest.
|Nikola Radicevic is one of the players on the Serbia roster that have the experience of reaching the final in 2011 and will want to better Spain this time around|
You could forgive Serbia for being sick of the sight of Spain. Not only did they lose to the Spanish in last year's final of the U18 European Championship, they also lost twice earlier this year at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament - including the title game itself.
Fortunately for Serbia, they should have back most of their 1994-born players who played in Poland last summer.
Nikola Radicevic is a playmaker who is really stepping up this year, having been named MVP of the Albert Schweitzer Tournament, and the backcourt looks to be in safe hands.
Powerhouse Nikola Jankovic should do the bulk of the work on the boards, just like last summer, and could get help from center Dusan Ristic who continues to develop nicely and this trend should continue in Lithuania.
With three podium finishes during the last four years at this tournament, including gold medals during 2007 and 2009, Serbia has a proud record to uphold.
Defending their title, Spain get an early match-up on gameday three with their final opponent from last summer and that will suit the three 1994-born players just fine, since they will be feeling confident after delivering in a big way for their nation.
It was the first gold for Spain in seven years and having followed it up with their Albert Schweitzer Tournament success, they also head into this competition looking like podium challengers.
Hernangomez has been snapped up by Real Madrid who are perhaps hoping he can replace Felipe Reyes and certainly the forward has the same kind of qualities.
Right now, he is exciting people with his development and he will be a player to watch in the paint for the Spanish.
The same can also be said of 1995-born center Ilimane Diop, the Caja Laboral-attached player who, alongside Hernangomez, could form one of the most potent frontcourts at the tournament.
Diop is a super physical presence for Spain under the basket and will light up any highlights reel with his powerful plays down low and ability to dunk.
Germany are likely to be cursing the group draw which has handed them the 2011 finalists.
|Ilimane Diop has never played at the U18 European Championship before but Spain are confident he can reproduce the kind of form he showed at U16 and U17 level|
Even though both Spain and Serbia have lost a large number of players, quality has been replaced with quality, meaning a tough assignment for the Germans who finished eleventh last year.
Losing 1993-born Bogdan Radosavljevic means having a big void to fill for Germany but with point guard Paul Zipser looking more and more like a potentially top level playmaker, they have a great base to build on.
Zipser, who is also the team captain, made the All-Tournament Team at the 2012 Albert Schweitzer Tournament and in addition to his passing and scoring ability, he will also utilise his athleticism to play intense defence and challenge shots.
Essentially, he will set the tone and continue where he left off last summer and also last season at club level where he posted a strong performance with German second division team USC Heidelberg.
The likely addition of Gavin Schilling who hasn't played for Germany at youth level so far could be interesting. He is a USA-based 2.05m center who has great strength and is definitely capable of producing some big performances.
Dominic Lockhart meanwhile has plenty of energy and versatility in the small forward spot and he was excellent two years ago at the U16 European Championship where he led the team in rebounds, assists and steals.
Ukraine are likely to find it tough against podium-chasers Spain and Serbia. Indeed they were recently dismantled ruthlessly by the latter in a preparation game and so they will no doubt be targeting Germany as their best chance of success.
Working in their favour is plenty of continuity and chemistry from last year, in a team that may have struggled to avoid the drop into Division B but can draw strength from that experience, having had many 1994-born players who will be making the trip to Lithuania.
Their hopes will be primarily pinned on the considerable shoulders of Volodymyr Gerun who averaged a wonderful tournament double-double in 2011 in Wroclaw, finishing as the third top scorer in the tournament and the second best rebounder.
In the backcourt, Danylo Zuikov will gladly step out of the long shadow cast last summer by Klym Artmanov. For while both were starters and leaders for the team, Zuikov was always playing second fiddle to Artmanov, who led the team in both assists and steals.