EuroBasket U20 takeaways: 5 players that impressed the most

Uygar Karaca
2022-07-25 13:00
Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Basketball is a sport in which the sun never sets. There is no off-season in which the summers are less important than the winters. One big reason? The youth competitions. 

Last week, many young talents played for national glory at EuroBasket U20 in Montenegro, where Spain came to the top for the first time since 2016. Now, it is a good time to review what we've digested in the past week and identify some special player performances that made a difference. 

It is heartbreaking that we could not give a short report on each and every player who requires special attention to big players like Portugal's Ruben Prey, Greece's Giorgos Tanoulis, or Lefteris Mantzoukas, and Montenegro's Andrija Grbovic.

Alternatively, perimeter talents like Turkey's David Sarper Mutaf or Tibet Gorener, France's Matthew Strazel, Ukraine's Max Shulga, or Slovenia's Urban Klavzar are also not here.

Not because they did not deserve it, but because this is not a full scouting report, and we picked only the best five of them.

Fedor Zugic | Montenegro | Guard 

Montenegro had a roller-coaster tournament and some intense moments with the supporters and their renowned basketball federation president, Nikola Pekovic, giving them extra energy.

They often found themselves trailing one or two possessions and finding a way back to the game, a trend that finally carried them until the semi-final round. Fedor Zugic was one of the reasons for that fightback spirit. 

Being the youngest player to debut in the EuroLeague with Buducnost at the age of 15, the Ulm guard was the most impeccable player for the head coach Dusan Dubljevic, playing 33.8 minutes per game and producing 18.0 points on average.

The best showdowns were undoubtedly against Israel (22 points and 19 EFF), Germany (21 points and 4 assists), and Croatia (19 points and 6 assists). 

Zugic's impact stems from his dribbling ability. As a shooting guard, he can bring the ball to the attacking court if needed, but his balanced combination of power and speed makes him an effective driver to the rim.

The Montenegrin talent knows how to use his body as a shield and cannot be knocked down easily while those drives, which seems another ingredient to make him eligible to play as a heavy ball-handler small forward.

Not only can Zugic finish those penetrations, but he can also find teammates around the traffic. Throughout the tournament, the Ulm guard recorded 3.0 assists on average. With all those combinations coming together, he might be likened to Kruno Simon, but Zugic needs to improve his 3-point shooting for that comparison. 

Getting blocked by Mantas Rubstavicius in the crucial possession against Lithuania did not look good and probably cost the game for the hosts, but it does not mean he had a bad tournament.

Naom Dovrat | Israel | Guard 

As the last two defending champions of U20 EuroBasket, Israel youth basketball set the bar quite high in the last few years.

And they kept on bringing special talents into the international scene during the summer. 

Deni Avdija has become an NBA player already, while Yam Madar, who Boston Celtics drafted in the 2020 Draft, keeps developing under the watchful eyes of Zeljko Obradovic. 

Before that, Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman were standout players in the younger age groups, becoming EuroLeague players shortly after. 

This time, the focus was on Noam Dovrat, and he did not disappoint. The 1.95 point guard produced double-digit scoring in all 7 games of the campaign and came at 4th place in scoring, averaging 17.7 points per game.

Dovrat's masterpiece was in the semi-finals, where he scored 26 points against a tough defender, Michael Caicedo, bringing Israel within 6 points against the ultimate champions, Spain.

Eventually, that was not enough, but Dovrat is a player that should be understood beyond numbers. 

The 2002-born player has been already a regular at Rishon in the Israeli League, EuroCup, and the Champions League for the last couple of years and piled up a lot of experience and self-confidence into his young playing career. 

He showed everyone all this accumulated knowledge with his court vision, basketball IQ, and leadership abilities in clutch situations. 

Numbers tell similar stories, too. Despite the heavy workload with 35:13 minutes per game, he rarely lost control of his team's rhythm and became the most effective pick and roll player of the tournament (3.33 made FG out of 7.83 pick and roll plays). 

Being a relentless scorer and a feeder, he provided 4.4 assists per game for only 2.9 turnovers. Dovrat also contributed with his rebounds (5.4 per game) and helped with the rotations while shifting between PG and SG positions. 

Let's not forget that Israel was full of solid perimeter players like Harel Rinski, Amit Aharoni, and Roy Paretsky, who gave Dovrat good company. But whenever the latter had the ball in their hands, he pumped just a different kind of confidence into his team. A true leader's characteristic. 

Adem Bona | Turkey | Center

Regarding the bigs (centers and power forwards), there are a few players worth mentioning: Gilad Levy, Leonardo Okeke, and others.

However, there was almost no one to match Adem Bona's level when it comes to explosiveness. His exceptional athleticism has been among the hot topics of the European prospects field, and he is getting better and better on that.

Turkey fell short of the semi-finals after losing against Israel in the last 8, but Adem Bona finished the tournament with 17.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a staggering 2.4 blocks per game averages.

Bona finished 5 of the 7 games with a double-double and built a red-white wall against the opponents who dared to sneak into the paint.   

We should not miscue Bona's defensive dimensions because he was instrumental in rim protection. In addition, he disrupted opponents with good defensive positioning in the pick&roll situations, quickly recovering from hedging to the low post.

The incoming 2.08-meter UCLA player was frequently on duty with airborne attacks and dunks and operated like a foul-drawing machine with his abrupt and elusive movements.

Bona's post-up offense alongside shooting range and variety still needs to be improved. Besides, he makes many decision-making mistakes when given disproportional offensive responsibilities.

But a player with that much willingness to improve, these are issues that can be addressed to some extent. He can close that gap with the help of Mick Cronin's offensive framework at UCLA. 

Michael Caicedo Sanchez| Forward | Spain

It is not easy to pick a single player within this Spanish team that did not lose a single game throughout the tournament.

They had a lot of talent, but without that well-organized design of player roles and movements with a perfectly executed game plan, it could not have been possible. Kudos to head coach Joaquin Prado and his staff.

In addition, it is also not easy to pick one player who did not shine in his stats. All in all, there is the tournament MVP Juan Nunez Garcia and his backup Ruben Dominguez Gonzales at point guard.

Shapeshifting Miguel Allen Montesdeoca was able to cover 3 and 4 positions in offense and show adequacy in switching pick&rolls while offering remarkable defensive versatility.

But in the end, my personal favorite was Michael Caicedo Sanchez, the player we occasionally watched at the EuroLeague level at Barcelona last season.

After dominating the ANGT Tournament the year before, Sarunas Jasikevicius kept pushing him harder to become a more complete player. And seemingly, all the strive was not in vain. 

Caicedo's contributions may look vague and subtle but not less important than the others I've named above. If Nunez was the ultimate organizer with the ball, Caicedo did a similar job without the ball.

Whether it is a hidden off-ball screen, a shallow cut, or a floor spacing move, Caicedo usually finds the right way to ensure that offensive flow maintains continuity.

The Barcelona youngster could not reach double digits other than the Poland game and the final itself, but his value in the offense showed itself in the form of a facilitator.

When it comes to transitions, that is another story because he is usually among the first ones to reach the opponent's weak spots in the fast breaks. Points per play in that? 1.58. An elite rate.

Alongside that humble offensive contributor, Caicedo's two-way game is the real thing that makes him a top prospect for the future.

As being tested by Jasikevicius at times, he was usually given the hardest assignments on the defensive end. We usually witnessed him being responsible for the opponent's best scoring options during the tournament, as it was Dovrat against Israel and Rubstavicius against Lithuania. 

Caicedo regularly made steals but, more frequently, forced turnovers that were not always reflected in the scorecard. Overall, his presence on the court made a +14.3 differential.

Mantas Rubstavicius | Lithuania | Guard/Forward

Lithuania had a peculiar U20 campaign. They came close to the brink of not advancing through the next stage in the group stage after losing the second game against Ukraine. 

However, they reached the final, narrowly losing against unbeaten Spain.

If there is one player that built that road of a bounceback, it is Mantas Rubstavicius. 

The 1.98-meter Lietkabelis Panevezys player, who provides the vibes of Brandon Ingram with his slim posture and a very high point of release in the shooting action, showed many of his attacking skills throughout the tournament.

Despite being slowed down by the Spanish armada in the final (15 points, 3 turnovers), he ended up being the tournament's scoring leader with 19.7 points per game. 

The impressive boxscores aside, Rubstavicius displayed some noticeable characteristics in his game that made the difference.

Firstly, he is very apt for catch&shoot in the proper sense and can score quite easily without making any dribbling at all. He is rapid and wise enough to use one or several screen corridors without losing his shooting balance on a  3-pointer attempt.

That feature can be likened to his former teammate at Zalgiris, Arturas Milaknis. Despite a large volume of attempts beyond the arc, Rubstavicius hit 39.6% of them (2.7 made 3 FGs out of 6.9 attempts).

But Rubstavicius is by no means a "catch-and-shoot" guard only. He is also effective once the ball hits the ground as well with quick and fluid footwork and the capacity to maintain body position despite the contract.

He manages to get into the paint very quickly after the first step, and in summary, he is a very good catch-and-drive player, too. 

Those 38 points against France (with 5 out of 8 3-pointers) and 24 points against Germany (which was a much more closely contested game) were offensive masterpieces made out of Lithuania's 1-4 offensive setup. 

Thanks to Lithuania's frequently utilized zone defense (deployed 82 possessions), one-on-one defensive features are not easy to grasp for each player. But Rubstavicius' help awareness was shown in the win against Montenegro, where he stopped Zugic. 

There are still some incomplete nodes of Rubstavicius' future playing role, and he can evolve into a much more versatile forward who can give secondary help to the playmaking department.

If he manages to sharpen his current skill set and find a true point guard that feeds him often in his future teams, he will become a very hard player to stop once he catches the rhythm. 

Are we done with the youngster for this summer? Not at all. U20s are done, but we are getting ready for the next EuroBasket, this time U18 in Izmir. It is a hot city already, but with that heat of basketball, we wish to witness some more youth basketball in its prime. 


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