EuroBasket U18 aftermath: 5 exciting names to remember

Uygar Karaca
Collaborator
2022-08-09 07:06
Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Heading to the EuroBasket seniors, we had more than an intense warm-up session at the beautiful coastal city of Izmir, watching the U18 squads coming together for the continental title. 

The hosts, Turkey, fought until the very end to deliver a nice gift to their enthusiastic fans, who created an exceptional atmosphere at the sites, but reigning U18 and U20 champions Spain were just too much to handle. 

There were lots of dramatic moments in many games but perhaps what matters the most is that we had an opportunity to watch all the new talents coming together in a competitive environment.

It's a pity that in this article, we could only name some of these '04 and 05' born talents. Surely, we are going to hear about these young players and many more.

For the time being, here are the best five of them, according to our humble observations.

Izan Almansa Perez | Spain | Center

One of the biggest European prospects of the 05 generation, Izan Almansa Perez (2.07) cannot be stopped. After grabbing the MVP prize in the U17 World Cup where Spain lost to the USA in the final, he became the undisputedly most dominant player in the U18 EuroBasket in Izmir. 

Finishing 5 games with a double-double are just a small indication of his domination. He has a variety of tools to exert a +14.3 plus/minus difference for Spain per game, and left a huge impression on the close followers of the tournament. 

As a tidy finisher around the paint, Perez became the leading scorer of the tournament among the centers and came second (after Greece's Evangelos Zougris) in the % of field goals made among all players.

This ability to finish is stemming from the strength in his shoulders as no matter how hard is the contact, he maintains the body position to finish the action. He also has a sweet right-handed floater, which gives him range when he does not get to reach closer to the rim and further threat around the short-mid zone.

The rebounding ability is a very bright feature of Izan's profile as he not only has a high vertical jump and ability to react swiftly once the ball hits the rim but also has a great sense of rebounding and shifts his position while the shots are being taken. 

In addition to all these fundamentals, his maturity regarding ball distribution should not be overlooked. When Almansa rises to the outer perimeter to help the offensive organization, he tries to read as many cuts as possible, before making his move.

The Spanish center has considerable fluidity with the handoffs and screen actions and slips fast enough for a rim run to catch an alley-oop pass. Combining all these actions in one package is impressive. 

If all these were not enough, Izan Almansa Perez was also one of the most formidable rim protectors and became one of the main reasons why Spain was the best defensive team in the tournament.

When Perez was around the paint the opponents could hit only 29% of close shots. There is still room to improve in other defensive departments (switch, hedge, or help defense) but regarding the post-up actions, that indicates how deterrent the former Murcia and Real Madrid academy product was. 

A well-deserved MVP prize came after a brilliant week for the Spaniard.

Berke Buyuktuncel | Turkey | Forward

The host Turkey had a great tournament throughout the week and with the great support of the roaring crowd in Izmir, they reached the final after a series of rollercoaster games. 

There were many players behind a series of impressive comeback runs such as Karahan Tuan Efeoglu (hero of the Slovenia game with 20 points where Turkey pulled a comeback win after trailing 20 in the first half) and Kerem Kuthan Kothan, who made the game-winning block against Lithuania.

Arda Sivas led the steals per game chart in the tournament and Ege Tan Yildizoglu fed his teammates with 8 assists against Germany to inspire yet another comeback.

But among them, the lions' share belonged to Berke Buyuktuncel, one of the most exciting players of his generations in the domestic circle. 

Buyuktuncel provided double-digit scoring in all games but two: he was spared against Great Britain and was locked down against Spain.

However, most importantly, the Tofas player came fore with his natural leadership abilities to bravely carry the team in the most adverse situations, repeatedly.

During the last quarter against Spain in the final, where he was left with only 2 points at the beginning of the 4th quarter, Buyuktuncel lit another fire by delivering a poster dunk over Sadiq Garuba and finishing the game with 8 points.

Turkey lost eventually, but the 2.02-meter forward made the tournament a showcase event for his multidimensional abilities and gave some good vibes for a bright future for himself and for his country as well. 

As a big player, he can play both SF and PF positions, which brings a grave advantage in the offensive set when Turkey attacks from the wings.

His first step and dribbling pace are not the most explosive but thanks to his solid footwork, Buyuktuncel can finish layups in traffic with a lot of tricks like finger rolls and up-and-under moves. 

His shooting action is not the smoothest and reminds Ersan Ilyasova with that slightly delayed release but that does not mean that Buyuktuncel is harmless behind the arc.

Despite not being a high-volume 3-point shooter, he ended in the Top 5 with regard to 3-point accuracy (42%). While he does not refrain to pull the trigger in the pick-and-pop situations, his off-ball movement allows the Turkish prospect to become a remarkable screen-off and catch-and-shoot threat on both strong as well as the weakside. 

We must not forget that Turkey was one of the most efficient teams when it comes to transition and Buyuktuncel was among the main reasons behind it with his floor spacing and finishing skills during the fast breaks. 

 

Last but not least, his strong focus on both defensive and offensive rebounding (8.2 rebounds per game with no less than 7 rebounds in each game) is combined with considerable awareness of help-defending and ball pressure.

The latter part was epitomized in the games against Lithuania and Poland, where he made 11 steals in total. 

In short, the senior Turkish NT is about to gain a very exciting prospect in the near future if Buyuktuncel keeps growing as a player with some significant playing time and experience at the elite level. He is a special talent.

Paulius Murauskas | Lithuania | Forward

Despite winning all first four games in an impressive manner, Lithuania was derailed by Turkey in the quarterfinals and finished the tournament in a rather disappointing 7th place. 

However, they were not without some discernable talents that took considerable attention. The tournament's top rebounder Motiejus Krivas (13.4 boards per game) and Paulius Murauskas, the top scorer of the entire week with 20.7 points, were among the two of them.

In fact, the formidable duo should mean a lot as the Lithuanian future prospects as they provided 45% of all points scored by the entire team. 

Throughout the tournament, Murauskas consistently showed many of his rare combinations in his skillset as a wing player as well as a big man.

When playing around the outer zones of the perimeter, Zalgiris Kaunas youth product can operate as a pick-and-roll ball handler and consistently drive to the rim with both hands.

10 of his drives were to the left whereas 12 of his drives were to the right and 14 times, he was either fouled or finished the dribble with a bucket. 

He did not show that pick-and-roll ball handler features last season during the prior exhibitions with Nevezis in LKL or Zalgiris U18 in the ANGT, but maintained a figure like 1.25 points per possession out of 8 pick-and-roll possessions at EuroBasket U18 and that is not something to be overlooked. 

In addition to that, Murauskas was the second biggest passing target for a post-up play (2.71 per game). Out of 24 possessions of this sort, he produced 0.92 points per possession and remained in the Top 5 post-up scorers which shows a remarkable variety of his weaponry.

This lethal combination is also sharpened with a pace, floor spacing, and athletic finishing in the transitions, which was expressed by some commanding dunks in the process.

With all these playing aspects, Murauskas became an absolute nightmare for most of his opponents and drew 4.86 fouls per game, 2nd most in the tournament fouls drawn. 

Certainly, the high dependency of the team on his offensive production led to an inflated level of usage, which sometimes led to a high amount of turnovers, like those 7 against Turkey or 5 against the Czech Republic.

His overenthusiasm sometimes makes him prone to mistakes, once iced in the pick and rolls (driven to the sides, when not cracking into the center). Also, his lateral speed could become an issue in defense, despite his good rim protection skills.

But overall, if Murauskas improves his mid-range game alongside better accuracy from the 3-point territory in all parts of the zone, he would become very hard to contain in near future.

Noam Yaacov | Israel | Guard

The impressive Israeli series of guards from successive generations keep coming tournament after tournament. Not long before, we mentioned about 2002 Noam Dovrat, who was arguably the best point guard in the U20 Tournament. 

In Izmir, Israel did not win so many games but 2004-born ASVEL youth team member Noam Yaacov flashed brightly and presented himself as being one of the hottest prospects among the point guards of his generation.

Yaacov finished all the games but one with 15+ points and 5+ assists and became 2nd in the points per game charts but beyond these noticeable stats, there is even more substance in his game. 

Denmark-born talent is already a pick-and-roll master and brilliantly exhibited that convincing capacity for the close followers of the tournament.

35 points and 6 assists game against Italy was one example of how good he is at decisions at the heart of his team's offensive structure. Out of 7 games and 6.3 pick-and-roll possessions, he produced 1.09 points on average, which is very sharp. 

Yaacov just instinctively knows whether he should shoot or pass: where to pass, when to pass and how to deliver the ball to the most convenient point.

That is why, the scoring responsibilities aside, he was also on top of the assists list with 6.14 dimes per game. It could be a drive and kick for a weak side three or a sneaky lethal dish to the dunker spot out of a side PnR, the youngblood just configured himself as a swiss-knife in these situations. 

Yaacov is also a very quick dribbler in fast-break situations who can finish with flashy Euro Step moves, reads defensive weak spots swiftly, or even can send single-handed long-range baseball passes. The defenses just don't have much time to blink, when Yaacov has the ball. 

He appealed to the mid-range shooting with minimal extent during the tournament and rather preferred to finish at the rim with 42% success.

That might seem not a satisfactory rate but we should also consider that 70% of all times he drove to the paint and attempted a layup, he either scored or fouled. He was the leading foul-getter of the tournament with 5.43 per match. 

His 3-point shooting rate was 39% but that might be a little bit misleading because of the unbalanced success in different shooting zones.

On the right wing and at the top he hit 7/14, while on the left wing, connected 2 shots in 12 tries throughout the entire week. But still, he is able to send pull-ups, side-step, and step-back threes, so the skillset in that department is quite full of variety.

My gut feeling tells me that not long after this summer, we could start to observe Yaacov playing some meaningful minutes at an elite level, which is pretty exciting stuff.

Sidy Cissoko | France | Guard/Forward

All was going pretty well for France until Slovenia's Gasper Skorjanc hit that game-winner three-pointer with 7 seconds remaining on the clock but it was a good experience for the young Blues to learn how cruel the game of basketball could be on a mediocre day. 

It was the only game that France lost throughout the tournament but after losing in the quarterfinals, they could only finish 5th. Nevertheless, some individual performances took high grades, such as Sidy Cissoko.

The swingman put in strong efforts almost on a daily basis throughout the week and stood in front among the leaders of the team. While 11.3 points and 3.1 assists averages are solid figures, his balanced contribution at both ends of the court made the display even more impressive. 

Cissoko was not a ball-dominant player who sets the offense and initiates a lot of pick and rolls.

Instead, the Baskonia (and Iraurgi at LEB Oro) talent scores predominantly with some compelling power drives to the rim and with the free throws he generated out of those angled attacks to the paint.

He likes to get others involved in those drives and regularly serves tasty dishes.

His one other strong point was the transition attacks, in which he gives a lot of contribution not only out of his speed and explosiveness but also his decisions and assists.

It is not a coincidence that France was the top effective team in the tournament in transitions.

While Cissoko draws a lot of fouls (8 against Slovenia and 7 against Italy) and stands as a physical force hard to contain, he manages to exert a staggering ball pressure in defense without appealing to so many fouls himself.

He stole 19 balls throughout the tournament (team leader) but perhaps more importantly, he is a good off-ball defender with the ability to bring the required help in defense rotations and contain drives. When opponents attacked him on the perimeter, only 9 out of 23 times, they could score on the Frenchman. 

Strength, defensive matureness, tenacity, and athleticism are his strong sides and if he gets to furnish himself with further pick-and-roll ball handling and isolation skills with an improved 3-point game, Cissoko would definitely increase his draft stock for 2023.

As we stated in the beginning, there were many other talents that are worth mentioning in this article.

Great Britain's Latrell Davis, Turkey's big man Samet Yigitoglu and Greece's center Evangelos Zougris, Serbia's perimeter threats Ilija Milijasevic and Djordje Curcic and Italy's explosive guard Emmanuel Innocenti as just a few of them.  

The list can be extended even further, but for now, one thing is for sure: a lot of interesting Euro talents are coming of age from the 04-05 generation. Their development is worth monitoring closely in the upcoming seasons. 

 



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