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Group B preview: Martinez-led Spain looking for a medal; Italy, Serbia could ruffle some feathers
PIESTANY (FIBA U18 European Championship 2017) - We check in with Group B of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2017, headlined by last year's bronze medalists Italy, perennial podium contenders Spain, before being rounded out by basketball powerhouse Serbia and the always-competitive Ukraine.
Marko Pecarski was unstoppable at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016
Players to Watch: Marko Pecarski put together an impressive campaign for Serbia at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016, averaging 26.6 points, 15.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Already a skilled scorer at the age of 17, the 2000-born center can punish opponents both inside the paint as well as with his outside jumper, proving to be the team's key contributor during the friendly games. The backcourt pairing of Andrija Marjanovic, the team's top-scorer at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015, and Aleksa Uskokovic will also play decisive roles for coach Vladimir Jovanovic.
Outlook: Although the 1999-born generation of Serbian players may not be the most talented one in the country's proud basketball history, it is certainly more than capable of improving on the 8th-place finish at the FIBA U16 European Championship in Kaunas after a Quarter-Final exit, especially with the help of the fast-improving Bayern Munich big man Marko Pecarski.
Ukraine finished 10th at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015, Division B
Players to Watch: Dnipro point guard prospect Yusuf Sanon has been the go-to guy for Ukraine in the preparation period and will be the number one option on the roster at the FIBA U18 European Championship, thanks to his scoring ability. Klevzunik on the wing and big men Andriy Grytsak and Andrii Voinalovych are the other notable players on the roster.
Outlook: Ukraine earned promotion to Division A after a podium finish at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016, Division B in Skopje and staying up with the big guns will be the number one priority for the incoming 1999-born players. However, if their first international test at the FIBA U16 European Championship, Division B a couple of years ago is anything to go by, it might prove to be an uphill struggle for the Ukrainian team.
Playmaker Alessandro Pajola is one of two players on the roster to have won back-to-back medals with the U18 and U19 teams
Players to Watch: Virtus Bologna point guard Alessandro Pajola and Stella Azzura big man Guglielmo Caruso will be the figureheads for Italy this summer after winning bronze at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 and silver at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 as the only 1999-born players on these medal-winning squads.
Outlook: Coach Andrea Capobianco's side will have a tough act to follow after Italy finished third at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 in Turkey last year, which was the second-ever medal at U18 level and the first one since the team led by Danilo Gallinaro and Luigi Datome took bronze in 2005.
An All-Star Five member at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016, Sergi Martinez is ready to lead Spain forward
Players to Watch: A standout at every level he has played and a member of the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 All-Star Five, Sergi Martinez will possibly be the biggest star in Piestany. A smart all-round power forward, who runs the floor and can put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways, will form the core of the team with Osas Ehigitor and Pol Molins, who were among the few 1999-born players at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 in Egypt earlier this summer.
Outlook: Perennial medal contenders, this generation of Spanish players has finished one step short of the podium both at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 and the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup in 2016. Martinez and company will be hoping for the third time to be the charm at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2017.