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2014 champs Crvena Zvezda return to ANGT Finals as Belgrade winners
REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - Half of the field for the Adidas Next Generation Tournament (ANGT) Finals at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four is set after Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade captured their fifth straight title at the Belgrade ANGT qualifier - as expected.
The reigning ANGT champions eased through the Belgrade field, finishing off their undefeated run of five wins in three days with a 73-51 victory over city rivals Partizan Belgrade in the final.
The 2014 Finals MVP Vojislav Stojanovic was the deserved MVP of the Belgrade tournament while Luka Vulikic of Mega Leks Belgrade, Milos Glisic of Partizan Belgrade, Canarias BA's Jordan Blount and Umana Reyer Venice's Leonardo Tote joined the Crvena Zvezda star on the All-Tournament Team.
The Finals in Madrid on May 14-17 definitely will be a fun battle with Crvena Zvezda likely to be considered the favorite - though not necessarily the prohibitive one.
Stellazzurra Basketball Academy Rome won the Rome qualifying tournament and will be a tough team to beat as the Italians continue to improve.
Real Madrid not only have a group of great players, will be the Finals hosts and enter as the undefeated L'Hospitalet qualifying tournament winner. The Spanish powers also will have the extra motivation of having lost to Crvena Zvezda in the 2014 ANGT (still known then as the Nike International Junior Tournament) final 55-42. And many of the Crvena Zvezda players are back - giving the Madrid players a direct target of their motivation.
Also qualified is Zalgiris Kaunas, who are ready to return to at least the final, a place the Lithuanians haven't been since 2011. And the second of Zalgiris' two titles dates all the way back to 2007.
Joining that trio is Crvena Zvezda, who showed at the Belgrade qualifier that they have a group of supremely talent players who are all willing to share the ball - and rewards - and sacrifice one's own merits for the good of the group.
There was continually an extra pass after an extra pass for an even more open shot. The team averaged 21.2 assists per game and shot 57 percent from inside the three-point line and 32 percent beyond it. Eight players averaged between 8.2 and 11.4 points per game.
What is impressive is that all of these excellent players were willing to play for the good of the team at an age when many youngsters are looking to stand out and showcase themselves.
Stojanovic averaged only 9.0 points - to go with 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals - but he could have easily scored 18-20 points a game if it was needed. Aleksandar Aranitovic, Nikola Rakicevic and Aleksa Radanov could probably do the same.
But as the saying goes… There is no I in team.
But that Crvena Zvezda quartet was impressive as expected. Another player who stood out was Borisa Simanic. The long power forward was second in scoring at 10.6 points per game while shooting 58 percent from two-point range and 47 percent (9-of-19) from three-point range. While it was not a surprise to see him grab 5.8 rebounds and block 1.6 shots per game, him taking his game outside as effectively as he did was impressive.
Crvena Zvezda wasn't the only team with impressive players.
German side Alba Berlin finished third with Ferdinand Zykla proving to be a great shooter on the wing. Lukas Wank is an uber-long versatile player and Moritz Wagner showed some great energy at both ends at the forward position.
Canarias Basketball Academy definitely deserves a vote in the United Nations as the team featured players from China (Wang Yixiong), Georgia (Luka Bulashivili), Ireland (Blount), Mali (Souleymane Diakite) and Netherlands (Menno Dijkstra). Blount was named to the All-Tournament Team with an outstanding all-around game, while Dijkstra may have been the most-skilled center in the tournament. And Wang took a huge step forward with some big power moves in the paint.
Vulikic made the selection team as a strong scoring point guard, which is the same position Novak Music plays - probably the best two players on the Mega Leks Belgrade team.
Partizan reached the final despite Vanja Marinkovic not playing (the 18-year-old played on Sunday night for Partizan in the Adriatic League city derby with Crvena Zvezda). A big reason for them finishing second was the excellent play of All-Tournament Team member Glisic. The forward definitely showed he is back from his broken leg and ready to return to the discussion about the best European in the 1998 class. Slobodan Jovanovic was an excellent point guard on the team as well.
All-Tournament Team pick Tote was clearly the best player for Umana Reyer Venice. The big man showed all the tools in the kit - inside game, mid-range game, outside game, defensive game. He even won the Slam Dunk Contest - doing the final dunk in a bathrobe and sandals.
Vaerlose BBK, meanwhile, was paced by big man Jacob Larsen and point guard August Haas. Larsen flashed a solid skill set though he lacked athleticism. Haas for his part picked up one triple-double and was close to another as he showed a strong overall package.
Last but not least is Zemun Belgrade, who featured perhaps the best scorer of the tournament. Nikola Cirkovic topped 30 points twice - averaging 23.8 points per game - and it didn't look like a forced 30. The guard has great speed, is an excellent dribbler who can beat anybody to the basket. He doesn't finish above the rim but he's effective in the paint. And Cirkovic is a lights out shooter. But he also plays defense and showcases an all-around high understanding of the game.
All-in-all, it was an entertaining Belgrade qualifier and leaves one ready for the Finals battle in Madrid.
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