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Salvadores tries to paper over the cracks
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - The Final of the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship for Women will be remembered as one of women's basketball's greatest games, while a future star of senior FIBA World Championship for Women tournaments was surely born on the global stage in the shape of MVP Angela Salvadores.
The spectacular contest between the USA and Spain which incorporated the phenomenal 40-point contribution from the Spanish ace had me standing on my feet from the media tribune, having tweeted frenetically about one of the best individual performances I have ever witnessed.
The Final was breathtaking. It was compulsive viewing and if you took your eyes off it for the merest second, you were left asking someone alongside you what had just happened on the floor.
As majestic as Salvadores was, Asia Durr and especially Lauren Cox won the gold medal game for the holders. Both could feel aggrieved at not making the All-Tournament Team and especially Cox who I had tweeted about earlier in the game as being 'a bad-ass player'. Her record-breaking eight blocks and attitude were the reasons the USA survived on their throne.
Salvadores, meanwhile, achieved what Breanna Stewart did last year at U19 level in setting pulses racing and signalling her ability to become a superstar one day. Spain also deserve credit as a team, as do their coaching staff and the Federation for almost climbing the mountain of beating the mighty USA.
I am excited about Katie Lou Samuelson too and her potential for the future. While both Virag Kiss and Debora Dubei were quite brilliant for Hungary and especially the latter, who was a driving force throughout for the third place debutantes.
It's just a pity Hungary are playing in the U18 European Championship Women Division B and can't potentially qualify for the FIBA U19 Championship for Women next year. A lesson in the importance of maintaining your Division A status in Europe if ever there was one.
There were other major positives including the live streaming of games, the Czech fans, the brilliant organisation of the event, the marvellous volunteers, Mali making history with a first win against European opposition, Mexico grabbing a landmark first success and two debutantes in hosts Czech Republic and Hungary both making the Semi-Finals.
But in reality, the tournament was a mixed bag. My overall assessment was that while a small number of nations have improved and not least Spain and Hungary, there was much to think about for many national federations and specific FIBA departments.
I felt that the quality of coaching overall was patchy. I also thought the referees have much to digest from this tournament. I don't say either of those things lightly as someone who has done some coaching and refereeing - albeit at a very lower level.
I accept how easy it is to coach and referee from a media tribune. But having said that, the games are right there, archived on youtube - so, tell me I am wrong.
The shooting of the players and the actual degree of inaccuracy from spots right across the entire court should also be of grave concern. Yes, they are young girls and while this is mitigation of sorts, the quality overall was not where it needs to be - even at that age. The percentages will no doubt bear this out. I feel it was a lack of focus and mental toughness (especially at the hoop), just as much as any flaw in technique.
It was the same with passing quality - but that is a basketball trend generally and a worrying factor in the men's game too. All this pains me greatly to say it by the way, because I really do love giving young women ballers support and encouragement.
I was also particularly disappointed by some of the more established women's nations, many of which resource their programmes relatively strongly - or at least in comparison to others.
My abiding memory of the tournament came ahead of the medal presentations as Salvadores was given a hug by Spanish assistant coach Isa Sanchez. In a touching and emotionally charged moment, Sanchez was doing everything in her power to hold back her own tears (for Angela) and console the magical MVP.
I think I probably wasn't alone in thinking that at that particular moment, almost everybody inside the entire arena wanted to give Salvadores a hug too!
So, a sincere thanks to the top four teams for doing their utmost to paper over those cracks and especially to Salvadores, who showed an MVP should not always be from a winning team and reminded us why women's youth basketball can be classy, entertaining and unforgettable.
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