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Talent and storylines aplenty at U18 European Championship
REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - The European youth summer hoops festival shifts its focus this week to Konya for the U18 European Championship, which promises once again to be a great showcase of elite talent - and great storylines.
Scouts and talent observers from throughout the world will be convening on Turkey for the next 10 days and the level of the tournament will make up for any disappointment about not having a nearby beach to beat the summer heat.
Almost all of the 16 teams will have two or three interesting prospects to watch and a handful of teams have as many as four or five guys who will be on NBA or top European teams' radars over the next few years.
Let's look at a handful of the top storylines to watch as the action tips off today, 24 July 2014.
Another Croatian wave
The Croatians youth movement is slowly becoming a golden era instead of just an age group as this group has almost an embarrassment of riches. Dario Saric led Croatia to the U18 title in 2012 while Paolo Marinelli as well the Zganec twins Bruno and Karlo reached the 2013 Final. Looking to give Croatia another title this season will be 2013 veterans Lovro Mazalin and Marko Arapovic as well as Dragan Bender, Ante Zicic and Nik Slavica. Croatian games will undoubtedly be must-watch fun in Konya.
Already living up to his name
Domantas Sabonis has the huge burden of having that last name, but the son of the legendary Arvydas is doing a good job of making a name for himself - as much as that's even possible. One thing to watch in this tournament will be how Domantas plays in the low block whereas he usually plays more of a power forward position at the club level. Gonzaga University fans will have a special interest in the tournament as Sabonis will head to the United States after the tournament to start a collegiate career.
Ugurlu, Guven, Ulubay ready to please home crowd
Turkish fans are well known for coming out in strong numbers to support their teams and the fans in Konya will have a good team to cheer for with the likes of Berk Ugurlu, Okben Ulubay, Egemen Guven and Ayberk Olmaz. This Turkish side has a chance to become the first team to repeat the U18 European Championship since Yugoslavia in 1986 and 1988 and greats such as Predrag Danilovic and Zan Tabak.
Albert Schweitzer Tournament winners Italy
Italy come into the U18 European Championship as a legitimate contender in my eyes. Not only do they have two absolutely fantastic playmakers in Federico Mussini and Diego Flaccadori but they also have a gutsy glue guy in Alberto Cacace and an athletic big man in Curtis Nwohuocha as well as a great coach in Andrea Capobiano. Oh, and Italy have a winning mentality as they proved by winning the Albert Schweitzer Tournament back in April.
A couple other storylines to watch in Konya are: how good will Serbia be with Stefan Peno and Stefan Lazarevic leading the way; how many new people will fall in love with Marc Garcia's shooting ability for Spain; how far can underclassmen Georgios Papagiannis and Vasileios Charalampopoulos lead Greece; and will Etienne Ory be able to lead France back to the podium for the first time since 2009.
Of course, not to be forgotten will be a huge battle for fifth place as the top five finishers in the tournament secure berths in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship.
In general, this is my favorite youth tournament to attend. The 18-year-old age group offers so much promise and "dream-on-ness", while also providing knowledge that the development to this point has a certain meaning.
The elite players are knocking on the door of their clubs and senior national teams (or breaking it down in some cases of clubs). And an underclass player standing out at this tournament is a sign of a major talent.
It will be a pleasure to be at the tournament, my first U18 European Championship since 2011 when a certain unknown Alejandro Abrines blasted on the scene and said 'Hello world, here I am'. And we've been enjoying him ever since.
Will there be another Abrines this summer? I can't wait to find out.
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