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Maker's Canada move tops 2014 youth stories
REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - It might be 2015 already - Happy New Year to all by the way - but that doesn't mean we can't look back at 2014.
Here is a rundown of the Top 10 stories in youth basketball in an exciting 2014.
10. "Mussidori Mania"
Okay, maybe it's a bit too much to say Mania, but a pair of good friends from Italy played a big role in youth basketball in 2014. First of all, Federico Mussini and Diego Flaccadori helped Italy win the 2014 Albert Schweitzer title - the country's first triumph in the biennial tournament since 1983. Then they teamed together at the U18 European Championship and were the highest scoring duo in Konya, Turkey as Mussini averaged a tournament-high 22.6 points and Flaccadori had 16.1 points a game. In the end, Italy placed sixth to qualify for the upcoming FIBA U19 World Championship, in which they last appeared way back in 1995. Together, Mussini and Flaccadori even accepted the nickname "Mussidori" bestowed upon them by yours truly.
9. Bender's coming out party
Dragan Bender had been a name some insiders knew coming into the U18 European Championship. But the 16-year-old Croatian just about turned the tournament into his own party, averaging a double-double with 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds not to mention 4.9 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.1 steals. He torched Lithuania for 34 points and 14 rebounds before coming up an assist short of a triple-double against Latvia with 21 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists. After the disappointment of losing to Turkey in the Semi-Finals, Bender bounced back in the Third-Place Game, coming up just a rebound short of a triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists and nine boards as Croatia grabbed a podium spot for the third straight summer.
8. A team for the ages
Kentucky coach John Calipari is no stranger to putting together elite teams, but his squad for the 2014-15 NCAA season is one for the ages. Despite losing NBA draft picks Julius Randle and James Young, the Wildcats still have nine McDonald's All-Americans on their roster. The twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison decided to stay in Lexington and also returning are Alex Polythress, Marcus Lee, Willie Caulie-Stein and Dakari Johnson. That wouldn't be too bad of a team for any college. But Calipari also added top-notch recruits Trey Lyles, Karl Towns Jr, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. Caulie-Stein is the only one of the group not to play in the prestigious high school McDonald's game. Calipari made headlines when he said he would use all the talent basically in two five-man groups. Anything but an NCAA title in April would be a disappointment for this team.
7. USA restore pride in Hoop Summit
A trio of past FIBA youth world champions bound for Duke restored pride back to the United States at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. Jahlil Okafor had a double-double and teamed up with fellow future Duke recruits Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones in combining for 43 points in an 84-73 victory over the World Select Team, which had won the previous two Hoop Summits.
6. Crvena Zvezda win first NIJT title
Serbian giants Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade went undefeated in winning the final of the 2014 Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) - the event has been re-branded the Adidas Next Generation Tournament for 2014-15 - with a 55-42 victory in the final over previously unbeaten Real Madrid. Crvena Zvezda were in the NIJT finals for the fourth straight time after winning the Belgrade qualifying tournament and finally claimed the big prize - paced by 16-year-old sensation Aleksandar Aranitovic and MVP Vojislav Stojanovic.
5. Turkey the toast of European youth
While the all-Serbian Crvena Zvezda won the NIJT, Turkey was the dominant country at the national team level in Europe by winning the U18 European Championship and the U20 European Championship. Turkey became the first country to repeat at the U18 level since Yugoslavia won back-to-back in 1986 and 1988 while the 19-year-old Cedi Osman took MVP honors as Turkey won their first U20 title - and just their second podium placing following second place in 2006. The last time one European country won both the U18 and U20 crowns was Spain in 2011.
4. USA grab perfect three-peat at U17 Worlds
The United States still have never lost at the FIBA U17 World Championship as the Americans went undefeated for a third straight time to add the 2014 title to crowns from 2010 and 2012. But the USA were tested in the Final in Dubai as MVP Malik Newman and Co. prevailed 99-92 against an outstanding Australia team. The Americans came into the title game having won their previous six games by an average of 43.3 points, with the closest contest being a 10-point win over Greece in the first game. USA coach Don Showalter has now won 38 straight games at either the U17 Worlds or the FIBA Americas U16 Championship since 2009.
3. Wiggins leads Canadian invasion
Canada overtook France as the country with the most foreign-born players in the NBA, thanks to another wave of exciting young talent from the land of the Maple Leaf. For the second straight year, a Canadian was selected number one overall in the NBA Draft as the Cleveland Cavaliers picked Andrew Wiggins before trading him to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal to get Kevin Love. Along with Nik Staukas at number eight and Tyler Ennis at 18, it was the first time that three Canadians were taken in the first 20 picks of the first round. In total, Canada had 12 players in the NBA to start the 2014-15 season - including the injured Steve Nash and 2013 number one draft pick Andre Bennett.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay skips college - for China
Emmanuel Mudiay was expected to be a force at Southern Methodist University (SMU) for legendary coach Larry Brown and then become a top five pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. The Democratic Republic of Congo-born Mudiay is still expected to be a top five pick come June, but he provided a mini-shock to the foundation of the basketball structure in the United States by deciding to accept a reported USD $1.2 million to play for Guangdong Southern Tigers of the CBA. There was Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler before him, but if Mudiay actually goes as high as expected, it could mark the beginning of more high school graduates passing up college altogether to play professionally abroad - especially if players can get that kind of money and if the NBA increases its age limit to 20 years - which is being rumored. This is just a developing story which could be huge in the long run.
1. Thon Maker and brother Matur head northward
Talk about a story which could be huge in the long run. South Sudan-born Australian Thon Maker and his brother Matur deciding to play high school basketball in Canada could be an Earth-shattering move for two uber-proud basketball nations. The Maker brothers' guardian Ed Smith said they chose Orangeville Prep to get the youngsters better competition on a daily basis. And the brothers can now just about name the college they want to attend. That leads to the mystique of Canada's improved development of basketball players - see point No. 3. But as discussed previously in this column in 2014, the move also could eventually lead the Makers to take on the Canadian passport and then play for Canada - perhaps as soon as this year's FIBA U19 World Championship. Thon Maker emphasized that he wants to play for Australia - he has yet to play for the country internationally – at the 2015 U19 Words - and play alongside Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden, Isaac Humphries and Dejan Vasiljevic. But taking part in Australia training camps is a major issue because of time, distance and financial reasons. The Makers and Smith could eventually say enough is enough and Thon and Matur decide to put on the Canada jersey. If that happens, that might just be the number one story in 2015.
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