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My 6 unsung heroes of #FIBAU18Europe in Udine
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - Behind the headline performances and the All-Star Five at the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2018, there were several players who did not get the recognition they deserved.
I've picked out six 'unsung heroes' from Udine, who I think deserve the spotlight to be turned in their direction.
Eva Hambursin - Belgium
When you have the reigning MVP in your team (Billie Massey), her talented twin Becky, and everyone getting excited about new entries Sam Van Buggenhout and Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka, there's not a lot of scope to get your name up in lights. Yet for me, one of the best memories of the tournament was Hambursin celebrating her birthday during the Round of 16, by becoming the first player at the 2018 edition to dish out 10 assists. It was a feat not replicated by anybody. She then went 5-of-5 from downtown in the Quarter-Finals clash with Spain. It always felt like Belgium's best moments came with her on the court and when she fouled out in the Quarter-Finals, Belgium's title reign was ended. The guard finished second in the tournament for assists with an excellent 4.1 per game and now just needs to work relentlessly on finishing at the hoop.
Lucija Kostic - Croatia
There was a lot of hype leading up to the tournament about Croatia's guard duo Mihaela Lazic and Nika Muhl. The former dropped a couple of long-range triples in one game from Stephen Curry range, that set the FIBA social channels alight for a time. Meanwhile Muhl was unveiled fully as a future EuroLeague Women star. Yet peel back the numbers and watch those Croatia games over again and you will see that Kostic had a huge job to do to ensure Croatia did not sleepwalk into Division B - and she did it brilliantly. She was actually in Udine two years ago for U16 when she played well and so there was a sense of deja vu this time around. The forward finished the campaign as the most efficient player in the entire tournament, as well as leading her country in rebounding and weighing in second in both points and assists.
Emily Bessoir - Germany
We all know about Bessoir of course, since she was a member of the FIBA U16 Women's European Championship 2017 All-Star Five in Bourges, then stepped out at the prestigious Basketball Without Borders Global Camp. To some, this may seem a strange choice, but the gold medal winner was largely played out of position in Udine and yet she helped her team win that title. She was often in the paint and yet she is really a three spot player and could be top level- if she can demonstrate an uplift in foot speed defensively and work like crazy on her ball handling skills and perimeter shot. With injuries to eventual MVP Nyara Sabally and her other All-Star Five colleague Leonie Fiebich taking up much of that wing space, she had to get on with the job. For me, it was a hard-working cameo. Bessoir helped underpin Germany's historic and landmark success by shrugging off her mediocre shooting percentage to claim 8.7 rebounds per game, almost two assists and also leading her team in blocks.
Angelika Kiss - Hungary
While teammate Barbara Angyal was quite rightly applauded for leading the tournament in scoring, and delivering in critical moments, Kiss was clinically going about her business. In addition to Angyal taking center stage, there was plenty on the highlights reel for the likes of Orsolya Toth and the do-it-all Aliz Varga, but the clinical nature of Kiss was left in the background. Yet the fact that the center finished the competition with 11 blocks showed that she was tuned into the defense, while also shooting smartly and making more than 51 percent from the floor. She could have averaged double-digits in points, had she not let herself down on free-throws. In summary, she did a rock-solid job that needs recognition and her 5-of-6 from the field in the Semi-Finals almost put her country into aang historic first Final at the event.
Laura Piera - Spain
Like everyone else, Piera suffered in the Final against Germany when it looked like the whole team were completely out of gas - both physically and mentally. Still, after tough games against Belgium in the Quarter-Finals and then Hungary in the Semi-Finals, perhaps it was not a surprise they failed to win three in a row against three tough opponents. While Maria Pendande entered the All-Star Five and Raquel Carrera pushed hard to join her (just falling short), I was left with that feeling that when Piera plays well - so do Spain. Her energy is infectious, she can pull some nice moves and is a weapon on pressure defense. The fact she played more minutes per game than anyone else speaks volumes. Spain's tournament could have been very different had she not helped them get out of jail in their tight opener against Czech Republic with a sparkling 19 points and then come up with a super cameo in the Semi-Finals, Spain may have had to have settled for less than silver. When Spain didn't get the bouncy step of Piera, they looked much less of a power.
Laura Meldere - Latvia
I have to confess to being caught up in 'Gulbe-Mania' at the tournament and not paying enough attention to a young center who will be back for another edition next year. Having already been a standout last summer at the FIBA U16 Women's European Championship in Bourges and most recently at the FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup 2018, Meldere enhanced her burgeoning reputation in Italy. Like Gulbe, the center is used to Italy where she has been continuing her basketball education and also like her frontcourt partner who took all the headlines and made the All-Star Five, she was impressive. Only we barely noted it at the time. Meldere led Latvia in efficiency, was their leading rebounder and perhaps most impressively, showed her vision and basketball IQ with 2.6 assists per game - the best return of any Latvian player.
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