Breakout stars: Players who took their game to the next level at FIBA EuroBasket 2022
BERLIN (Germany) - Europe's biggest NBA stars thrilled fans at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 for nearly three weeks. But a number of players less widely known stepped up with breakout performances on the big stage, showing they are ready for more world-wide attention.
Here are nine players who broke out at FIBA EuroBasket 2022.
Willy Hernangomez - Spain
Birth Date: May 27, 1994 (28 years old)
Height: 2.09m (6ft 10in)
Club: New Orleans Pelicans (USA)
Spain came to EuroBasket with moderate expectations as the country was in a transition phase with the team including having three players born in 2000 or later on board. Head coach Sergio Scariolo needed a leader for the team and Willy Hernangomez certainly stepped up his game. The center averaged 17.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in earning the TISSOT Most Valuable Player award after helping Spain clinch their fourth continental crown. Hernangomez was actually playing his third EuroBasket - including winning the title in 2015 - and he also had the benefit of learning from the country's greats in their run to the title at FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and one final tournament with Pau and Marc Gasol at the 2021 Olympics. Knowing his team needed him, Hernangomez came up with one big performance after the next this summer and showed that he can be counted on to lead the country's next era.
Mateusz Ponitka - Poland
Birth Date: August 29, 1993 (29 years old)
Height: 1.98m (6ft 6in)
Club: Panathinaikos Athens (GRE)
In the span of three summers Poland have reached a top-eight showing at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 - in their first appearance on the global stage in 52 years - and a fourth place finish at the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 - the country's best showing in 50 years. And Ponitka was the major reason for both of those spectacular accomplishments. Still, the 29-year-old is an unknown for many on the continent despite playing four years at the top level in Europe. Ponitka was the clear leader of a Poland team that shocked Slovenia to reach the Semi-Finals - a Quarter-Finals game in which he collected a triple-double of 26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. All told, he averaged 13.4 points, 5.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals. Poland are starting to make more and more noise internationally and one of the biggest beneficiaries of that is Ponitka, who also earned himself a contract with Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos Athens.
Guerschon Yabusele - France
Birth Date: December 17, 1995 (26 years old)
Height: 2.03m (6ft 8in)
Club: Real Madrid (ESP)
Yabusele was playing his first EuroBasket but he had already played last summer at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. The power forward used his strong first season at Real Madrid and built on that confidence and was France's second offensive weapon behind Evan Fournier with 14.8 points per game. The 26-year-old also was strong on the glass, averaging 3.8 rebounds, including 1.1 offensive rebounds, while also dishing out 2.0 assists. Defensively he picked up 1.0 steals in eight games. Yabusele's emergence will be an important factor in France's continued push to remain among the elite teams in the world. And he is primed for a breakout back at his club this season as well.
Maodo Lo - Germany
Birth Date: December 31, 1992 (29 years old)
Height: 1.92m (6ft 4in)
Club: ALBA Berlin (GER)
Lo is hardly a secret in Germany, having played for the country's three giants Brose Bamberg, FC Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin for the last six seasons. He also played a major role in helping Germany reach the 2021 Olympics in the absence of Dennis Schroder in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Croatia. But the 29-year-old Lo had an outstanding third EuroBasket, pouring in 11.4 points while also chipping in 2.4 assists and 1.7 rebounds. Lo showed he can lead a talented Germany team on his own or also play alongside Schroder in the backcourt, and he impressed many with his handles, unstoppable drive to the basket and the depth of his range. He also showed why guards across the continent get frustrated when they see him guarding them. Lo still has a number of years of high level basketball, and this performance will only give him that much more confidence.
Terry Tarpey - France
Birth Date: March 2, 1994 (28 years old)
Height: 1.95m (6ft 5in)
Club: Le Mans (FRA)
Tarpey went from basically an unknown to one of the true leaders-by-example for a France team full of big names. France team captain Evan Fournier admitted during the tournament that when the list for the 17-player training camp came out he was certain that Tarpey would not make it to EuroBasket. But the 28-year-old impressed everyone with his hard work, efficiency and willingness to do the dirty work - something Fournier said was an example all of the French players should follow. Tarpey did not have any wow numbers - averaging 5.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.7 steals - but he also didn't do anything he couldn't, leading to an efficiency of 11.4, ranked fourth on the team. Tarpey was certainly one of the biggest winners of EuroBasket, and it will be intriguing to see how his future with the national team continues.
Andreas Obst - Germany
Birth Date: July 13, 1996 (26 years old)
Height: 1.91m (6ft 3in)
Club: FC Bayern Munich (GER)
Sniper is the best way to describe Obst and the German showed at EuroBasket why opposing coaches must also gameplan for his team sending him through a series of screens for outside shots - which he will most likely knock down. Obst connected on 25-of-52 three-pointers at EuroBasket for 48 percent. All told, the 26-year-old averaged 11.6 points while also shooting 58 percent on two-pointers. The Bayern guard also showed he is not just a shooter but can also drive to the basket and also play tough defense on the wing. He added 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.7 steals. But it is his long range shooting that shined brightest and impressed EuroBasket spectators.
Sandro Mamukelashvili - Georgia
Birth Date: May 23, 1999 (23 years old)
Height: 2.11m (6ft 11in)
Club: Milwaukee Bucks (USA)
With the injury absence of Toko Shengelia, it was clear that Mamukelashvili would be needed to step up his game. And that is exactly what the 23-year-old big man did. Mamukelashvili has yet to really excel in the NBA, averaging just 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 10 minutes per game in 41 contests last season. But Georgia fans were anxious to finally see the exciting Mamukelashvili back in the country's colors this summer after last playing in 2018 when he played at the FIBA U20 European Championship, Division B and made his senior national team debut at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers at just 19. Mamukelashvili did not disappoint at all, leading the team in scoring (15.2 points) and rebounding (11.0 rebounds - ranking 2nd in the competition) while shooting 33 percent from long range and chipping in 2.4 assists - good for second on the team. The future looks bright for Mamukelashvili, who may be ready to break out in the NBA this season with Milwaukee as well.
Marco Spissu - Italy
Birth Date: February 5, 1995 (27 years old)
Height: 1.84m (6ft 0in)
Club: Umana Reyer Venezia (ITA)
Italy have bigger names on their roster, but the team does not reach the Quarter-Finals with a surprise of Serbia and then have France on the brink of a second upset if it wasn't for Spissu's performance. He scored 8.9 points per game - including a blistering 54 percent on three-pointers - while dishing out 4.4 assists with a stellar 3.4-assist-to-turnover ratio. The 27-year-old added 2.7 rebounds and 0.6 steals. Spissu was the guiding presence for Gianmarco Pozzecco's team, and also an example of how players can use the FIBA windows to become leaders of a national team - jumping from his strong showings with Sassari to the senior team and proving himself in EuroBasket Qualifiers. Spissu came to EuroBasket with the experience of a first season in the EuroLeague with UNICS Kazan and he leaves with even more confidence.
Alberto Diaz - Spain
Birth Date: April 23, 1994 (28 years old)
Height: 1.85m (6ft 1in)
Club: Unicaja Malaga (ESP)
Diaz is a perfect example for how the "bigger" basketball countries like Spain can use the windows to give national team chances to players who otherwise wouldn't get them. The guard rose the ranks in Spain's youth level, taking second at the FIBA U20 European Championship 2014. Nearly 10 years later - and following two appearances in EuroBasket qualifying games as well as three contests in each of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and 2023 European Qualifiers - the 28-year-old now is a EuroBasket champion. Despite collecting just 5.7 points, 1.4 assists, 1.1 rebounds and 0.9 steals in 17 minutes, Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo described Diaz as "the man of this championship". Diaz was an unsung hero who played fierce defense - including forcing a big turnover late in Spain's win over Turkey - while shooting 40 percent on three-pointers. Will Diaz come out of this tournament as a player the world recognizes more? Not necessarily. But Spain do not overachieve and win the title without Diaz playing how he did - thanks to the confidence he gained in major event qualifiers.