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August 2016
15 Marko PECARSKI (Serbia)
11/08/2016
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Medal hopefuls Serbia the team to beat in Group D

RADOM (FIBA U16 European Championship 2016) – At first glance, there appears to be a clear favourite in Group D of the FIBA U16 European Championship, as Serbia arrived in Poland with the clear intention to fight for a podium finish. However Finland, who aim to continue making history, Greece, who hope to make a fresh start in this competition and a gritty newly-promoted Estonia all have something to prove in Radom.

Serbia finished in a disappointing eighth place in last year’s tournament but have won a total of five medals in this competition, including gold in 2007. One of those five medals, the bronze of 2006, came when Serbia and Montenegro were still one country while obviously Serbia was a part of the mighty Yugoslavia that won no less than nine gold, two silver and two bronze medals at the FIBA U16 European Championship.

Greece are the second-most decorated nation in Group D since they were proclaimed U16 European champions twice, in 1989 and 1993, and have won a total of seven medals in the competition. Last summer’s 13th place finish is the Greeks’ second-worse showing in the history of the tournament.

By stark contrast, Finland’s sixth-place finish in the 2015 edition represents the country’s best result in 25 years, when they had claimed fourth spot in 1981. Finland played most of the intervening years in Division B and returned to the top flight in 2014. Estonia meanwhile will play in the Division A tournament for the first time, following their fantastic display in last summer’s Division B tournament where they won the title on a perfect 9-0 record.

Serbia have only two players returning from last year’s team, namely Filip Petrusev and Marko Pecarski, with the latter being a key piece of that side and he has only improved further in the meantime. The 2.06m center who plays for Mega Leks was Serbia’s second-leading scorer in 2015 with 12 points per game and averaged a team-best 8.9 rebounds. Pecarski is expected to get a lot of help from fellow big man Petrusev and forward Bogdan Nedeljkovic.

Finland’s 2000-born guard Tomas Pihlajamaki who helped them reach sixth place last year and gained valuable experience at the FIBA U17 World Championship this summer, has been included on the roster that will compete in Radom and he will have an upgraded role on the Finnish team, after averaging three points and 1.7 boards in 2015. Pihlajamaki is joined in the backcourt by free-scoring point guard Janne Lehtoranta while forward Mikael Jantunen is going to be Finland’s primary offensive option inside.

Greece did not have any players from last year’s side eligible to play in Radom and have brought up an intriguing brand-new squad which showed promise but also struggled for consistency in the warm-up games in the run-up to the tournament. Big man Emmanouil Chatzidakis and guards Kostas Altinis and Nikos Arsenopoulos alternated in the role of leading scorer for the Greek team in their friendlies during preparations.

Estonia’s 2015 team was made up almost exclusively of 1999-born personnel so 11 of the 12 players who won gold in Division B will not have the chance to play in the top flight at U16 level. The only lucky exception is center Karl Kristjan Karpin, who contributed a valuable defensive presence in last year’s title run, averaging 3.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.

FIBA