12 - 20
August 2016
12 Mert Konuk (TUR), 4 Eray Akyuz (TUR)
to read

Medal hopefuls Turkey face challenging field in Group B

RADOM (FIBA U16 European Championship 2016) – Last year's FIBA U16 European Championship bronze medallists Turkey, who aim to return to the podium in the 2016 edition of the tournament in Radom, commence their bid in Group B against Croatia, Germany and hosts Poland.

Germany entered the quarter-finals in 2015 and finished in seventh place after defeating Serbia in their last game. Croatia had taken ninth place in the tournament in Lithuania while Poland are back in the top flight this year after entering promotion last summer from the Division B tournament, where they reached the final but fell to Estonia.

Turkey's medal success last year was their fifth bronze and ninth overall in the history of the competition. The Turkish were crowned U16 European champions on three occasions, in 2012, 2005 and 1977 while they earned silver in 2003.

Croatia are the only other nation in this group to have been proclaimed U16 European champions and just like Turkey they won gold three times, in 2011, 2010 and 1995. Interestingly though it has always been a case of all or nothing for Croatia at the U16, as they have no other medals in their trophy case. Germany have collected two bronze medals, in 1981 and 1983, while Poland have never stepped on the podium in this competition.

Turkey had two 2000-born players on that bronze medal-winning team of 2015, point guard Eray Akyuz and shooting guard Mert Konuk, and both of them will be returning this year to try to help their nation climb even higher than third, especially after barely two months ago they helped the Turkish U17 side conquer silver at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Zaragoza.

Akyuz led Turkey in assists not only in last year's U16 competition, but also in this summer's World Championship. Konuk had more limited playing time in 2015 but he was Turkey's fourth-top scorer in Zaragoza this year, averaging 8.4 points per game.

One of the best players on last year's German team, Alba Berlin power forward Hendrik Drescher, was eligible to return this summer and has in fact been included in the 12-man roster which Alan Ibrahimagic will take to Radom.

Drescher had averaged nine points and 4.8 rebounds in the last year's tournament. He is expected to have plenty of support this year from point guard Jonas Mattisseck, who led Germany at the TBF International U16 Tournament in Samsun, last January.

Croatia are the only team in this group who will field an entirely new roster at the tournament in Radom, as all 12 players who represented the nation in last year's edition were born in 1999. They have some exciting new arrivals though, especially in 2.06m forward Luka Samanic.

Samanic averaged 21 points per game in the last U16 friendly tournament this summer, hosted by Italy in Città di Caorle, where Croatia came in second after Russia and ahead of the hosts and Poland.

The Polish team will have the advantage of playing in front of an enthusiastic local crowd in Radom and are capable of springing a surprise against any opponent, but the hosts' main priority will be to make sure they prolong their stay in Division A and avoid a repeat of the painful relegation of 2014.

Two key players in this effort will be the two returnees from the 2015 team that earned promotion, guards Andrzej Pluta and in Przemyslaw Golek. Pluta, who caught the eye of Baloncesto Sevilla and moved to Spain recently, is a fearless three-point shooter who averaged six points and 2.3 rebounds per game in last year's Division B tournament.