Group B Preview: Turkey take on Finland, Germany and Slovenia in quest for fourth title
PODGORICA (FIBA U16 European Championship 2017) - The start of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017 is right around the corner - including the hunt for a berth at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2017. The preview series continues with Group B, which will see Finland, Germany, Slovenia and three-time champions Turkey face off against one another.
Mustapha Amzil will play a major role in Finland's effort to return to the FIBA U16 European Championship Quarter-Finals.
Players to Watch: A major part of rising the ranks in world basketball is developing high-level talent and Finland are getting better and better at that. The 2001 generation has a couple of gems as well, as Mustapha Amzil is the top man right now. The forward with Moroccan roots can play inside and outside at both ends with good offensive skills. Just like Amzil, Erik Sajantila also played for Finland last summer at the FIBA U16 European Championship and will be key to Susijengi's chances. Another main player for Finland in Montenegro will be Thomas Exaucia.
Outlook: Finland's 2001 generation will look to build upon the recent success at U16 level - which has seen back-to-back Quarter-Final appearances. The sixth-place in 2015 secured Finland's first-ever ticket to the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup. Susijengi then grabbed fifth place last summer. A repeat of a top-five finish will get the Finns back to the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup next summer in Argentina. Finland have established themselves as a notch behind the giants in European basketball, and two straight appearances at the U17 global showcase would mean the same at the U16 level.
Kay Bruhnke will use his experience from last summer's FIBA U16 European Championship in leading Germany.
Players to Watch: Germany are starting to produce an embarrassment of riches as far as intriguing talent and this group definitely fits that bill. Kay Bruhnke and Luc Van Slooten both return after playing on the U16 team last season - Van Slooten two years younger - and have only improved their games playing against older competition all season. Another 2002-born gem is low post force Ariel Hukporti, who is still a bit raw but loaded with potential. Franz Wagner - the younger brother of German U20 international Moritz Wagner - has emerged as a huge talent and Jason George fought back from some late season injuries and will wow viewers in Montenegro.
Outlook: Germany's 1999 generation with Isaac Bonga, Philipp Herkenhoff, Nelson Weidemann and Philipp Hadenfeldt failed to qualify for the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016. That will be the absolute minimum goal for the 2001-02 generation, who might be the most talented team in Podgorica. Germany have not reached the U16 continental top four since 1985 and their two third-place showings came in 1981 and 1983. Offense will not be a problem for Germany, whose players must find their roles and work for one another on defense to have success. A top-five finish would mean their second trip to the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup after hosting the first edition in 2010.
Rok Radovic (shooting) forms a strong duo with Gregor Glas for Slovenia.
Players to Watch: Slovenia are back in the Division A thanks to a strong 2000 generation and two gems from the 2001-born class. Rok Radovic and Gregor Glas teamed together to get Slovenia promoted from Division B and will show in Montenegro why they could be one of the best wing combos in the tournament. Both are great scorers while Radovic gets after it more on defense. Add to that duo the point guard Ziga Samar and that's a solid three-man attack. A darkhorse for Slovenia could be the performance of Luka Smodis, the son of Slovenian great Matjaz Smodis.
Outlook: Even though Slovenia have the talent to compete for the Quarter-Finals, the depth is not necessarily there and the Balkan country's number one goal will be to avoid relegation back to Division B. Slovenia just got back up to Division A last summer after four years in the lower division and eight of the last nine years. When Slovenia went down to Division B in 2007, it ended a streak of five-straight appearances in the top flight. A top-five showing would give Slovenia their first-ever appearance at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup - as well as their best-ever performance at the competition.
Mustafa Kurtuldum (playing defense) will be Turkey's main man in Montenegro.
Players to Watch: Turkey's heart and soul will be Mustafa Kurtuldum, who returns from last year's U16 team that finished third for a second-straight summer. The shooting guard Kurtuldum is a good defender and offensive rebounder and is improving as an offensive player. His emphasis offensively is transition play. Kurtuldum will not be alone as far as talent goes. Omer Kucuk is an excellent point guard while Banvit teammates Arda Cete and Atakan Erdek are two strong scoring options from the wing. Turkey's best big man is probably Ismail Karabilen.
Outlook: Turkey enter the tournament with back-to-back third-place finishes as they look for their fourth FIBA U16 European Championship title following on from 1977, 2005 and 2012. The Turks have reached the Semi-Finals the last three summers and in 2015 secured their first-ever ticket to the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup, where they then grabbed second place in their maiden appearance. While Turkey also want to play for the title, the minimum goal for the country heading to Montenegro will be a fifth-placed finish to once again book a spot at the U17 global spectacle.