16 - 22
December 2016
5 Andrea LA TORRE (Italy); 1 Arnoldas KULBOKA (Lithuania)
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Lithuania top contender in ultra-competitive Group C

SAMSUN (FIBA U18 European Championship) - Lithuania have not won a FIBA U18 European Championship since 2010 but some people believe this team could hoist the trophy on December 22 - after first getting through the Group of Death Group C.

Ready to do battle with Lithuania in Group C are Latvia, who were finalists with this 1998 generation at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2014; Bosnia and Herzegovina, who will be anchored by the top players from the 2015 U16 European Championship team; and promoted side Israel.

The last time Lithuania were atop the U18 European landscape it was on the broad shoulders of Jonas Valanciunas. This Lithuanian group has a deep pool of very high-level talent which makes the Baltic side a legitimate title contender.

Tadas Sedekerskis, Arnoldas Kulboka and Gytis Masiulis will form the leadership unit of this team, having guided Lithuania to a third-placed finish in this tournament in 2015.

As good as that trio is - Sedekerskis playing in Spain and Kulboka in Germany - the team also features a quartet of players who claimed third place at this summer’s FIBA U17 World Championship. Tough, hard-nosed minded point guard Arnas Velicka was named to the FIBA U17 World Championship All-Star Five while Lukas Uleckas and Ignas Sargiunas both averaged 2.3 made three-pointers a game at the tournament in Zaragoza. Grantas Vasiliauskas is additionally high-energy power forward who averaged 7 points and 6.4 rebounds this summer.

Latvia meanwhile have six players back from the team that lost to France in the FIBA U16 European Championship 2014 final.

Kristers Zoriks returns from high school in the United States to play after having been the only 1998-born player on Latvia's U18 roster in 2015. The guard will be crucial to Latvia’s chances in Samsun.

Also back is Arturs Strautins, who is currently playing his second season in the Italian top flight Serie A with Grisson Bon Reggio Emilia. The third major leader back from the 2014 U16 team is Roberts Blumbergs, who is playing in the Czech Republic.

The others from the second-placed team are Karlis Garoza, Niks Jansons and Nikolajs Zotovs.

Latvia however are missing their best player from the generation as Rodions Kurucs will not be playing after only recently returning from a major injury for Barcelona. Kurucs was named to the U16 All-Star Five in 2014.

There will however be a Kurucs in Samsun as younger brother Arturs Kurucs, who was born in 2000, made the Latvian team and hopes to show why he was the leader of the U16 team this past summer.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are calling on the stars of the 1999 generation and Dzanan Musa - the MVP of the 2015 FIBA U16 European Championship title run - will undoubtedly be the leader of the team in Samsun.

Musa played for Bosnia's senior national team this summer in the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 qualifications after an All-Star Five showing at the FIBA U19 World Championship 2016, where he set the event's scoring record with 50 points.

Musa would love to carry Bosnia and Herzegovina to their first-ever FIBA U19 World Championships but a major part of the team got hurt just before the tournament started as Njegos Sikiras will miss the event in Samsun.

Side-kicks to Musa in Turkey will be Sani Campara as well as the leader of the 1998-Bosnian generation Amar Gegic.

But for Bosnia and Herzegovina to have any success, coach Josip Pandza will also need to get contributions from Darko Talic, who has already played in the Basketball Champions League this season; and Emir Cerkezovic, who was the team's third-leading scorer at the FIBA U17 World Championship.

Israel, for their part, return to Division A with the unlucky chore of dealing with this very difficult group.

נבחרת הנוער לאליפות אירופה 2016

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Yovel Zoosman will definitely be the leader of the team after being one of the key figures in Israel's jump back to top flight as a bottom-level player.

The 1999-born Amit Ebo can definitely score in bunches with his outside shooting while the 2000-born Tomer Levinson averaged a double-double at this summer’s FIBA U16 European Championship and plays in the Israel second division.

The change of format with the loss of the Round of 16 definitely is unfortunate for this group as Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Latvia could all have ended up in the Semi-Finals with the usual competition system. But only two teams will advance from Group C. One key game could be the final contest of the group stage with Latvia taking on Bosnia and Herzegovina.