Group A preview: Can the talented Russia rise above Turkey, Germany and Montenegro?
PIESTANY (FIBA U18 European Championship 2017) - With the start of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2017 just around the corner, we start the preview series with Group A, featuring FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 bronze medalists and FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 runners-up Turkey, as well as Germany, Russia and Montenegro.
Regip Atar, experienced beyond years, is Turkey's biggest star
Players to Watch: Regip Atar, who was Turkey's biggest star at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 and the lone bright spot at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016, is bound to be the centerpiece on coach Serkan Erdogan’s roster this summer as well. The mobile five-man arrived to the national team straight from the FIBA U20 European Championship 2017 and will form the core of the team with the backcourt pairing of the 2000-born point guard Erkay Akyuz and shooting guard Erkin Senel, a year older.
Outlook: Having won bronze at the FIBA U16 European Championship in Kaunas two years ago and silver at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup last summer, the 1999-born generation of players will be looking to get Turkey back on track at the U18 level after a disappointing 12th-place finish by their older players last season. Despite missing two key players in Onuralp Bitim and Ahmet Can Duran, there is plenty of talent on Turkey's roster to make still them a tough team to beat for their Group A opponents.
The lanky combo forward Philipp Herkenhoff will take on a big role for Germany
Players to Watch: All eyes will be on point guard Philipp Hadenfeldt and forward Philipp Herkenhoff to lead Germany after some other key players from the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 and the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 were not made available for coach Herald Stein. Consequently, that may open up more opportunities for the likes of Hendrik Drescher and Jonas Mattisseck, both 2000-born ALBA Berlin prospects, who were recognized with Basketball Without Borders invites earlier this year.
Outlook: Germany might find it difficult to repeat last year's fourth-place finish at the FIBA U18 European Championship, but the balanced core of the team should keep the boat from turning over even in the absence of first-class prospects in Nelson Weidemann and Isaac Bonga.
Alexander Shashkov received the MVP honors at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016, Division B
Players to Watch: Alexander Shashkov and Aleksandr Ershov, two 2000-born players who guided Russia to promotion at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016, Division B last year, spearhead an intriguing selection of talent for Russia. Joining the likes of Yuri Umrikhin and Daniil Kasatkin from the 1999 generation, the athletic, broad-shouldered big man Shashkov possibly bears the most upside out of the group, but the overall combination of size, versatility and skill across all five positions will be what creates most problems for Russia's opposition.
Outlook: Russia were eliminated in the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 on an improbable half-court buzzer-beater by Lithuania playmaker Arnas Velicka. However, there will be only one player from last year's roster on the new-look squad heading to Piestany. After not taking part in the FIBA U16 European Championship in Kaunas, the 1999-born generation of players will get their first chance to compete on the international stage in the Slovak Republic.
Marko Simonovic played well at the FIBA U18 European Championship, Division B last year
Players to Watch: Buducnost Podgorica wing Andrija Slavkovic was the clear-cut number one in Montenegro's FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 campaign, averaging a team-high 17.9 points, with 17-year-old big man Moncalieri Marko Simonovic posting averages of 9.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. However, it was the 6ft 10in (2.08cm) power forward Simonovic who played the bigger role among of the two players at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016, Division B last summer.
Outlook: Having celebrated gold at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016, Division B; Montenegro bounced straight back up to Division A with the help of five 1999-born players after being relegated in 2015. Although a 12th-place finish at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 in Kaunas may not be something to write home about, the Montenegrins could do some damage in Group A given the fact some of their rivals will be missing key players.