Five players to watch in Volos
VOLOS (Greece) - Four countries - two-time reigning champs Serbia, France, Greece and Turkey - have won the last six titles at the FIBA U18 European Championship. Here are some of the biggest players to watch who could decide which country takes home the 2019 trophy.
Usman Garuba, Spain
Garuba comes into the U18 European Championship with a storied history in the FIBA U16 European Championship as he guided Spain to the title in 2016 at just 14 years of age, winning the MVP trophy and picking up a triple-double in the Final. Last summer the 2002-born forward led the U16 European Championship in rebounding with 12.3 rebounds to go with 16.3 points, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks for the second-placed finishers. That performance earned him a spot on the All-Star Five. Garuba played this season predominantly for Real Madrid's second team and averaged 14.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.5 blocks. He also made his Madrid senior team debut, playing two games early in the season, picking up 9 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal and 2 blocks in 17 minutes. Garuba hopes to help Spain to their first U18 crown since 2011.
Jovan Kljajic, Montenegro
Kljajic will be playing his second U18 European Championship after averaging 13.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals last summer in Latvia, where Montenegro finished in eighth place. That was actually the Gran Canaria guard's second competition after he collected 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals for Montenegro at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018, where the country took eighth place in its first appearance in the event. Kljajic played a major role in getting Montenegro to the U17 World Cup as he picked up 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals in helping Montenegro reach the Final of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017 at home in Podgrorica - the country's best result at the youth level.
This past season, Kljajic averaged 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals for Gran Canaria's second team. Kljajic's 2018-19 campaign also included one appearance in the EuroLeague, picking up 2 points on 1-of-2 shooting in 2 minutes against CSKA Moscow in February. A year earlier, in February 2018, Kljajic made his Montenegro senior national team debut, scoring 2 points with 2 rebounds in 18 minutes of a FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers contest against Spain. Kljajic had played one game in the EuroCup in the 2017-18 season.
Nikos Rogkavopoulos, Greece
Rogkavopoulos will come into the tournament with the hosts looking to show they belong after Greece finished 14th in the competition last summer but were not relegated as they were designated as the 2019 U18 Division A hosts. Rogkavopoulos played a year younger but stood out as he averaged 19.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals. Earlier this summer, he collected 13.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists for Greece at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019, where the host team finished 10th. Rogkavopoulos' past season at AEK Athens included 16 games in the top flight A1 league, averaging 1.7 points and 0.9 rebounds in 5.0 minutes. Rogkavopoulos also played in one Basketball Champions League game, playing 1 minute against Lietkabelis. In 2017, Rogkavopoulos helped Greece earn promotion to Division A as they won the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017, Division B as he collected 18.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals.
Azuolas Tubelis, Lithuania
Tubelis makes the jump to the U18 level after playing two summers at the FIBA U16 European Championship, guiding Lithuania to sixth and seventh place finishes. He averaged 14.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and a tournament-best 2.7 blocks last summer but Lithuania lost in the final seconds to eventual champions Croatia in the Quarter-Finals. The 2018 U16 tournament was a chance for the Rytas forward to play alongside his twin brother Tautvilas. Azuolas collected 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks last season playing for NKL second division side Perlas. Tubelis will be hoping to continue Lithuania's streak of 13 straight top-eight showings, including three straight podiums from 2015 to 2017 - third, second and third place, respectively.
Franz Wagner, Germany
Wagner returns to the national team after not playing last summer, having averaged 7.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals for a Germany team which slumped to 13th place at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017, despite having the quality to contend for the podium and one of the five spots at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018. Wagner is one of Germany's most-highly regarded talents as he played a solid role for Alba Berlin's professional team this past season. Having played the entire campaign as a 17-year-old, Wagner averaged 4.6 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.7 steals in 11.9 minutes of 35 games in Germany. He also collected 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 9.5 minutes of 21 EuroCup contests. Wagner is the younger brother of Moritz Wagner, who is playing in the NBA, and he will be attending the University of Michigan next season. Germany's best U18 finishes were fourth place in 1986 (as West Germany) and 2016. The country has reached the U18 Quarter-Finals in three of the last four summers.
Many more to watch
Those are just a handful of talents to watch in Volos. But fans heading to central Greece have loads of other players to follow. Among them are Matej Rudan of Croatia, France's Malcolm Cazalon and Juhann Begarin, Ariel Hukporti and Len Schoormann of Germany, Lithuania's Augustas Marciulionis, Bojan Tomasevic of Montenegro, Keye van den Vuurst de Vries of Netherlands, Djordje Pazin of Serbia and Turkey's Mustafa Kurtuldum.