11 players to watch at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2022
IZMIR (Turkey) - After a two-year break, the FIBA U18 European Championship returns to its usual format with the 2022 edition in Izmir, Turkey.
16 teams will be competing for medals as well as five tickets to next year's FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Debrecen, Hungary.
Here is an overview of 11 players who will shape this tournament.
Be sure to also check out the players to watch in the Division B tournament, which will be taking place in Ploiesti, Romania.
Sidy Cissoko – France
Birth Date: April 2, 2004 (18 years old)
Height: 1.97m (6ft 6in)
Club: G-League Ignite (USA)
Sidy Cissoko combines good size, excellent athletic tools, and intriguing skill flashes. The big guard thrives pushing the ball in transition, but he can also create out of pick-and-roll, regularly knocks down impressive three-pointers off the dribble and makes an impact on defense with his quickness and long arms. Many of Cissoko's skills, especially on offense, aren't consistent yet, but he's already a tremendous player. Consequently, if he continues to work on his game in the coming years, his potential is through the roof. Next season, the 18-year-old will join the G-League Ignite program, which has produced six draft picks in the past two years, with a significant chance of hearing his name called in next year's NBA draft. At the FIBA U18 European Championship, Cissoko will lead a stacked French team, which has to be considered a prime contender for the gold medal and is expected to qualify for next year's FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup.
Izan Almansa – Spain
Birth Date: June 7, 2005 (17 years old)
Height: 2.07m (6ft 9in)
Club: Overtime Elite (USA)
After winning MVP at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup, Izan Almansa hasn't had enough of FIBA ball for the summer and returns for a tournament against older competition. The 17-year-old, who spent last season developing his game with Overtime Elite against high-level high school competition in the US, led the Spanish U17 team to the Final and therefore a silver medal. Almansa does most of his damage around the basket: on offense, he's an athletic finisher and efficient post player, who impresses with ambidextrous finishing ability and soft touch around the basket. On defense, he's an effective rim protector, and he can even switch onto some smaller players. Furthermore, he's a dominant rebounder, who finished top five in offensive and total boards at the U17 World Cup. At this event, Almansa will play a key role for Spain yet again, as they vie for a second gold medal in a row after winning the competition in 2019.
Paulius Murauskas – Lithuania
Birth Date: February 14, 2004 (18 years old)
Height: 2.04m (6ft 8in)
Club: Nevezis (LTU)
Paulius Murauskas has been considered one of the best prospects in his age group and a potential NBA prospect for years. After his first full season in the Lithuanian LKL and a dominant outing at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, the skilled forward returns to FIBA play for the first time since 2019. At 2.04m, Murauskas displays incredible versatility, especially on the offensive end: he can score on the interior with solid footwork and touch in the low post, but he also works out of faceups, where he can hit the jumper or take opposing players off the dribble. He's also been improving the consistency of his three-point jumper over the past few years. With his first year of NBA Draft eligibility coming up, the forward will have plenty of eyes on him, and can be expected to put up big stat lines throughout the whole competition.
Martin Kalu – Germany
Birth Date: January 28, 2005 (17 years old)
Height: 1.95m (6ft 5in)
Club: FC Bayern Munchen (GER)
At last year's FIBA U16 Challenger, Martin Kalu set the world on fire, leading the tournament in scoring with 27 points per game, while converting half of his 28 three-point attempts. Since then, the athletic wing has been plagued by injuries. He missed six months of action, before joining the German team just weeks before the tournament. Nevertheless, Kalu seems to be at, or at least close to, his best, which makes him one of the most intriguing youngsters in the tournament. At 1.95m, he's a capable and confident pull-up shooter, who also has the handling ability to create space for open jumpers. Furthermore, he's an athletic slasher who thrives in transition and always has the potential for a highlight throwdown, even 360-dunks. Because of this offensive skill set, Kalu is considered a potential NBA prospect and Germany's main hope for qualification for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup next year.
Rayan Rupert – France
Birth Date: May 31, 2004 (18 years old)
Height: 1.99m (6ft 6in)
Club: New Zealand Breakers (NZL)
Rayan Rupert returns for another FIBA summer as one of the most coveted prospects in European youth basketball. The big guard is considered a potential NBA Draft pick in 2023, and has just signed with the New Zealand Breakers, who produced two picks for this year's draft. Rupert is a high-level athlete, who thrives in transition and flashes the ability to make plays for himself and others out of pick-and-roll. Additionally, the brother of EuroCup Women Final Four MVP Iliana Rupert shows potential as a shooter. In the short term, his biggest strength might even be his defense, especially off the ball, where he displays a good understanding of the game and has the tools to consistently create havoc in passing lanes. Rupert still has a lot of skill development ahead of him to improve the consistency of his skill set, but he undeniably has tremendous upside.
Jakub Necas – Czech Republic
Birth Date: January 30, 2004 (18 years old)
Height: 2.03m (6ft 8in)
Club: Basket Brno (CZE)
Jakub Necas was a standout at last year's FIBA U18 Challenger and returns to the competition after playing close to 800 minutes of professional basketball in the Czech NBL. Additionally, he represented Brno at the ANGT Ljubljana, where he led all competitors in scoring and placed top five in rebounds, assists, and steals as well. Necas is very skilled for a tall forward: at 2.03m, he's a fluid driver with good touch around the basket, who even regularly has nice throwdowns. Furthermore, he's a good passer, who excels at pushing the ball in transition. As a shooter, the lefty still has to get more consistent, but he shows potential in this aspect of the game as well, which makes him a very versatile prospect overall. Czech Republic come fresh off promotion in 2019, so this tournament won't be easy, but they should be able to stay in the division with a high-level prospect like Necas leading the way.
Alexandros Samodurov – Greece
Birth Date: April 20, 2005 (17 years old)
Height: 2.08m (6ft 10in)
Club: Panathinaikos BC OPAP (GRE)
Alexandros Samodurov shot on the international scene with an outstanding performance at the ANGT this season. Compared to other top prospects in the 2005 age group, he's still a lesser-known youngster, so he should have plenty of eyes on him in Izmir. At 2.08m, Samodurov impresses with incredibly fluid movements on both ends of the floor. On offense, he's a capable finisher and also shows glimpses as a slasher and shooter. On defense, he's most effective protecting the rim but has plenty of potential as a switch defender too. Samodurov is already a very effective player, but he still has so much room to improve physically as well as skill-wise, which indicates that the sky is the limit for the big forward. Scouts are still trying to figure out the 2005 generation, but it seems clear that Samodurov will be at or near the top of everyone's ranking very soon.
Motiejus Krivas – Lithuania
Birth Date: December 1, 2004 (17 years old)
Height: 2.12m (6ft 11in)
Club: BC Zalgiris-2 (LTU)
Motiejus Krivas enters the tournament with a chance to top off an incredible season, in which he firmly established himself as one of the best European centers in his age group. At the ANGT, Krivas stuffed the stat sheet, averaging 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3 blocks a game. At the FIBA U18 European Championship, he'll be looking to help Lithuania qualify for next year's FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup. At 2.12m, Krivas is impossible to keep off the glass and dominates the game on both ends of the court. On offense, he's an effective screener in pick-and-roll, and he impresses with good footwork and ambidextrous finishing ability in the post. On defense, he seals off the rim and impacts a lot of shots with his impressive size, length and timing as a shot blocker. With him and the aforementioned Murauskas, Lithuania will field the best big man-duo in the tournament.
Berke Buyuktuncel – Turkey
Birth Date: September 2, 2004 (17 years old)
Height: 2.06m (6ft 9in)
Club: Tofas SC (TUR)
Berke Buyuktuncel returns to FIBA youth ball after an excellent performance at last year's U18 Youth Challenger. The forward is one of the most versatile players in his age group and will play a key role for Turkey yet again. At 2.06m, Buyuktuncel's biggest strength is his defense: he can defend multiple positions, effortlessly switching two through four. Additionally, he makes a consistent impact as a help-side rim protector and in passing lanes, as he usually finds himself near the top of the leaderboards in steals and blocks. On offense, he's a fluid slasher, who can push the ball in transition and even make the occasional play for his teammates. The lefty still has to become a significantly more consistent shooter, but he still has the makings of an excellent all-rounder. In Izmir, Buyuktuncel will be looking to lead Turkey to a successful tournament in front of their home crowd.
Ilija Milijasevic – Serbia
Birth Date: February 6, 2004 (18 years old)
Height: 1.89m (6ft 2in)
Club: Dynamic VIP PAY (SRB)
Ilija Milijasevic may be the most talented European shot maker in his age group. The guard excels at creating space for jump shots, and he's comfortable with pull-up jumpers from any range, even under heavy defensive pressure. Additionally, Milijasevic displays a solid driving game – he's very good at getting to the line and converting foul shots – and some ability to make plays for others, even if he's primarily a bucket getter. The 18-year-old comes off his first full season in professional basketball, starting 28 games in the Serbian KLS. In Izmir, he'll use this experience to lead a Serbian team, which belongs to the contenders for the medal spots. Djordje Curcic, with whom Milijasevic formed a formidable backcourt pairing at the FIBA U18 Challenger last summer, will also be present and cause defenses trouble with his outside shot and athletic drives.
Maksymilian Wilczek – Poland
Birth Date: June 13, 2004 (18 years old)
Height: 1.97m (6ft 6in)
Club: WKK Wroclaw (POL)
Maksymilian Wilczek returns to the U18 competition after his breakout performance at last year's FIBA Challengers, where he finished with the second-highest three-point percentage (52 percent) of all players with at least 20 attempts from downtown. Throughout the 2021-22 season, the wing confirmed that he belongs to the best shooters in European youth basketball via his performances at the ANGT and in the Polish second division. In addition to his beautiful jumper, Wilczek can make plays against closeouts and shows intriguing body control and ability to take contact at the rim. In Izmir, the 18-year-old will be supported by key members of the U17 squad, which just finished eighth at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup, including tournament standout Szymon Nowicki. These are strong age groups for Poland, so they have an outside chance of qualifying for next year's FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup for the first time in 12 years.