Top 12 players to watch at #FIBAU18Europe in Udine
UDINE (FIBA U18 European Women's Championship) - There's a stack of talent waiting to be unleashed at the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship 2018 in Udine and we've picked out a selection for you.
Billie Massey - Belgium
Last year's MVP in Sopron, Massey guided Belgium to the top of the podium with her mature game and strength around the basket. She will be the centerpiece as Belgium try to defend their silverware and is likely to be a handful for opposing defenses. She may not be quite as athletic or quick as some rivals, but her smarts and movement are impressive. She is also a regular swatter and will come up with many blocks for the showreel. Massey has also put herself on the global radar after being named MVP of the prestigious Basketball Without Borders Global Camp.
Nyara Sabally - Germany
Whisper it quietly, but Germany might go from Division B competitors last summer to having a tilt at the podium, or perhaps even the title in Udine. The hugely talented Sabally will be central to their hopes and out to replicate a scorching 2017, when she was awarded MVP in Dublin as Germany won promotion. Now, Sabally gets the chance to put her athletic, dynamic play to the test in the top tier, so watch out for her rebounding for fun and putting points on the board - as 17 points and 12 boards last year would testify. She is also getting ready to head to the NCAA where she will join sister Satou at Oregon.
Nika Muhl - Croatia
This is a pivotal tournament in the evolution of Muhl - a Croatian guard who is already on the radar of Colleges and Clubs because of her incredible displays, productivity and individual honors in her homeland. Wearing a national team vest and playing at this level takes a different kind of mentality and while she will be the main architect of her team's challenge because of her extraordinary creative ability, the big question will be whether she can balance her approach and not force the issue too much, so she retains composure and quality in her game. She is a such a big talent though and so much fun to watch.
Veronika Pavliuchenko - Russia
While many eyes will be on Daria Ignatova who impressed last year at this event and is set to push on and be even more of a factor, there are also high hopes for Pavliuchenko too. She posted an eye-catching effort in Bourges at the FIBA U16 Women's European Championship 2017 when she harvested a stellar 15.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. While it might be a little too much to expect a similar return this time around as she steps up, there is no doubt she is one to watch closely as the action gets underway in Udine.
Becky Massey - Belgium
Sister of Billie and another member of Belgium's podium-topping team from the last edition, Massey will offer her country another heavyweight 1-2 punch at this event. While her sibling is more about strength and power, Becky uses her mobility to great effect and much of Belgium's success will hinge squarely on how she shoots the ball. She doesn't always put up many triple attempts and will focus on being aggressive and getting to the hoop. With most of the defensive attention on Billie, perhaps this is the time for Becky to roll out her best youth tournament to date.
Aliz Varga - Hungary
Fresh from only just missing out on the podium at the FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup 2018 after helping to propel Hungary to the Semi-Finals in Minsk, it remains to be seen how much fuel is left in the take of Varga. Not least because she will have to try and help fill the void of the absent team leader, Reka Dombai. Varga certainly has the momentum, since she was second in efficiency, scoring and rebounding in Minsk, so knows how to produce. She is particularly brilliant on the offensive glass and so that should be a source of joy for her team.
Raquel Carrera - Spain
Another player who is hopping to this tournament from Belarus and the global stage, Carrera arguably had a mixed tournament as Spain missed out on the medals. The frontcourt star showed how important she was to her team despite not being at her best and still impressed observers with her efforts. There were also her displays at the FIBA U16 Women's European Championship 2017 to savor where she blocked shots, mopped up around the bucket and went to work on the glass. The signs are still good that Carrera is on the road towards future senior participation.
Jelena Mitrovic - Serbia
Likely to be the tallest player in the competition and certainly a nightmare defensive assignment for any of her opponents, Mitrovic is an intriguing prospect and built in the 'old school basketball' mould. In the modern age, that doesn't mean she is a throwback or somehow lesser of a player than anyone else. The Serbian center offers a real traditional puzzle for those who have to stop her and guard her. Keeping her off the boards and from cleaning up put-back scores is a challenge and she has a nice touch and runs the floor well for her huge size. She could be dominant and knows at least one of the courts in Udine from when she shone two years ago, playing there at U16.
Emily Bessoir - Germany
Germany have so many young talents in the frontcourt, it is both frightening and exciting at the same time. A Basketball Without Borders baller, Bessoir has caught the eye on both sides of the Atlantic with her skills and dynamic play. She was the youngest member of the Germany side that made the U16 Final two years ago and still almost racked up a double-double. Then last year in Bourges, when back at her second edition of U16, she was outstanding with 13 points and 14 rebounds. An All-Star Five place came her way and having dropped some big scores during preparation ahead of this competition, she seems to be in great form - so watch out!
Sara Heljic - Bosnia and Herzegovina
Even if any campaign in the top flight for Bosnia and Herzegovina is anticipated to be a dogfight and relegation battle, could Heljic inspire a push for the Quarter-Finals? She was the leading scorer and rebounder for her team in Sopron at the previous edition and is a towering presence. Since she is likely to be joined by the 2001-born duo Ksenija Mitric and Dragana Zubac who were excellent last year, bright things could be on the horizon. Heljic is also a Basketball Without Borders Camp member from earlier this year.
Luisa Geiselsoder - Germany
Underlining just how well Germany could do if they live up to the pre-tournament billing as a strong medal contender, Geiselsoder is a player who already has amazing memories of Udine. Two years ago, she was part of the Germany team that made the historic run to the Final and she had another cause for celebration as she was named MVP of the competition. Additionally, while Nyara Sabally took MVP honors last year in Ireland, there was also a stellar double-double of more than 16 points and 10 rebounds for Geiselsoder too - something which led to a deserved spot on the All-Star Five.
Aleksa Gulbe - Latvia
You have to love the way that Gulbe performed last month when she was playing against older players at the FIBA U20 Women's European Championship 2018 in Sopron. The forward arguably outshone team leader, Digna Strautmane and was rated as one of the tournament's top players. She will provide the main thrust for Latvia, offering a strong presence in the paint and a rapidly evolving IQ on the floor. She also plays with real intensity and those are the type of upsides that will benefit Indiana University in the NCAA, where Gulbe has opted to play for the next few years.