The top performers who lit up the Group Stage in Heraklion
HERAKLION (Greece) - As the dust settles on the group stage at the FIBA U18 Women's European Championship it's time to reflect on some of the individual ballers who made some outstanding contributions.
Narrowing it down to the top eight performers, here's who's been hot since landing in Heraklion.
Matilde Villa - Italy
Average Stats: 22.0 PPG / 4.7 RPG / 4.0 APG / 4.7 SPG / 24.7 EFF
It has been a truly bitter-sweet start in Heraklion for Villa. From a team perspective, Italy finished in third place in their group with a 1-2 record, which was far from ideal, after a last-second loss to Spain and a narrow and arguably surprise defeat to Turkey. Yet the guard could barely have done more on the floor. She has shot brilliantly, created nicely, worked hard on the glass and snapped up plenty of steals. She has really shown why EuroCup Women side Reyer Venezia signed her this summer. She looks a class act.
Elina Aarnisalo - Finland
Average Stats: 20.7PPG / 6.0 APG / 5.7 RPG / 2.7 SPG / 20.7 EFF
The Finnish rising star has put up some phenomenal numbers and her last display of the group phase was special as she scored 21 points and passed the rock 10 times in the win against Sweden. With her also doing nice things on defense and on the boards, Finland's progress hinges on others stepping up to support their centerpiece. Aarnisalo is demonstrating why she has already played for the senior team in the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2023 Qualifiers.
Nastja Claessens - Belgium
Average Stats: 17.7 PPG / 6.7 RPG / 3.7 SPG / 17.0 EFF
Arriving with a big reputation as a future star for the senior Belgian Cats, there's no doubt Claessens has lived up to the hype. Belgium may have only won one game from their three group outings, but the forward has shown her teeth impressively. That skill set has included some strong defensive work, as well as quality in the paint on offense. While some may argue her numbers could and maybe should be even better, it is worth point out that at the top of every opponents' scouting reports, she gets a lot of defensive attention.
Juste Jocyte - Lithuania
Average Stats: 13.0 PPG / 8.0 RPG / 7.3 APG / 17.3 EFF
It's been a nice team effort from Group C winners Lithuania, who had several candidates. Yes, Jocyte could have shot better and taken better care of the ball too. But the upsides have been huge too. Having jacked up 16 shots in the first game, the highly-rated winger has played super smart since. She is the second-leading player in the tournament in assists, while she's been immense in rebounding. The way Jocyte moves around the court is exceptional and if she improves on her shooting accuracy, she'll cause her opponents some serious damage.
Ines Noguero Outeiral - Spain
Average Stats: 10.7 PPG / 4.3 RPG
A perfect example of how to showcase your game within a very strong team-orientated program like Spain's, the guard has been excellent so far. She may have six teammates getting more minutes, but Noguero Outeiral has shown maximum efficiency, impact and value within the on-court time handed to her. She is currently the only player on her team averaging double digits in scoring, thanks mainly to her perimeter game and she will have to maintain this level as there will be more tricky tests ahead for the 3-0 Spain.
Fatoumata Toure - France
Average Stats: 14.0 PPG / 4.7 RPG / 2.0 APG
Similar to their unbeaten neighbors Spain, this France side has shown great team attributes, but Toure can be picked out of the crop for posting some very nice displays. She has shot the ball well, especially from long range and that has been based on some good decisions in terms of shot selection. Athletic and locked into the team concept, it will be interesting to see if she can maintain this level heading into the knockout phase and whether Toure can continue to shine on a very deep French roster.
Enija Viksne - Latvia
Average Stats: 11.7 PPG / 8.0 APG / 6.7 RPG / 21.7 EFF
While there is already a buzz around her Latvian teammate Raina Tomasicka, the do-it-all influence of Viksne has been awesome so far and highlighted how Latvia has got plenty of exciting rising stars coming through. She is currently leading her team in rebounding, assists and efficiency, Indeed she has handed out more assists per game than any other baller in the tournament so far. Meanwhile her efforts in rebounding despite her size and position speaks volumes about her effort, desire and all-around competitiveness.
Valentyna Kadlecova - Czech Republic
Average Stats: 16.0 PPG / 3.0 RPG / 2.3 APG
Czech Republic have endured a mixed bag so far during their campaign, but one constant has been the play of Kadlecova who is a dynamic player that is always looking to impact games. So far, she has managed to meet that aim with some eye-catching plays that have shown off her instinct to make buckets both at the hoop and also from range. That scoring touch will be critical if the Czech team wants to shift up the gears and make a podium push.