16 - 24
July 2016
13 Lauri Elias MARKKANEN (Finland)
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Big names aim to deny upstarts in competitive Group B

HELSINKI (FIBA U20 European Championship 2016) – On paper, 2015 silver-medallists Spain as well as France are the big favourites in Group B of the FIBA U20 European Championship, which tips off Saturday in Helsinki. However, both Israel and tournament hosts Finland are very confident they can overturn the established order and catch by surprise at least one of the two traditional powerhouses.

Spain are synonymous with success at the FIBA U20 European Championship, quite simply because they have stepped on the podium in 11 of the 14 editions of the competition since its inception in 2000. The Spanish silverware collection amounts to one gold, four silver and six bronze medals.

It is impossible to predict whether Spain are in a position to claim in Helsinki their 12th medal in this competition, but it will certainly not be an easy task. 'La Roja' lost two of the three games it played in its last warm-up tournament, falling to Slovenia and Italy in a four-nation meet in Domegge di Cadore.

Furthermore, two players who are expected to play an important role this summer, Sergi García and Yankuba Sima, only managed to join their team-mates a few days before the start of the tournament in Helsinki and so Spain have to hurry to build the excellent team chemistry that has been one of their trademark features in almost every competition at any age level.

France, who have won six medals at the FIBA U20 European Championship, finished in fourth place last summer in Italy and knew all along they would have to field an almost entirely new team in Helsinki as the vast majority of players on that side were born in 1995.

The only French players who stepped out in 2015 and will return in Helsinki are wingers Lucas Dussoulier and Corentin Carne, while this year's team includes five 1997-born players who are going to play at U20 level for the first time.

One of those five is forward Amine Noua, who had not played for France since the FIBA U16 European Championship of 2013 but, judging from the warm-up games he will assume a big role for Les Bleus in Helsinki.

Another player that will pull on the national team jersey this summer for the first time since stepping out at U16 level is Leopold Cavaliere, who also showed during friendlies that he will be one of the centerpieces of France in Finland.

Israel are placing trust in the 1995-born duo of Orr Leumi and Daniel Danino, who gained experience of the FIBA U20 European Championship last year, in Italy.

A big part of the side which Israel will field in Helsinki however is younger, as it is based on the 1997-born players who last summer earned promotion to the top-flight from FIBA U18 European Championship Division B.

Shooting guard Roi Huber and point guard Tamir Blatt headline the 1997-born contingent. Huber, who plays at Hapoel Kfar-Saba, averaged 13.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in last summer's U18 tournament.

Israel's roster might have a size deficit when compared to those of the other Group B participants, but they are well-versed in a brand of 'smallball' that can prove tough to handle for any team, regardless of how big they are.

Finland meanwhile are by definition the team that has generated the biggest amount of enthusiasm already before the competition tips off, as this is the first time the nation will take part in the Division A tournament and, of course, they will do so in front of their home fans.

Guards Tuomas Hirvonen, Okko Järvi and Harold Aidoo, who were instrumental in the Finnish team's promotion from Division B last summer, are returning this year to reap the benefits of their efforts.

The hosts also have in their ranks one of the potential big stars of this tournament, in 1997-born Lauri Markkanen. The 2.11m center, who will play for the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA next year, averaged an impressive 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in last summer's FIBA U18 European Championship.