Adidas Next Generation Tournament
David Hein's Eye on the Future
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Stellazzurra, Real Madrid book spots in ANGT Finals

REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) – Two down, two to go. The first two legs of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament (ANGT) – the rebranded successor to the Nike International Junior Tournament – were completely over the past two weeks, and two teams have booked their spots at the ANGT Finals at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in May in Madrid. 

Stellazzurra Basketball Academy Rome won the Citta di Roma tournament by knocking off Unicaja Malaga in the final on December 29 to reach the Finals for the first time. And then Real Madrid repeated their undefeated title from last season at the Ciutat de L’Hospitalet by racing past FC Barcelona in the final on January 6. Now Madrid hope to get the title they missed last season when they lost to Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade in the final in Milan.

The remaining two automatic bids for the eight-team finals at the Madrid Final Four from May 14-17 will be played out in Kaunas from January 16-18 and then Belgrade February 27-March 1.

Rome’s success is the result of a long-term effort to build up the team to compete at a higher level. The Italians nearly reached the ANGT Finals last season but lost in the Rome final to Cajasol Seville.

One of the reasons for the improvement has also been the addition of top foreign players to go with the elite of Italy. Half of Rome’s provisional 16-man roster was non Italians, including two of the top 15 players in Europe from the 1999 class - Njegos Sikiras from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbian Lazar Nikolic – as well as Robert Bobroczkyi, a 2.25m 14-year-old from Romania.

This year’s tournament was for 1997-born players and the MVP of the tournament was Italian Andrea La Torre, who finished off his strong 2014 in style after helping Italy win the Albert Schweitzer Tournament and playing at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Dubai.

For Malaga, it was once again the case of always being a bridesmaid and never a bride.  The loss to Stellazzurra was Unicaja’s fourth in a qualifying final since 2009, losing the L’Hospitalet finals in 2009 (versus Lietuvos Rytas), 2010 (versus Cajasol Seville) and 2014 (against Real Madrid).

Malaga are much like the other top teams in Spain in relying heavily on foreign players. Three of the top four scorers for Unicaja – Romaric Belemene-Dzabatou and Viny Okouo from Congo and Romanian Rares Uta – are from outside of Spain. The other was Spanish undersized point guard Carlos Corts, who made the All-Tournament Team along with La Torre, Spars Sarajevo Edin Atic, Brose Baskets Bamberg’s Leon Kratzer and Dragan Bender of Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The organizers had their hands a bit tied with the All-Tournament selections as they went by position and it was fair to have La Torre, Atic, Kratzer and Bender on the squad. But Corts was a bit of a surprise selection. Belemene had a much better performance for Unicaja and as a point guard, Corts had more turnovers than assists.

It was a minor crime that Lovro Mazalin was kept off the All-Tournament Team, averaging 20.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.3 steals for a Cedevita Zagreb team that he guided to fifth place despite not practicing or playing with them during the season thus far. And he stepped up with 32 points, six rebounds and two assists in the fifth place game against Armani Junior Milan. Mazalin did struggle with his shooting, hitting just 39 percent of his two-point shots and 27 percent from long range. But he definitely earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

One of the biggest highlights of the tournament was Dragan Bender torching Virtus Bologna for 43 points, 21 rebounds, six assists, five steals and two blocks in the seventh place game.

The L’Hospitalet tournament went pretty much as planned.

Real Madrid were really, really good and had maybe one of the next greats in the game – Luka Doncic. On a team stacked with great players (like Samba Ndiaye, Jonathan Barreiro, Santiago Yusta, Felipe Dos Anjos and Emanuel Cate), the 15-year-old Slovenian stood out as more than outstanding. The 1.98m point forward averaged 13 points while hitting 56 percent of his shots and also collected 7.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.8 steals in 23 minutes per game. Doncic, who is the son of former Slovenian international Sasa Doncic, has yet to play for Slovenia’s youth ranks.

The young prodigy will certainly join up soon with the MVP of the L’Hospitalet tournament, compatriot Blaz Mesicek from Union Olimpija Ljubljana. Mesicek was worthy of being the MVP as he had an outstanding performance in guiding an Olimpija team without loads of talent to the semi-finals – where Doncic and Madrid got the better of them.

The rest of the All-Tournament Team was Ndiaye, Amine Noua of ASVEL Lyon Villeurbanne and Xabi Lopez from FIATC Joventut Badalona.

Barcelona were clearly the second-best team in the tournament but were battered 87-55 in the final and never came close to challenging Real, who looked bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic and more talented than Barcelona.
The one Barcelona player who really fought hard in the final to keep the team in the game was Stefan Peno, though the team does have other talented players like Maxim Esteban, Nedim Djedovic and Atoumane Diagne.

It was surprising that Galatasaray was so lacking in talented players while ASVEL became a historic loser in getting beaten in the seventh place game by home team CB L’Hospitalet, who got their first victory in tournament history since starting to host the qualifying tourney in the 2007-08 season. 

One aspect that Madrid winning the L’Hospitalet tournament means is that there is an extra spot to hand out among the final four teams. The four qualifying tournament winners, the home team and the defending champions are guaranteed spots. That would make it seem just about a certainty that another team from L’Hospitalet will make it to Madrid.

Dave Hein


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David Hein

David Hein

Walk into the media tribune of any major basketball event and there's a good chance you will come across David Hein. Having covered dozens of FIBA events, including numerous women's and youth events, there are few players Dave doesn't know about, and few players who don't know him. His sporting curiosity means he is always looking to unearth something new and a little bit special. David Hein's Eye on the Future is a weekly column digging out the freshest basketball talent worldwide and assessing what the basketball landscape will look like a couple of years down the line.