10 things we learned from FIBA U17 World Cup 2022
MALAGA (Spain) - The FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2022 is over and the United States won another championship - and once again doing it in undefeated fashion. But before the tournament finds a storage spot in our collective memory banks, let's look back and see what the sixth edition of the biennial tournament taught us.
Here 10 things we learned from the U17 World Cup in Malaga.
1 - United States still have it
Spain fans might not like reading or realizing this but the Americans can still get it done and win the U17 World Cup. USA extended their winning streak to 44 games all time at the event though they trailed by seven points with 7 minutes left in the third quarter of the Final against a valiant spanish team. But the Americans showed that their style of play - relentless, exhausting and suffocating pressure defense - will eventually prevail as they broke the Spaniards' will to force a number of turnovers for a decisive 22-4 run to end the third quarter.
Sharman White has officially filled the shoes of former USA head coach Don Showalter, who guided the Americans to the first five U17 World Cup crowns. And White installed that ego-less play into his team and got the group to improve game after game crescendoing in an impressive effort in the Final against Spain - especially given a crowd of about 7,000 boisterous fans pushing Spain.
Yes, the United States still have it.
2 - Europeans getting closer
United States may have never lost in the U17 World Cup and their averaging winning margin in the 44 victories is now 41.6 points, but the Europeans showed they are getting closer. The French generation of Killian Hayes, Theo Maledon and Malcolm Cazalon reached the Final in 2018 but then were battered by 43 points. France came into the tournament in Malaga wanting another shot at the Americans with the thoughts they were better in the depth than the team four years ago. The French were tripped up by Spain in the Semi-Finals in a battle of clearly the best two teams not named United States. And Spain gave the Americans a serious test for 25 minutes - not quite having them on the ropes, but it was a challenge. Spain and France pushing each other to get better will be good for both as they try to catch up to the Americans - which they slowly but surely are doing.
3 - 15 year olds can dominate this competition
This year's edition showed that 15 year old players can dominate this competition - despite being younger than the rest of the players. Just look at the All-Star Five as American Cooper Flagg was born in 2006 and 2007-born Koa Peat was the youngest player to ever play for the Americans in a U17 World Cup. Both are just 15 years old and both are expected to be future stars in the United States. The Americans had another 15 year old who also had his moments - Boggie Fland. A couple of other 15 year olds who had strong tournaments were Jacob Furphy of Australia as well as the Mali trio of Ladji Couliblay, Souleymane Dagnon and Diafar El-Sadik Silimana.
4 - Overtime Elite a development option for Europeans
Players nowadays have an increasing number of ways to develop their game. They can stay home in their domestic leagues, they can go to high school, college or the G-League in the United States or head to the Australian NBL. But another option - which started this past season - is the Overtime Elite (OTE) series in the United States. And two of the top big men in the U17 World Cup showed that OTE is also an option for high level Europeans.
Both MVP Izan Almansa of Spain and France center Alexandre Sarr played last season in the OTE and really benefitted from the experience. One of the main advantages Almansa and Sarr had was facing the highly athletic world of American basketball - something that the more fundamental European game lacks. And with the success of both Almansa and Sarr it should not be a surprise if more Europeans go that development route.
5 - France developing serious talent and serious depth
Speaking of Sarr, it must be said separately that France continue to develop some high level talent and not just three or four players but really enough to make up a full squad. France head coach Bernard Faure had the challenge of not taking players such as Tidjane Salaun and Francois Wibaut because their depth at the forward positions was so strong. Sarr is just one of many France players who at least some think can make the NBA, including Pacome Dadiet, Mohamed Diawara, Ilane Fibleuil, Killian Malwaya and Zaccharie Risacher.
A number of countries could actually probably beat United States if the teams only had seven or eight players. But it's the depth of USA that makes them so dominant. France being able to really develop talent at a similar depth is the key to beating the Americans at a U17 World Cup.
6 - Australia might have found next Bogut with Zikarsky
The biggest takeaway from this youth national team year for Australia could be that they may have found their next Andrew Bogut. Okay, first off, we are not comparing the 16-year-old big man Rocco Zikarsky to the former overall No. 1 NBA draft pick who also won an NBA ring during his 14-year-old career and also played many years for the Boomers including two Olympics and two FIBA Basketball World Cups.
But Zikarsky could be the country's best big man since Bogut with an excellent set of skills. The next two or three years of development will go a long way in determining what Basketball Australia have in the young 7-footer.
7- Slovenia showed they belong, Vide could reach senior team
Slovenia showed at their first U17 World Cup that they belonged and also that the 2005 generation might have a guard to add to the senior national team in the near future. Slovenia beat Mali, Lebanon, Argentina and Poland while giving United States a solid fight for 15 minutes and challenging France and Australia to end up in seventh place.
The absolute leader of the team was Jan Vide, who could end up taking a spot on the senior team. He was the leading scorer in the tournament - granted while shooting just 29.3% from the field, but that was also because opposing defenses keyed in on him. Still he had a decent ratio of 3.6 assists to 2.7 turnovers. This coming season will be crucial as he will become one of the leaders of the Real Madrid junior team.
8 - Mali ready themselves for next cycle
Mali basketball leaders will look at their team's 15th place in Malaga and probably not be overwhelmingly disappointed. They only collected two strong wins over Lebanon but they hung tight with Slovenia and Dominican Republic, played tough against United States for 15 minutes and learned from losses to Poland and New Zealand. Learn being the key word as Mali seem to be setting themselves for the future - maybe even as far down the road as the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2025, no not next year's U19 World Cup but the one in three years. Seven of the 12 players on the roster were born in 2006 and another player was born in 2007.
That means eight of the Mali players would be eligible to play at the next two U19 World Cups. And some of those youngsters are already receiving top training with two of them in Spain and a third is in Canada. Of course, Mali grabbed a historical second place at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 with a number of players who had played many youth tournaments already. We have not seen the last of these young Mali players.
9 - Asia still has catching up to do
A look at the standings shows pretty clearly that Asia still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of world basketball - especially the non-Oceanian part of Asian basketball. Australia finished sixth but New Zealand ended the tournament in 12th place, Japan left in 14th place and Lebanon were winless in 16th in their first U17 World Cup. Since China took seventh place in 2010, 2012 and 2014, China's 10th place finish was the only placing better than 13th by a team from the Asian continent.
Eventually one could imagine that facing the great teams around the world will impact a national team program. But one issue with that rationale and Asia is that regularly qualifying from FIBA Asia tournaments is not easy given two spots are almost automatically gobbled up by Australia and New Zealand. And then you have the likes of China, Japan, Philippines, Korea, Iran and Lebanon all battling for essentially just two spots.
10 - Spain can definitely host a U17 World Cup
Spain became the first country to host a U17 World Cup for a second time after welcoming the world in 2016 to Zaragoza. And they showed in Malaga that they can certainly host a global event. The true spectacle of the Spain vs United States Final was enough to see how well the Europeans can deliver a show. Around 7,000 fans watched the Final and the atmosphere was fantastic and gave an additional dynamic to the drama of the title bout.
With all this being said, the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2022 will forever be remembered - and the individual moments can now take their spots in our collective memory storage banks.