Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Players to Watch: Who will stand out at #FIBAU18Europe in Nis?

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NIS (Serbia) – The FIBA U18 European Championship returns to Serbia for its 2023 edition and some of the top prospects in Europe will be in attendance.

The four most recent U18 titles have been split between Spain and the home side, Serbia, but there are multiple teams and players who could write their name in history in Nis. You can vote below for which player you think will make the biggest impact in this year’s competition.

Make sure to also check out the players to watch in the Division B tournament, which will be taking place in Matosinhos, Portugal. 

Aday Mara – Spain


Birth Date: April 7, 2005 (18 years old)
Height: 2.20m (7ft 3in)
Club: Casademont Zaragoza (ESP)

Mara is coming off a tremendously successful 2022-23 season. Last July, he formed an incredible frontline with Izan Almansa and Alvaro Folguerias, leading Spain to a silver medal in the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2022. His Spanish ACB season was even more impressive, at just 17 years old, Mara became an important piece for Casademont Zaragoza in one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Mara stands out nearly at first sight with his massive measurements. Standing at 2.20m, Mara is a force in the paint, being a dominant rebounder, interior finisher and rim protector, while also making an impact in transition with his mobility, coordination and passing vision.

Spain will be one of the most talented teams in attendance in Nis as they will attempt to be the first team to three-peat in nearly 40 years. With the depth, the sheer amount of talent and with Mara as their centerpiece, Spain might just have enough firepower to pull it off.

Nikola Topic – Serbia

Point Guard

Birth Date: August 10, 2005 (17 years old)
Height: 1.95m (6ft 5in)
Club: OKK Beograd (SRB)

Topic turned heads in the European youth basketball circles earlier this year, with a 49-point, 12-assist, 10-rebound triple-double performance for Crvena Zvezda at ANGT Belgrade, but his impact in the 2022-23 season goes beyond a single game, becoming one of the leading scorers for OKK Beograd in the Serbian KLS at just 17 years old. Standing at 1.95m tall with a strong frame, Topic combines optimal measurements for the position with tremendous speed and quickness with the ball in his hands, which makes him a force in transition and allows him to beat defenders in the perimeter. His unselfish approach to the game, makes him a threat as a passer as well.

Serbia came close to winning it all in the FIBA U18 Europe Championship 2022, eventually finishing in third place. Topic, who played only one game in FIBA competitions at the U16 European Challengers in 2021, will have the chance to lead Serbia to the promised land for the first time since 2018.

Tidjane Salaun – France

Power Forward

Birth Date: August 10, 2005 (17 years old)
Height: 2.05m (6ft 9in)
Club: Cholet Basket (FRA)

It’s been a breakthrough season for Salaun, who has cemented himself as one of the top French prospects in his generation with strong showings for Cholet in the French U21 Espoirs league, as well as standing out at special events such as ANGT and the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp. Despite standing at 2.05m, Salaun has the explosiveness, speed and body control of a guard, which makes him tremendously dangerous in transition. However, he is more than just tall and athletic; he is really polished as a scorer, having a great mix of ball-handling ability and touch from multiple levels of the floor, which makes him a threat both as a driver and as a perimeter shooter.

It’s been seven years since France won its last U18 Championship. This year, with names like Ilian Pietrus, Maxime Logue and Salaun, who is yet to play in a FIBA competition for France, Les Bleus have one of the better chances to win that elusive fifth U18 title.

Toni Bilic – Croatia


Birth Date: February 9, 2005 (18 years old)
Height: 2.01m (6ft 7in)
Club: Cedevita Junior Zagreb (CRO)

Bilic is coming off a dominant season in the junior ranks for Cedevita Olimpija, being a prolific scorer and solid playmaker for others both at ANGT and the Junior ABA League. Bilic is an interesting wing prospect who possesses a fluid ball-handling ability for his optimal positional size, which makes him a versatile shot creator for himself and others, being able to get to the rim, finish with a good level of extension and touch, and find teammates for easy drive-and-kick passes.

It’s been nearly a decade since Croatia made its last podium at the FIBA U18 European Championship, and the team hasn’t been able to make the Quarter-Finals since 2014. This year, with Bilic playing in his first FIBA competition in Nis, Croatia will look to return to form.

Johann Grunloh – Germany


Birth Date: August 14, 2005 (17 years old)
Height: 2.09m (6ft 10in)
Club: RASTA Vechta (GER)

Grunloh already saw minutes in last year’s FIBA U18 European Championship, before going on to have an impressive 2022-23 Season for Rasta Vechta’s farm team in the German Pro B, where he averaged 10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. Grunloh has the prototypical size and skillset of a traditional center. Standing at 2.09m, with long arms and a strong frame, Grunloh makes an impact in the paint on both ends of the floor, being a productive rim protector who can also create his own offense in the post with his combination of footwork and touch around the basket. He also mixes in moments of perimeter shooting, being able to space the floor off-the-catch.

Germany is still looking for its first podium appearance at the FIBA U18 European Championship, they will need Grunloh’s size and two-way impact if this is going to be, finally, the year they do it.

Szymon Nowicki – Poland

Power Forward

Birth Date: June 2, 2005 (18 years old)
Height: 2.01m (6ft 7in)
Club: Real Madrid (ESP)

Nowicki has a history of success in FIBA competitions, leading Poland to a first-place finish in their group of the U16 European Challengers 2021 and earning a spot in the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup for the first time in 12 years. If there’s a word to describe Nowicki’s game, it’s “versatility”. He’s a strong and polished 2.01m forward who can create scoring opportunities in the post with his length, touch and flexibility around the basket, but he can also get things done in the perimeter, as shown by his 41.9 percent mark from three-point range in last year’s FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup. He is also a defensive presence, having led the tournament in steals and finishing third in blocks per game.

Coming from an inexhaustive source of basketball talent such as Real Madrid’s junior teams, Nowicki has both faced and shared the floor with some of the most talented players in the 2005 and 2006 generations such as Slovenia’s Jan Vide and Spain’s Hugo Gonzalez. Poland will rely on him and all that he’s learned in Madrid’s competitive environment, to improve on last year’s ninth place finish.

Kasparas Jakucionis – Lithuania


Birth Date: May 29, 2006 (17 years old)
Height: 1.87m (6ft 2in)
Club: FC Barcelona (ESP)

Jakucionis made his debut for Barcelona in the Spanish ACB last April, playing the final 30 seconds of a game against Granada, which was enough time for him to convert a three-pointer. It was a culmination of sorts for the great season the Lithuanian guard had in the junior rankings, both at the ANGT circuit and in Spain’s Liga EBA for Barcelona’s reserves. Jakucionis has a skillset that fits nearly any team context as he’s not extremely ball dominant, being able to make an impact as a passer, perimeter defender and off-ball scorer via cuts and spot-up jumpers.

Jakucionis brings a level of winning pedigree to this Lithuanian squad, having been an integral part of the team who won last year’s FIBA U16 European Championship in Skopje. If the Baltic giants want to reach the mountaintop once again, they will need Jakucionis to be as productive and versatile as he has been over the past twelve months.

Alexandros Samodurov – Greece


Birth Date: April 20, 2005 (18 years old)
Height: 2.11m (6ft 11in)
Club: Panathinaikos (GRE)

Samodurov has become one of the top international players in the 2005 generation over the last 12 months: he impressed in last year’s FIBA U18 European Championship, before going on to earn an All-Tournament Team nod at ANGT Munich and an invitation to the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Salt Lake City. Samodurov is a freight train in the open floor where he uses his combination of speed, fluidity and explosiveness to bring the ball up and attack the rim; at his 2.11m size, this makes him unstoppable for opponents in transition. The Panathinaikos’ forward is versatile enough to contribute in other areas of the game, such as defense and playmaking for others.

Greece has never won an U18 Championship away from home, will this be the year they do it? If they do, they will certainly rely on the dynamic duo that Samodurov will form with his Panathinaikos teammate Nekolis Avdalas; their combination of size and mobility can be certainly too much to handle for opposing teams.

Elhadji Dame Sarr – Italy


Birth Date: June 4, 2006 (17 years old)
Height: 1.96m (6ft 5in)
Club: FC Barcelona (ESP)

After leading Italy to a sixth-place finish in last year’s FIBA U16 European Championship, Sarr moved from Orange 1 Bassano to Barcelona where he was an instrumental player in their farm system across different competitions such as ANGT and Spain’s Liga EBA. Sarr was also able to make his debut for the senior team in the Spanish ACB at just 16 years old.

The 17-year-old wing’s athletic profile makes him a nightmare for opposing defenders. Standing at 1.96m tall, Sarr possesses a level of athleticism which he utilizes to get to the rim and finish plays with power, as well as to create defensive events both as an on-ball and off-ball defender. Where Sarr makes his biggest impact, however, is as a shooter: he launched 49 three-point attempts in last year’s FIBA U16 European Championship, connecting on 38.8 percent of them. Italy will rely on Sarr’s two-way impact as they look to win their first U18 title since 1990.

Demir Dogan – Turkey

Small Forward

Birth Date: April 11, 2006 (17 years old)
Height: 2.05m (6ft 9in)
Club: SC Derby (MNE)

Despite having just turned 17 years old a few months ago, Dogan will be one of the most experienced players in Nis, having played two full seasons of professional basketball in the first leagues of North Macedonia and Montenegro. Dogan’s experience also includes two FIBA U16 competitions in which he showed his unique skillset for his 2.05m size, as he possesses tremendous fluidity with the ball in his hands, which allows him to take bigger, slower opponents off the dribble in the perimeter and utilize his gravity as a scorer to attract multiple defenders, which he utilizes to find open teammates on the move. Dogan combines this perimeter skillset with his ability to protect the rim, as evidenced by his 1.6 block per game mark over his 11 games in previous FIBA competitions.

Turkey has finished in second place in each of the last two editions of the FIBA U18 European Championship. This year, they’ll look to finally seal the deal, as Dogan’s high-ceiling could be the factor that swings things in Turkey’s favor.


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