Preview: Serbia And Turkey Favourites Again At U20 Championship // 11.06.2007

For the 1987-born generation of Turkish basketball, second best has had to be good enough, so far.

Three times in youth competitions the Turkish team has finished second and all three times

Milenko Tepic (Serbia & Montenegro)
Milenko Tepic will return to the U20 European Championships this summer to represent Serbia.
their nemesis has been the same, powerhouse Serbia and Montenegro. 

In 2003 at the U16 level, in 2005 at the U18 level and last year at the U20 level the Serbian and Montenegrin team has gotten the better of Turkey.  This year both are back for one more go around, sort of.

While many of the names on the backs of the jerseys will be familiar to those who followed last year’s U20 Championship in Izmir, Turkey the ones on the front of the jerseys will have changed a bit.

In June of last year Montenegrins voted for independence from their union with Serbia and this year the defending champions will play as, simply, Serbia.

It is unlikely that the political changes will have much of an effect on the court. 

Turkey returns seven players from last years squad, including tournament MVP Ersan Ilyasova and sweet-shooting guard Cenk Akyol.

Serbia also return their core from last years team, including Milenko Tepic of Partizan and Nikola Dragovic, who spent last season playing for storied American college program UCLA.

Though both Turkey and Serbia will be among the favourites to return to the championship game, they are far from the only show in town.  This year's Ostchen U20 European Championship, to be held in Nova Gorica, Slovenia and Gorizia, Italy will showcase talent from across the continent.

Luigi Datome (Italy)

Datome has proved he can be a dominant player at the youth level, averaging 18.6 points per game at the U18 Championships in 2005 and 21.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game at the Championship for Cadets in 2003.

Last year in his first action at the U20 level those numbers dropped a bit as he could only manage 12.4 points and six rebounds per contest, and the Italians fell just short of the medal stand, losing to Slovenia in the third place game.

Datome has caught the eye of NBA scouts, impressing those on hand at the Nike Hoop Summit where he was one of the better players on the international team.  A solid tournament in Slovenia and Italy could not only vault the Italians onto the medal stand but make Datome a sought after player on the international scene.

Emir Preldzic (Slovenia)
Emir Preldzic of Slovenia was the second leading scorer at last years U20 European Championship.
Emir Preldzic (Slovenia)

Coming into last year’s U20 European Championship you couldn’t have found many people who would have picked Emir Preldzic’s name off of the Slovenian roster as a potential breakout star.  In fact, prior to last year’s tournament Preldzic had never represented his country at any level so to say he was an unknown quantity would be an understatement.

By the time the balls had been put away and the awards handed out there weren’t many people who could stop talking about Preldzic.  The 2.04 meter small forward was second in scoring and rebounding at the tournament, averaging 20.3 points and 9.4 boards per contest and was named to the All-Tournament team. 

What was most impressive was that he appeared to get better as time wore on.  He dropped 32 on eventual champions Serbia and Montenegro in the quarterfinal round and ended the tournament by scoring 29 points and grabbing eight rebounds to secure third place for Slovenia in a win over Italy.

This year he hopes to show that his performance in 2006 wasn't just a fluke and once again lead Slovenia into medal contention.    

Omri Casspi (Israel)

This athletic small forward is on the radar screen of NBA scouts especially after leading Galil Elyon Golan to the semifinals of the Israeli Premier League playoffs and an upset win over powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv in the regular season.

Last year Casspi competed in the U18 European Championship in Greece where he had

Omri Casspi (Israel)
Omri Casspi of Israel has caught the eye of scouts around the world.
several impressive performances including a pair of games against Latvia in which he scored a total of 67 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.   He also dropped 33 in a three point win over Germany and finished as the tournament’s third leading scorer.

Despite winning two of their three games in the preliminary round at last year’s U20 tournament (including victories over Italy and Hungary) Israel was sent home early on point differential.  Several players from last year's roster return and with Casspi in the fold Israel could be a team to reckon with. 

Chavdar Kostov (Bulgaria)

Five straight losses to end last year's U18 European Championships in Greece meant the Bulgarian side, which would finish in eighth place, left with a bad taste in their mouths despite a red hot start to the tournament.  Had the Bulgarians not lost to Israel by a single point on the opening day of action they would have finished the preliminary round undefeated, as they followed the loss with a 15-point win over Germany and an 11-point thumping of Italy.  In both games they were led by 1.96 meter guard Chavdar Kostov.

In the teams two preliminary round wins Kostov scored a total of 69 points and hit 10 three-pointers. 

The quarterfinal round and beyond showed that Bulgaria were still a bit out of their league but Kostov continued to put the ball in the basket.  He scored 22 against Greece and 20 in a final game loss to Italy and finished the tournament averaging close to 25 points per contest.

Kostov’s numbers were impressive but were padded to a large extent by his break out games against Germany and Italy in the preliminary round.  In the six other games he played, the Sofia native made just 14 of 48 three pointers (29%).  He’ll need to be more consistent to have an impact at the U20 level.



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