Looking at the first day of action at the U20 European Championship, a few of the big names were missing from the box scores in Rhodes and Ialysos. And some of the U19 World Championship stars started slowly in the tournament.
We spent the first day watching the games in Rhodes with games in Groups A and B.
The first game was Spain versus Russia.
A glaring sight was Spanish center Pablo Aguilar not in Spanish white and red in the warm-up lines. Talking to the Spanish coaching staff, Aguilar suffered an injury to his right ankle and he is expected to miss the entire first preliminary round. Coach Gustavo Aranzana said he hopes Aguilar can return for the second qualifying round. But the big man was walking quite gingerly on his ankle.
Helping more than fill in for the loss of Aguilar was guard Xavier Rabaseda, who lit it up from outside and ran very well on the break. He also showed on more than a few occasions that he has leaps in his legs and played tough, spirited defense.
After a horrible first half – for which Coach Aranzana called him “soft” after the game – Spain’s Senegalese-born center Mamadou Samb Mbaye really picked up his game after intermission. Samb Mbaye grabbed six of his 13 rebounds on the offensive glass and really played with some high energy in the second half. He shot just 4 of 10 but did have a nice reverse layup in traffic. And he made 4 of 5 free throws.
Also, power forward Sergio De La Fuente had a strong game, grabbing eight rebounds and scoring 18 points. He scored three straight baskets at one point for the Spaniards and proved that he can score points in bunches – especially with his high energy.
Russia’s main player was guard Maxim Grigoryev, who scored a quiet 20 points to go with six rebounds. Russia appeared limited offensively when he wasn’t on the court. Point guard Dmitriy Khvostov did dish out nine assists but the Russia attack does not seem to have many options.
The next game was Latvia vs. Slovenia.
Small forward Dairis Bertans was able to get off his shot at will though he struggled converting those chances, hitting 3 of 11 from inside the stripe. He did make 3 of 4 from outside and scored most of his 29 points from the foul line (14 of 17). He also dished out three assists.
Center Lauris Blaus also struggled from the field (3 of 11) but he worked hard in the blocks with 13 rebounds (seven offensive boards) while blocking four shots.
And then there is Kristers Zeldaks. The power forward is a glue guy who does plenty of things right and has a powerful body with lots of agility. Look for Zeldaks to do even more than his 12 points and eight rebounds from the opening game.
The most interesting player for Slovenia meanwhile was Luka Dimec, The power forward is a hard-working player in the blocks who can definitely score – 16 points in 21 minutes. After fouling out early in the fourth quarter, he vented his frustration on a chair and refused to shake hands with the victorious Latvians after the game, leaving some questions about his temper and/or attitude.
Greece cruised though the first game against Belgium which meant coach Kostas Missas did not need to give his deeply talented team many minutes. And the team was undoubtedly happy about not having to play that much after seven of them played at the U19 World Championship in New Zealand, which ended on Sunday.
Center Zisis Sarikopoulos only played 10 minutes and was spotted after the game icing his ankle. That gave plenty of playing time to Georgios Borgis, who used his wide body for a very efficient 8 of 11 from the field for 16 points and six rebounds.
The likes of Kostas Papanikolaou, Vlantimir Giankovits, Nikos Pappas and Kostas Sloukas were eased into the competition after the long past two weeks. Look for more from them later in the tournament.
Belgium were clearly overmatched but that didn’t mean they don’t have talent. Among the interesting players were an athletic Senna Hounhanou and a tough Quentin Serron.
The last game in Rhodes was France vs. Italy.
France as usual are loaded with athletes. Among those oozing with tantalizing athleticism are Edwin Jackson, Fernando Raposo, Sarra Camara and Kevin Seraphin. Jackson was a bit off offensively (shooting just 5 of 14 for the game) but is a special talent.
And point guard Thomas Heurtel made two big layups in the final minute to secure the victory, showing his mental toughness – though he had a break away very late in the first half and he dished off to a trailer for a dunk but the shot was after the buzzer – drawing plenty of ire from the French coach.
For the Italians, Niccolo Martinoni showed flashes of excellence at times and it was Riccardo Truccolo and Matteo Da Ros who brought Italy back before losing late.
The other four games were played at the other venue in Ilaysos and could only be followed over the web.
Some notes from afar …
Turkey guard Melih Mahmutoglu only scored nine points but hit the killer three-pointer at the buzzer of overtime for the victory.
Mukremin Kilicli only played six minutes and I am anxious to hear what the Turkish coach says why he didn’t play more.
Unfortunately über-prospect Enes Kanter is not here as he will be playing in Metz at the U18 European Championship.
As far as the Israels go, Anton Shoutvin and Raviv Pitshon appear to be the two main guns.
Lithuania’s big man Donatas Motiejunas was not a big part of the offense until taking over in the fourth quarter in leading his team back to a tough win. The center also played in New Zealand so is likely tired and may need some time to get into the tournament.
Two big Croatian talents did not play against Germany as Mario Delas and Tomislav Zubcic sat the entire game. Again, I plan on finding out on Friday what happened to the two players.
Bojan Bogdanovic – a talent in his own right – did more than fill in, scoring 32 points including four three-pointers and 14 of 17 foul shots.
And it will be good to see Miro Bilan, who collected 19 points and eight points from the center position.
Germany have the best generation in a long time and Robin Benzing showed German senior team coach Dirk Bauermann was right in inviting him to the EuroBasket training camp by collecting 33 points, four rebounds, two steals and three blocks.
Bastian Doreth added 21 points and Tibor Pleiss (also a senior team camp invitee) added 11 points, 14 points and four blocks.
The final game was Ukraine vs. Serbia.
Denys Lukashov had 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and just one turnover in 36 minutes of action for Ukraine.
And Dragan Milosavljevic led Serbia’s frantic comeback attempt, which came up just short.