There is plenty for fans Stateside and beyond to follow at the FIBA U20 Women’s European Championship 2017 in Matosinhos, Portugal. Taking place from Saturday 08 to Sunday 16 of July, here are just some of the NCAA participants taking part in the tournament – as presented in another two-punch piece for Blue Star by myself and Pierre my Basketmedia365 colleague Pierre Ploszajski.
Spain – Maria Conde (Florida State)
Maria Condé will be in Matosinhos off the back of her first senior EuroBasketWomen experience where Spain finished atop the podium. Getting the chance to play/train with the “crème de la crème” of European players will certainly give her an even bigger edge over players from her age category. At this U20 tournament, she will conclude a stellar international youth career which saw her claim 4 gold & 1 bronze European Championship medals and one silver World Championship medal (U17). She is Spain’s newest marvel. Part of the U18 All-Tournament team in 2015 where many believe she should have been MVP (finished with an average double-double of 16pts/11rds), and already influential at last edition in 2016, Maria Condé has all it takes to explode this year. No matter how talented she is she remains very humble and believes in hard work and constancy. At NCAA level, she brought during two years influential court time off the bench to a solid Florida State unit which reached the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 level in her 2 seasons there. Her skills set is complete, she is super versatile, she can do it all (shoot, rebound, defend, post, drive etc.) She enjoys the benefits of having the perfect body frame, size, wingspan and strong mentality to become an elite winger in the very near future. Laia Palau, captain of the Spanish NT, presents her as the deadly fusion of Marta Xargay and Alba Torrens in just one body, nothing less! She will lead this year a very ambitious Spanish team aiming for gold yet again.
Spain – Maite Cazorla (Oregon)
— Kelly Graves (@GoDucksKG) June 18, 2017
Another key member of this Spanish golden generation (yet another!) alongside Condé, Raventos and Salvadores, Maité Cazorla is a very hard-nosed, mature beyond her age and highly enthusiastic guard. She was part of the great freshmen class of Oregon University, forming with Sabrina Ionescu their starting backcourt duo, which shone so brightly during last NCAA season, reaching for the 1st time Elite 8. She is very reliable and gets big trust from her coaches (Isa Sanchez her NT coach claims she is the brain of the team and never has a bad game). Her fighting spirit and dedication to the team are a pleasure to observe. Add to it an efficient shooting range including from beyond the 3pt line, a proven court-smartness and interesting size for a guard and you will have many of the ingredients great players are made of. Her sophomore season with the Ducks is filled with high expectation. This tournament should serve her to affirm them a bit louder.
Belgium – Serena-Lynn Geldof (Miami)
Congratulations to Serena on being called up to the Belgian Senior National Team for the FIBA European championship! https://t.co/gzpeVKfwXJ
— Canes Women's BBall (@CanesWBB) June 13, 2017
Geldof will arrive at this tournament probably still on a high from Belgium senior NT’s prowess at last month’s EuroBasketWomen where they rode to a podium finish (3rd) for the 1st time in the country’s history, a team she was part of. While she didn’t get much court time during the tournament, being around and training with world class post players such as Emma Meesseman and Ann Wauters will certainly have helped her to raise her game and her knowledge of it. A unique opportunity for a girl of her age. Having already showed throughout prior youth tournaments a solid capacity to impact a game, she is now set to close her youth career in Matosinhos. Never far from a double-double that her size helps her to come up with, she will be key in Belgium’s ambition to fare well in this tournament and she will do her best to surpass her 8pts/8rds average from last year’s U20 experience. Her summer will most likely turn into an improved sophomore season with the Hurricanes this season.
Italy – Mariella Santucci (Toldeo)
When Mariella Santucci is on the court expect leadership and talent to be displayed. A left-handed, dynamic, creative and fun to watch guard, she has met success both individually and collectively with her fellow NT team-mates (finishing Top 4 at Euro U16 & U18, playing also at the U17 Worlds). She was among Italy’s leading scorers and her team’s floor general at all of these tournaments. She has just played her 1st full year in the NCAA, averaging a very promising 29min/7.7pts/3.1rds/4.6ass/1.9st per game in her freshman year at Toledo. Prior to committing at college level in the US, she has already played at senior level in Italy’s second division giving her an edge over girls from her age category. She is a strong character, is quick and shows both phenomenal ball-handling and court-vision skills. She is meant to develop into a very efficient guard in the coming years, her NCAA years to come will only help her get to that.
Latvia – Digna Strautmane (Syracuse)
The future looks bright for Latvian women’s basketball and Strautmane is one of the big reason fueling this sentiment. The country achieved three consecutive World Cup qualifications in a row: 1st at U17 & U19 level, and now just recently at senior level during last month’s EuroBasketWomen. She was on the preliminary list for the senior showcase, but unfortunately was the last player to be cut. Nevertheless she arrived to Matosinhos to continue building on a stellar international youth career where she impressed everybody with a qualified talent ever since her 1st U16 outing back in 2012. This U20 tournament will also be her 3rd and probably best of all (though she could still play for a 4th time next year as she’s still just 18, turning 19 in September). She was already averaging over 16pts per game last time out. Expect these numbers to grow. She is highly awaited in Syracuse for her freshman year, being labelled elite prospect by the likes of ESPN and Prospects Nation. The team will need her influence to replace drafted seniors Sykes and Peterson and to help them maintain their national ambitions. The buzz around Digna is big and real. Later in the month she will suit-up for Latvia again at the Worlds U19 in Italy. Last two club seasons she played with seniors in the best team of her country (TTT Riga) where she also experienced EuroCupWomen court time. She made the All-Tournament team at last year’s U18 Euro too. She has all the attributes of the modern forward: she’s tall, she’s long, she’s smart, she’s simple, she’s skilled and she’s efficient on both ends of the floor. Capable of double-doubles repeatedly, she is a highly influential and gifted player who incredibly enough is just starting to impress. NCAA is next on her building resume. A world class player to be watched from Saturday onwards in Portugal.
Hungary – Eniko Kuttor (Duquesne)
Key member of a Hungarian youth generation on-the-rise, Kuttor has been posting solid performances throughout all tournaments she took part in, whether on the European or on the World stage. A tall and promising athlete by modern wing standards, she still has much room for progression especially if she picks the right attitude and keep working hard. She is a tough defender to pass, a good rebounder and shows interesting scoring capacity. This will be her 2nd U20 experience and she will do everything to help her country make the longest run possible and surpass her 7pts/8+rbds average from last time out. The potential is there. Coaching staff at Duquesne University are going to watch closely how she performs and evolves before returning for her junior season.
Sweden – Fanny Wadling (Maine)
Having posted a rock-solid Freshman season at Maine who had a winning 9-7 season and benefited from 20 minutes per game from the Swedish wing, Wadling needs to re-discover her three-point shooting touch. Only managing to convert 16% for the Black Bears, Sweden will be threatened with relegation in Matosinhos and need all their most capable performers to be firing on all cylinders. She knows the gyms from the U18s tournament some three years ago and will be required to add to her nice rebounding and passing attributes with an uplift in points production.
Hungary – Nina Aho (Duquesne)
Never one to rack up seriously big numbers when it comes to points, Aho has a great physicality, athleticism and dynamic approach to the game. Her skills which have been honed in 3×3 and saw her ranked as one of the best young players in the shorted version of the sport suggest she should be a more productive player offensively. But there are many who think that in time, this will be the case and she will be a late bloomer in the 5×5 version and learn to utilize those attributes even more effectively. Her time with Duquesne is part of that process and she steps out with Hungary with nice NCAA learnings to call upon this summer.
Spain – Laia Raventos (North Carolina-Charlotte)
The playmaker is not necessarily ever going to be top-billing or her country, but when it comes to reliability and getting the team to function, she is an important part of the jigsaw. Her numbers during her first two years in the NCAA have been broadly similar, including a nice number of assist per game (almost 4), maybe one too many turnovers, but some decent shooting and enough of an outside game to keep defenders honest. She didn’t play for Spain last summer but is back in the mix again and will be used whenever her country wants to change the rhythm as she can have an explosive impact with her bustling style and energy.
Italy – Francesca Pan (Georgia Tech)
Highly-rated ever since she emerged onto the youth scene, Pan has been a standout performer for Italy for many years because of her offensive punch. She can score in multiple ways and her country will be heavily reliant on her averaging double-digits – as was the case last year when she was instrumental in taking Italy to the Final and within a whisker of the title itself as they were edged in a dramatic conclusion by Spain. She played the cameo behind the sensational MVP efforts of Cecilia Zandalasini and will be even more of a leader this year. She has been a force for Georgia Tech and if she can get an uplift in her perimeter shooting, then you can expect Italy to make another deep run.
Latvia – Paula Strautmane (Quinnipac)
It has been a sensational ride in 2017 for the forward, who was actually a very productive performer at the 2016 edition of the competition. After playing a significant role in taking Quinnipac to unprecedented heights during 2016-17, she then got to make her debut with the senior Latvia team at EuroBasket Women 2017. And, even if she had to be content with a bit-part role in Prague, she helped her country make history as they took a first ever global ticket by reaching the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2018. Now she will form a twin turbo system with her sister Digna like last year and could be even more impactful in the scoring and rebounding charts after her recent elite level experiences.
Portugal – Carolina Bernardeco (Old Dominion)
Synonymous with Matosinhos after the infamous moment a few years ago at the venue which you can read about HERE, Bernadeco will be hugely important for the hosts. They are in a nightmare group and could be threatened with relegation unless she makes some noise at point guard. She hasn’t had a stack of minutes at ODU during 2016-17 which was her Sophomore year, but will get lots of court time in her homeland. Although she will probably rue not getting some good competition from Ana Ramos who was MVP at U16 Level in Matosinhos a couple of years ago.
Keep it locked to basketmedia365