BOURGES, France – Unlike most, if not all, of the USA based “scouting services” that plan to hit you up and tell you about the great talent at 2017 U16 Euro A Championship here, Blue Star Media and FIBA TV can tell you more about the players than those “service” people who were not really on location in the arena watching.
It’s not hard for Blue Star Media (and its bloggers) to give an unquestioned critique of these FIBA Championship events and who were the top players as is always our journalistic tradition. If you want deeper info on players such as graduation class, having an agent (hidden or not which is common) or desire to come to the USA for an education – do your homework as to who has this accurate knowledge. But beware on who you “ask” about these players as you’d be surprised on what’s real and what might be hearsay.
The entire FIBA U16/U18 block of tournaments just concluded at the end of August. The big one, the U16 Euro As, were held earlier in Bourges about 3 hours south of Paris by car in a small, quiet city (it’s August and everyone in France is on vacation) with the amazing Palais Des Sports Du Prado facility seating 5,000 fans. While there were only hundreds in attendance until the finals, the game sites were sharp and modern. FIBA did its traditionally over the top job putting all of the games on the web via their YouTube channel thus providing the opportunity to multitask watching one game in person and the other on the trusty iPad Pro. even me to watch one game in person and the other on my iPad pro. My laptop, in turn, allowed the addition of the FIBA U18As in Sopron, Hungary or FIBA U18b’s in Dublin, Ireland (in person for the finals) to be viewed. While this scheduling this did not help certain Euro teams hoping to move key players from U16 up to U18 in the same month as in the past, the overlap was a basketball fan’s dream – non-stop basketball.
Heading into the August 11th U16A semi-finals playoff weekend the tragedy was that among some of the strong teams like Spain, Russia and Germany just one would be able to claim the 5th Euro spot at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Championships in Minsk, Belarus next July 22-29. Since Hungary, France, Italy and surprise Latvia has already made the semifinals and qualified the battle for that last spot was the only drama left in Bourges to be played out.
Without doubt the gold medal winning French (beating Hungary 66-58) was the most talented team in the event. This squad is deep with athletic talent that plays quick and hard mirroring the same kind of roster the gold-medal USA U16 sported in Buenos Aires this past June. This team plays sloppy on offense but has stepped up its defense over that from past squads. If they bring numbers and beat you up and down the floor there’s no one here who can match them.
Italy claimed a U17 Worlds & semifinal spot just pushing a leaner Spain around the floor. The Italians (finishing 3rd beating Latvia) just play old-school basketball and do not usually impress athletically. They simply play and generally stay home as pros after high school. This quarterfinal battle was a gem to watch. Until the final minutes this game was open to win. Sadly for Spain they fell short and needed to fight through the bottom bracket for 5th. If they didn’t qualify it would’ve been a crime as they have the most “USA-ready” roster here after France. Unlike France where their players have “contracts” with their school, the Spaniards are open to traveling to the USA or stay and be a pro. There’s a few here that would help most USA top programs.
Hungary, the silver medalists, looked just like Spain with a lot of long solid talent that translates to the American game. Similar issues with being a pro or a student can often be found here. The other surprise besides Spain losing was Germany. Their program won the Euros in Udine, Italy last summer and several of this year’s line-up were the mainstays of last year’s squad. It was discovered in the Latvia upset that the German’s lacked a strong guard and couldn’t count on it’s over abundant height to stave off being stunned in the quarterfinals. This team, as talented as any, will miss the 2018 U17 World Cup..
The surprise was Latvia. They played hard, feature a few quality players and kept fighting against Germany which didn’t handle the guard pressure well on their way to a loss. You could count on teams like Poland, Croatia, Netherlands and Belarus to have a few talented players who are surely college-level stars. In worth noting that these teams all have the desired height that in demand in the US but probably aren’t tall enough for a major Euro pro contract.
While there’s almost no right-now program changer here I was happy to see at least five major talents at point guard who are better than any USA dribble-drive, can’t run an offense PG. If not enticed into the pros they would be stars in the USA for whatever school fortunate enough to get them. The size was solid and except for France and Germany with Rupert and Bossier there are program helpers not franchise players.
You could come here and see similar talent to what most American college coaches would find in Canada but without the ease of language or academic records.
While I will defer to my Blue Star Media colleagues Paul Nielson and Pierre Ploszajski as to their favorites and choices later on with their Blue Star Media blog reports, I’m offering up the top ten players I loved watching here and would love to see again in the USA or down the road.
The best big athlete – easy (No. 12) Iliana Rupert. At 6-4 she’s the premier athlete on an athletic team. She gets the nod as she’s the biggest and most effective player her despite her stats and deep bench of teammates and ultimately my and FIBA’s MVP selection. Without her France might not have won their first U16 gold medal crown in ten years.
The best guard sees France again getting the nod by way of (No. 5) 5-9 Marie Pardon. She edges teammate and captain (No. 4) Marine Fauthoux and a host of other talented backcourt players. Pardon (and possibly even Fauthoux) Is the big guard that everyone wants from college to the pros here in Europe and the WNBA. She is long, athletic and big enough to take smaller guards into the paint to score. And she defends as well as anyone here. Don’t think there’s a gap here as five other points were just as impressive and are better than most PG’s now in the USA.
The best big was a hard choice. There were many big stretch 5’s here playing the 4-spot and perimeter but Germany’s 6-4 Emily Bessoir is the choice. This was despite some very effective small forward types who put their teams on their back from game to game. Bessoir was a member of last year’s gold medal u16 Euro winner. She defends and can hit the outside shot better that most wings.
The best wing player is a toss-up. Many players might deserve this distinction as many of the teams now are shorter without the 6-4 / 6-5 impact players which is now down to the 6-2 range and sharing the work load. The nod goes to Italy’s (No. 14) Ilaria Panzera who was a beast in their quarterfinal win over Spain. She can play inside and out and do everything needed for the team. If there was a tie for this this honor (and there’s at least six players who could be this) the tie would be with Latvia’s (No. 10) Laura Meidere and Hungary’s (No. 19) Nora Wentzal both of whom pushed their teams into a pair of FIBA U17 World Cup qualifying spots.
The best combo guard here in my mind was Croatia’s (No. 7) Tonia Bilic a 5-11 whiz who plays everything from point to scorer to rebounder. Playing alongside (No. 10) Nina Muhl, a 5-9 PG doesn’t hurt either. There’s at least 10 other players who could’ve been this person on various teams.
Most talented team is simply France which in size and athletic ability easily matches the United States. In the past this has been said of other French squads but this one is deeper and better skilled. The only flaw would be their sloppy offensive play as they know they can outrun and out jump most Euro opponents. After this you can’t not be in love with the rosters of Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain with a slight nod to Russia.
The most talented team was easily whose size and athletic ability easily matches that of the United States. This has been said of previous French squads but this one is deeper and better skilled. The only flaw would be their sloppy offensive play that may find its roots in the fact that they can our-run and out-jump most Euro opponents. Beyond that, it’s hard not to be in love with the rosters of Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain with a slight nod to Russia as well.
With France being the 2017 U16 Euro A champion and seeded first from this region for the FIBA U17 World Cup in Minsk the only distinction will be where does the USA and Australia land on the bracket (not drawn yet). Two of these three powerhouses will put the other in trouble when it comes down to medal play.
Mike Flynn / Blue Star Media
FIBA U16 A Europe All-Tournament Team
Iliana Rupert 6-4 c France MVP
Emily Bessoir 6-4 f Germany
Ilaria Panzera 5-10 wf Italy
Marie Pardon 5-9 pg France
Tonia Bilic 5-11 cg Croatia
FIBA U16 A Europe All-Tournament Team
Iliana Rupert 6-4 c France MVP
Emily Bessoir 6-4 fc Germany
Reka Domba 5-10 w Hungary
Ilaria Panzera 5-10 wf Italy
Zoe Wadoux 5-9 w France
DUBLIN, Ireland – Running at the same time as the U16s in Bourges was the FIBA U18B’s here. A one-day overlap made it easy to jump a short flight at watch the playoff rounds in person reversing the FIBA TV on YouTube and U16A live strategy from earlier.
While the U16A’s were played in two beautiful gyms including the playoff rounds in the Bourges Tango Arena the host Irish utilized their smaller, but cozy, National Basketball Arena for their playoff finals. It was a clear benefit for Ireland, not normally a powerhouse, to host this division B event as it helped encourage a solid Irish team into the U18 Finals ultimately falling to a big and balanced German team 67-43
The talent at this U18B level is consisting of teams with a few top teams who happen to “get it right” with their age and roster like Germany, Ireland, Poland and Great Britain.
Normally you’d expect Germany to be in the A division where it will move to next year with as one of of the top three teams relegated up to A while those bottom A teams, in turn, slide down to B. This model is fraught with a group of revolving programs that move up one year and down the next when the talent at the A level leads to blowouts and relegation when they line up with the A teams at the lower point of their cycle.
This year a national program like Germany wins the U20 B’s yet misses at the U16A but turns around to claim the U18B. It’s not unusual now for the traditional powers like Russia to miss out on an age group for FIBA Worlds competitions when the talent pool is not balanced or plentiful.
Speaking of Germany – the biggest winner this summer was Oregon head coach Kelly Graves who will welcome two FIBA MVP’s to his successful and youthful Ducks roster in FIBA U20 B MVP 6-3 Satou Sabally and sister FIBA U18 B MVP 6-2 Nyara Sabally.
FIBA U18 B All-Tournament Team
Nyara Sabally 6-2 Germany MVP
Luisa Geiselsoder 6-2 Germany
Claire Melia 6-3 Ireland
Natalia Klimek 5-10 Poland
Holly Winterburn 5-10 Great Britain
The FIBA U16B tournament held in Skopje, Macedonia was the last of the Euro events to finish with their finals last weekend. I didn’t get to attend this event but made sure I took advantage of great FIBA coverage watching the playoff games once again utilizing FIBA’s YouTube channel to check out the action, game leaders and statistics on the FIBA Live Stats screen.
The final game between Belgium and Denmark was fitting going down to the final seconds with the Danes to holding on for a a 74-73 win and FIBA U16B championship. Belgium, which won the FIBA U18A in Sopron, Hungary earlier in the month, was hoping for a double win and almost got it coming from 24 down in the third only to see a couple of missed layups (one in the closing seconds) thwart their effort
Despite losing the game, the FIBA U16B MVP award went to 5-10 Belgium wing Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka who had double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. She solidified the MVP award earlier when she helped get Belgium into the finals by way of a stellar 36 point, 15 rebound game in a 65-64 quarterfinals victory against a strong Finland (5th place) team. The Fins got 25 points and 11 rebounds from 6-5 center sensation Awak Kuier in that same contest.
Belgium might have run out of gas in the finals following a tough 70-63 semifinals win against a big, solid Greece team that Blue Star Europe expert Dan Bowmaker said “could’ve have played and won” at the U16A earlier in the month.
Denmark benefited from an easier side of the bracket breezing past Ukraine 54-38 to reach the finals. Helping get Denmark to their first even FIBA Women’s Youth Medal was the trio of 5-9 wing Marlene Pedersen, 6-4 post Julianna Okosun (a 2016 BlueStar30 camper) and fellow 6-2 big Katrine Jessen. Another forward Caroline Gylstroff came through with 17 in the final game.
It’s obvious that talented medal winners Denmark, Belgium and Greece were the cream of this event, easily capable of playing a top spot in the A division where they’ll all move to next year. Teams like Ukraine, Finland, Portugal and even Sweden and Bosnia-Herzegovina had teams with individual talents and are right where they “fit” in the standings.
The best thing is that all these “key” games are available to watch whenever you’re looking for great youth women’s basketball on the FIBA website.
FIBA U16 B Europe All-Tournament Team
Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka 5-10 Belgium
Sam Van Buggenhout 5-9 Belgium
Katrine Jessen 6-2 Denmark
Awak Kuier 6-5 Finland
Ioanna Chatzileonti 6-0 Greece
Normally I would end my FIBA Europe discussion here but being the basketball media fan that I tend to be I had to make sure I watched the usually ignored FIBA U16 Africa finals and semifinals. It was no surprise that Mali captured their fifth FIBA U16 Africa Championship after beating Angola 68-29 earlier this month in the Mozambique city of Beira. By the way, one thing you can count on with an Africa game – the non-stop blaring horns.
It was a disciplined and well coaches Mali team that was deeper than any other of the four other teams there. Their semifinal game against host Mozambique was easily the most challenging of the event. Tournament MVP Aissetou Coulibaly led Mali in the championship win against Angola. The 5-9 wing-guard tallied 25 points on the way to top honors. Egypt took Bronze with a 56-38 win over Mozambique, 56-38. Do not be surprised to see some of these young Mali players in the USA at some point in the future.
FIBA U16 Africa All-Tournament Team
Aissetou Coulibaly 5-9 Mali MVP
Noemia Massingue 5-5 Mozambique
Habiba Elgizawy 5-7 Egypt
Cacia Antonio 5-4 Angola
Sika Kone 6-0 Mali
FINAL REMARKS: Presently there’s a core group of Euro teams with traditional powers Spain, France, Russia, Italy along with contenders Germany and Hungary. Recently Portugal and either Lithuania or Latvia have competitive waves. Similarly the same is true of the Americas with the USA, Canada followed by, pickem’, Argentina, Columbia, suspended Brazil, Puerto Rico and recently Mexico at their heels. You can count on Mali to be the standard bearer in Africa. The only FIBA group still to play is U16s Asia in India set for October with powers Australia and China. Japan, New Zealand and South Korea will fight for the final four FIBA U17 Worlds slots
Those in right now are: France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Spain (Europe); United States, Canada, Argentina, Columbia (Americas); Mali, Angola (Africa); Belarus (Host) with Asia open for the 16 total slots.
The draw this January for the FIBA U17 Women’s World Championships being held in Minsk, Belarus should be interesting. It’s obvious that two of the top three powers will end up on the same side of the bracket. The defending champions Australia should hope that the USA and France land on same side making their path to defend just a little smoother. There is no big talent gap for the USA to overcome but then again, they’re not guaranteed a gold medal just because they won the FIBA U16 Americas. Teams like Hungary, China and Spain could cause problems along with the Asia powers. This will depend on how the USA Basketball Committee selects this still underdog team.
The season of youth women’s basketball – including the USA’s summer travel team circuit of game – is now over. Time for a USA re-focus as the NCAA Fall Observation period is now only a month away. What vacation from basketball?