|01 July 2014|
fibaeurope.com identifies five players who are likely to have a major impact on the U20 European Championship Men in Crete, Greece this July.
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Aleksandar Vezenkov, Bulgaria and Aris BC
There have only been a few names to create as much buzz in the past years as Vezenkov, and - believe the hype - this 1995-born talent is for real. Vezenkov made his first appearance on the international stage at the 2010 U16 European Championship at the age of 14. He exploded at the same tournament a year later, racking up six double-doubles in nine games and scoring 35+ points on three occasions. The versatile 2.03m forward has been Bulgaria's go-to-guy ever since, averaging a tournament-best 22.4 points and 10.2 boards at last summer's U18 European Championship. Born in Cyprus, Vezenkov started out playing basketball with Apoel Nicosia's youth teams before joining Greek side Aris in 2009. The 18-year-old has just completed his third season with the senior team in the Greek top-flight, being named Best Young Player for the past two years.
Luke Nelson, Great Britain and UC Irvine Anteaters
At the age of 14 Nelson made a decision that is likely to benefit Great Britain basketball for at least the next decade. Needing to decide between football and basketball, the 1.92m shoot-first guard selected the latter and it was not long before he was leaving his mark on the game, leading England to Division A at U16 level in 2011, before repeating the feat at U18 level a year later. Just making Division A was not enough to satisfy Nelson, who first earned England an historic maiden Division A victory, before taking them to the brink of the quarter-finals last summer. England would eventually finish in 9th position with Nelson averaging a tournament second-best 19 points a game. Nelson, whose father Stephan is also well known in the English basketball community, then made a successful transition stateside for college basketball, averaging 11.8 points for UC Irvine in his freshman season.
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Lefteris Bochoridis, Greece and Aris BC
This left-handed combo-guard drew international attention for himself as the leader of a promising Greek team who managed a fifth place finish at the 2013 U20 European Championship in Estonia. The Thessaloniki native, who had an excellent 2013-14 Greek League season with his club Aris, has, in recent years, drawn comparisons to the legendary guard Dimitris Diamantidis, mainly for his passing skills and his drive. But while this association is certainly flattering for the young Greek, Bochoridis still waits for a major breakthrough either at club or national team level, which many believe could well come courtesy of a medal success with Greece at this summer's U20 event on home soil in Crete. Bochoridis declared for this year's NBA Draft but withdrew a few weeks later.
Nikola Jankovic, Serbia and Verviers-Pepinster
Jankovic has been a linchpin of Serbian youth national teams ever since making his international debut at the inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship in 2010. The 2.05m power forward averaged 11.2 points and 7.1 rebounds at last summer's FIBA U19 World Championship, adding a silver medal to his trophy case, which also contains silver and bronze from the 2011 and 2012 U18 European Championships, respectively. Jankovic excels in the low post with his fundamental game, relying on terrific footwork and instincts. Having spent the last two seasons in the Belgian Ethias League, the 20-year-old has further matured and polished his game, finishing around the basket with high accuracy. Jankovic presented himself in fine form during June's Turgut Atakol Tournament in Turkey and is expected to once more carry the load for Serbia at the U20 European Championship.
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Mouhammadou Jaiteh, France and JSF Nanterre
Jaiteh is one of the most intriguing center prospects in Europe and has been in the books of NBA scouts for years. The 19-year-old has the frame to bang down low, his size and remarkable wingspan making him an elite rebounder. Having played for two years at France's premier sports school INSEP, "Mam" joined second division club Boulogne-sur-Mer in 2012. Averages of 16.2 points and 9.9 rebounds during the 2012-13 Pro B campaign earned him the MVP award and consequently an agreement with 2013 French champions Nanterre. The 2.08m big man gained valuable international experience in the past season, seeing decent minutes in ten Euroleague and eight Eurocup games. The U20 European Championship on Crete is Jaiteh's fifth consecutive Youth European Championship. He led France in rebounding on all previous occasions and is a sure bet to top the charts again.