Sanli: Glue guy, team player

Congratulations this afternoon go out to the Lietuvos Rytas junior team, which handled home team Fenerbahçe Ülker in the championship game of the 2012 Nike International Junior Tournament. Before something of a sedate crowd (perhaps folks here are a bit sedate and/or hungover after last night’s city-rocking goalless match – hey, it’s football – in which Galatasaray took the Turkish league title over FBU), L. Rytas controlled tempo, game and scoreboard throughout for an 88-70 victory in Istanbul.

Now that the proverbial fat lady has sung, BiE goes through 10 names European basketball and NBA fans might want to keep track of in the medium-term future – some of these guys are certainly destined for international stardom before decade’s end. Please note that the following are not necessarily the best players in the tournament, but rather those who BiE believes have the most upside or could simply surprise those not in-the-know once they’ve risen to the next level.

BiE’s “Who’s Who” from the 2012 NIJT includes the following.

Marius Grigonis, Žalgiris Kaunas. It’s difficult to choose just one player from such a nicely-balanced roster as Žalgiris’, but BiE wanted to make sure at least one classic post-Kukoc European forward type made the list. When Grigonis averaged a 13.0/7.3/6.3 in the NIJT qualifier at Kaunas, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express took a conservative view vis-à-vis the small forward. “We’ll have to see how he looks over the next few years, as the competition he’s facing stiffens.” At this next level of the tournament, Grigonis averaged a comparable 16.3 points, 4.0 assists and 5.7 boards – stats held down a bit due to playing just 18 minutes in the game one blowout of Team China. Don’t know if DraftExpress will be impressed, but BiE sure was with his presence and basketball IQ in these three games.

Ludde Hakanson and Nick Spires, FC Barcelona. The Swedish duo continued their development with the Spanish squad in this tournament, albeit with disappointing team results. BiE comes away from this tournament convinced the nicest-looking shot among these youngsters is Hakanson’s and his sick game three against Anadolu Efes of 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting, including 5-of-10 from three, plus five steals showed admirable prowess on both sides of the ball – just showing off that pedigree, BiE supposes; Hakanson’s pop Olle was a Team Sweden player in the 1990s.

Spires did not display the excellent ball-handling skills for which he’s earned a reputation with eight turnovers in the three games, but his 17 boards (eight on offense) and nine blocks showed a nice willingness to fight underneath. As BallinEurope noted recently, Barça has a nice twin towers setup with Spires and Alexandr Zhigulin; one wonders how much longer they’ll stay together.

Augustinas Jankaitis and Tautyvdas Jodelis, Lietuvos Rytas. Jankaitis certainly grabbed attention of any scouts in the building with his 30-point, 11-rebound performance against Crvena Zvezda, but those who saw him in the Hospitalet qualifiers and/or the 2010 FIBA U16 European Championship tournament (in which he averaged 9.0 ppg and 7.1 rpg) knew of his potential.

About four centimeters shorter than Jankaitis at 1.96m (6’5”), Jodelis’ specialty is clearly the catch-and-shoot on the perimeter. This Lithuanian teed off for 23 three-pointers (including 12 in the opener against Anadolu) and made good on 12, a nice improvement from his mark of 37.5% in Hospitalet games: All in all, a nice sharpshooter for L. Rytas to develop.

Cedi Osman, Anadolu Efes. Osman was rolling through this tournament – even if his too-thin roster wasn’t – after 1½ games: In 57 minutes of court time, the two-guard had run up 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 steals (including *nine* in game one against L. Rytas), not to mention some apparent leadership skills. And then, he was down and out for a DNP in the third game. BiE’s just hoping the Albert Schweitzer Tournament MVP is seen again on the international stage soon.

Dusan Ristic, Crvena Zvezda. A monster of a player in the best Serbian traditions, Ristic notched a double-double in each of the NIJT’s three games to average a brilliant 20.3 points and 12.0 rebounds (5.3 offensive) in a whopping 34 minutes per game in the tourney – quite the step up from the IJT Belgrade competition in which he played 10 minutes less per. Kudos to coach Milan Mandaric for having the insight to give Ristic quality time from among the four centers listed on Red Star’s 12-man roster.

Mehmet Sanli, Fenerbahçe Ülker. While starting this piece, BiE buddy David Hein (he of heinnews) peered over my shoulder at the list and said “ooooh, I like that guy.” Why? “Well, he’s not an NBA guy, for sure. But he’s a worker, a glue guy, chases down the offensive rebound, hits the floor when needed. A real team player.” Well, all right, then, forget the stats.

Dario Saric, KK Zagreb. The biggest no-brainer on this list, the top player at the 2011 NIJT could easily be named this edition’s MVP as well if not for the insistence on rewarding a player on the championship team. Not that Jankaitis doesn’t deserve it per se but sheesh, was Saric dominant: Come on, averages of 25.3 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 5.7 apg and 3.3 spg? BiE’s been calling this guy The Next Big Thing Out Of Croatia for more than a year, and these performances only solidified this contention.

Gao Shang, Team China. Wang Who? Okay, so BiE shouldn’t go that far, but with the hyped seven-footer not making an appearance in the NIJT after all, Team China’s offensive focus shifted to the 1.98m (6’6”) Shang – with brilliant results. Said results included three 30-plus point games for an average of 33.0 per at 53.3% overall shooting. And even when Fenerbahçe attempted a hack-a-Shang strategy in its must-win game three, Gao went 15-of-17 from the charity stripe. After Saric, Shang gets BiE’s nod for “Most Likely to Play in the NBA” from this tourney.

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