In tandem with the Euroleague Final Four games going down in Paris this weekend runs the Nike International Junior Tournament, a competition between eight of Europe’s top youth club teams. BallinEurope managed to catch the majority of play in three games yesterday and so a few brief notes for you today.
In the opener, defending champions FMP Belgrade seemingly took apart Benetton Basket, 111-85. Most of this huge gap – in fact all of it – was accumulated in the first quarter, after which the Boys From Belgrade had amassed a 31-11 lead as they simply couldn’t miss while Benetton was having difficulty hitting anything. Seven players scored in double figures for FMP, including Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Pavlovic, Sergej Vucetic, Nikola Jankovic, Nikola Siladi, Danilo Toskovic and Nenad Miljenovic.
Miljenovic, who was good for 6.4 assists per game in the qualifying tournament, probably had the game of the day yesterday, with 14 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds in 24 minutes of play.
Last night, BiE caught a depressed, nigh shellshocked-looking Benetton player trying to figure out where it all went wrong, maintaining that his guys had outplayed FMP after the first quarter. Today we find out if the talented Italian side can bounce back against Unicaja, who handily got past 58-43 after shaking off three quarters of sluggish play against KK Split Croatia Osiguranje.
BallinEurope is a big fan of the INSEP program – surely the secret to Team France’s and many of La Republique’s NBA players’ success – and was most impressed by the tremendous amount of height these guys brought. Two-meter-high guys like Yannis Moran, Mourad Benklova, and particularly Jonathan Radjouki displayed that impressive skill set that makes European prospects so attractive to types on the other side of the pond.
And that list doesn’t even include INSEP’s seven-footer Vincent Pourchot, who apparently did not make the trip to Paris, despite his inclusion on the official roster.
Union Olimpija led pretty much throughout the first half, however, despite a massive disadvantage on the boards (INSEP ultimately outboarded Olimpija by an incredible 51-27), behind sharpshooting Bojan Radulovic (who went for 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with nine rebounds) and Filip Petrovic (who went 4-of-4 on his first four shots) early. And after INSEP thoroughly dominated the glass to open up a big lead after the third, the French team’s weakness was on display: perimeter defense. Soon, Dorde Micic had jacked up consecutive successful threes and Olimpija had mounted a comeback to take the day’s most exciting game, 76-75.
And in the final game, Zalgiris Kaunas had no problem dispensing with Cajasol Andalucia. The Lithuanians are naturally bringing lots of homegrown talent to this competition and, given the INSEP loss, should probably be considered the favorite to take Group B on Sunday. Dovydas Redikas had a monster game with 19 points and five steals, while BiE was particularly impressed with Tomas Lekunas, who put in his best game yet in international youth play, contributing 11 points, three steals, and one killer block outside from off the bench. Zalgiris cruised to a 90-66 win, to the sadness of Cajasol and hard-working point guard Manuel Gonzalez, who apparently brought his own cheering section of two dozen vociferous Spaniards…
Day two of the Nike International Junior Tournament starts today at noon. Matchups include FMP vs. KK Split; Benetton Basket Treviso vs. Unicaja; Olimpija vs. Zalgiris; and INSEP vs. Cajasol.