ANGT truly showcasing the Next Generation

The leaders of Euroleague two years ago re-branded its elite Under-18 club competition to a name that is much more fitting. The Nike International Junior Tournament became the Adidas Next Generation Tournament (ANGT). And through the first three ANGT events this season we have truly seen the next generation of superstars in European basketball.

The ANGT has long been a must-see for talent observers, dating back to its first edition in 2002-03. But the expansion of scouting information on the internet and more live streaming – among other factors – has helped the ANGT slowly move closer to average basketball fans – and not just the youth hoops junkies.

And just like in years past, the 2015-16 ANGT has provided fans with a glimpse of the “Next Generation”.

ORIGINS of the ANGT

Let’s take a quick step back for some basics for those who might not be familiar with the tournament.

Entering its 14th season, the ANGT is an invitational tournament featuring most of the top clubs in European ball. The 32 teams are broken into four qualifying tournaments with the winners of those four events booking a spot in the ANGT Finals, which run parallel to the Euroleague Final Four in the ELFF host city.

In addition to the four qualifiers, the eight-team ANGT Finals field is completed by four wild cards. Two wild cards are usually reserved for the host city’s club and the reigning champion – unless they win one of the qualifying tournaments. The round robin group stage runs three days and the two group winners face off on the same court as the Euroleague final earlier that day.

So, time to get into what everybody is waiting for … who are the future superstars?

Three of the four ANGT qualifiers have been played – in Rome shortly after Christmas, in the Barcelona suburb of L’Hospitalet shortly after New Year and the ANGT Kaunas, which just finished on Sunday. The final ANGT will be played on February 26-28 in Belgrade.

Zalgiris Kaunas won the ANGT Kaunas to join the Rome and L’Hospitalet winners Mega Leks Belgrade and Real Madrid respectively in locking up spots in the ANGT Finals in Berlin from May 12-15.

Each of the tournaments have a good group of high level talents Euro hoops fans will be watching for years to come. You might wonder just how quickly these players can make in-roads into professional teams. Well, consider that the MVP of last year’s ANGT Finals for Real Madrid was the still-16 year-old Luka Doncic, who has earned quality time with the reigning Euroleague champs’s pro side.

“Mega” and “Blue Star” talents at ANGT Rome

The Rome winners Mega probably have the most interesting talent from that tournament. In addition to the bulldog-like Aleks Aranitovic – who moved to Mega after helping Crvena Zvevda Telekom Belgrade win the 2013-14 ANGT title and reach the 2014-15 ANGT title game – the Serbs also have Novak Music – one of the best young backcourts in European basketball.

Mega also have the massive 2.09m Goga Bitadze from Georgia, who was playing VTB United at 16 years before joining Mega earlier this season. And the 2.02m center Marko Pecarski is one of the top five players of his generation. That being players born in 2000. Yeah, that’s right he’s 15 years old. That’s the depth of talent we’re talking about in these tournaments. And he was playing in his second ANGT already.

And you better get used to feeling old as there were a handful of very highly talented 2000-born players who already showed their skill-set this ANGT season.

Let’s even take it a step further. The fact that ANGT Rome host team Stellazzurra Basketball Academy Rome had locked up their spot in the final after just two games gave them a chance to see what Dorde Pazin could do in the third group game. And the 1.95m Serbian guard collected 16 points with two three-pointers six rebounds and one block. He’s 14 years old – born on March 31, 2001.

Okay, sorry about that.

Stellazzurra have a nice stall of talent – albeit many of the top guys not being from Italy. The 1999-born Serbian Lazar Nikolic is an enticing talent at point guard, especially because he’s 2.02m tall. Njegos Sikiras did not play a role in Stellazzurra’s road to the final as he was dealing with an injury coming in but the 1999 Bosnian power forward helped his country win the title at the 2015 U16 European Championship – arguably the greatest sports achievement in the country’s history. Stellazzurrra also played a 1999-born Georgian forward as Sandro Mamukelashvili – who was on loan from another Italian club – was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Also named to the All-Tournament Team was Unicaja Malaga’s Senegalese-born Ablaye Sow – another 1999-born player to shine at the 1998 generation tournament. Sow is another of these very athletic African players that Spanish clubs bring in and help develop. And there is a lot to like about Sow.

A couple of other guys from ANGT Rome to watch are Russian Andrei Lopatin from CSKA Moscow, Italian Riccardo Visconti, who took 78 shots in four games for Umana Reyer Venice, Italian playmaker Alessandro Pajola from Virtus Bologna, Italian Tommaso Oxilia, who played on loan for Bologna, and Serbian forward Nemanja Dincic with Armani Junior Milan.

Dos Anjos, Bonga and Radoncic shine in L’Hospitalet

The ANGT L’Hospitalet had its share of high level talents as well.

The winners – and reigning continental champions – Real Madrid have two extremely interesting talents in Brazilian 2.18m center Felipe Dos Anjos, who was named to the MVP, and 1999-born wing Dino Radoncic. Dos Anjos is still developing his game, which at the moment is more predicated on the defensive end as well as hustle on offense. He doesn’t have a lot of moves in the post yet but he’s taken a big step forward from last season’s ANGT. He has great size and length and has a good motor, someone who also does the dirty work. The 2.02m Serbian Radoncic was one of my favorite players from L’Hospitalet, a long wing who can dribble the ball, rebound and shoot – which he finally did in the final. Radoncic should have been on the All-Tournament if for no other reason that he was clearly the MVP of the final.

Madrid beat Barcelona in the final – a low-scoring heavyweight final 50-48. This Barcelona group is loaded with Eric Vila, Sergi Martinez, Aleix Font and Atoumagne Diagne all having good tournaments. Vila and the 1999-born Martinez are high level talent prospects for sure with excellent all-around games. Another name to watch is 1999-born Serbian Andrija Marjanovic, who didn’t play as big a role in L’Hospitalet as he’s capable. Barcelona had another stud who was unable to play as Rodions Kurucs is out injured. The Latvian wing is a special player but it will be important to see how he comes back from his injury.

The biggest name coming out of the tournament was Brose Baskets Bamberg’s 1999-born Isaac Bonga. The 1.99m guard actually played with Bamberg on loan from Koblenz and Frankfurt. But his name shot up NBA radars after flashing his all-around game, especially his ball-handling skills for a guy with his great length and size.

Lars Lagerpusch joined Bonga on the All-Tournament Team but the big man on loan from Braunschweig is a bit undersized to excel long term. Bamberg’s Lithuanian Arnoldas Kulboka showcased some of his great outside shooting while Moritz Sanders opened some eyes with his solid ball-handling and shooting skills for a big man.

The other semi-finalist was Maccabi Tel Aviv – amazingly since they only won one game. But sometimes it’s more important which game you win. Maccabi’s top guy was clearly Yovel Zoosman, who is already a polished pro player from the wing. He has solid size and a great skill set.

FIATC Joventut Badalona is known as a prospect building factory and they have a couple of interesting guys. Nenad Dimitijevic is a small quick guard who can score while Josep Busquets showed some nice skills. The most interesting guy was probably the 2000-born Brazilian Pedro Barros, who is still raw but has good athleticism and some good instincts.

The host club Torrons Vicens L’Hospitalet won one game for the second straight season but really don’t have any players who will make noise internationally. Nil Baques will get a look from Spanish teams because he had a strong tournament.

The biggest talent from Sevile is 2.04m Croatian Leo Cizmic, who is a great shooter and solid rebounder from the wing. Giorgi Tvalabeishvili is a 2.05m Georgian who struggled at the tournament but was considered to be a decent talent.

The last team is Union Olimpija Ljubljana, who really didn’t have a lot of high level talent. Gaber Ozegovic is probably one of the few guys who will be followed though Haris Cucovic has some good size at 2.06m.

Hartenstein rules of ANGT Kaunas

Alright, if you’ve stuck it out this far, let’s run down the ANGT Kaunas as well.

Zalgiris Kaunas dominated the tournament without a real test – though Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius were within five points with about five minutes left in the final.

The top guy in the tournament – and clear cut MVP – was German Isaiah Hartenstein. The 2.09m power forward has NBA Draft lottery pick talent. He’s off the charts in so many areas, really impressing with his passing skills despite only practicing with the team for a couple days since coming over from Germany. He signed a long-term deal in the off-season with Zalgiris but was allowed to stay in Germany on loan. A must-watch kid.

Arnas Velicka is a solid point guard with a great control of the game while Gytis Masiulis is a solid power forward with a nice skill set as well.

Rytas was a hard team to scout remotely and the one guy who really stood out was Grantas Vasiliauskas, who was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Cibona Zagreb finished third and have a nice group of talent, starting with gong-ho 1.90m guard Karlo Uljarevic, who twice flirted with a triple-double and deserved a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Josip Popic is a monster of a man already and the Austrian showed he can be a solid contributor in the post for years to come in a solid level club. Kresimir Nikic is a long 2.14m center who has a couple of nice attributes but also has work to do while the gem might be 2000-born 2.04m wing Oton Jankovic, who was listed as the number one prospect in the 2000 generation on Europhopes.com.

But that position will certainly be challenged by another guy at the ANGT Kaunas with NBA potential right now – the 2000-born Sekou Doumbouya from INSEP Paris. A tantalizing mix of skills for the wing, who is already playing for INSEP in the French league. Doumbouya, who only turned 15 on December 23, 2015, also showed he can step up in the big moments, hitting two free throws, scoring a tough layup and blocking a shot in the final 43 seconds of a tight game against Rytas, which INSEP ended up losing. Bathiste Tchouaffe is a shooter who was named to the All-Tournament Team but often leaves observers frustrated he doesn’t do more. The other high level guy is Jaylen Hoard, one of the top guys in the 1999 generation with a great package of skills.

The greatest name at the ANGT Kaunas was Cosmos Grühn, who was on loan from USC Freiburg for Porsche Basketball Academy Ludwigsburg. Grühn is simply a producer with an intriguing skill set in the post. Thorben Döding was also on loan for Ludwigsburg from Artland Dragons and the point guard’s creativity makes you recall the glorious days of watching Jason “White Chocolate” Williams.

VEF Riga were close to reaching the final for a third time in a row despite a clear lower level of talent than past years. The main guy for VEF was Karlis Garoza, a 2.05m center who is a low post, around-the-basket player.

Despite all the promise that Turkey have at youth national team events, they are almost always underwhelming at the ANGT. And Fenerbahce were no different. Ahmet Can Duran was the only interesting guy. And despite clearly losing some weight and changing his body since the 2015 U16 Euros, the 2.04m Duran is still undersized to do long-term damage in the post and not quick enough to get past people from the wing. But he has a wonderful group of skills.

The last team was USK Future Stars Prague, who saw Jakub Tuma really just dominate the offense – earning him a spot on the All-Tournament Team. But the main guy from this team to watch over the long haul is 1999 born Zan Zidek, the eldest son of NCAA and Euroleague champion Jiri Zidek.

So, congrats if you made it through that. It’s been an exciting last three weeks with the three ANGTs. We get a break of six weeks before the ANGT Belgrade tips off on February. That will be a great tournament. A couple of the big names to watch will be Dzanan Musa and Darko Bajo from Cedvita Zagreb. Borisa Simanic and Aleksa Radanov from Crvena Zvezda and Richard Freudenberg from Bayern Munich.

The level of play in these tournaments is so high that the ANGT is definitely no longer just for youth hoops junkies. Everybody loves watching great players ball. And these are definitely some of the “Next Generation”.