Waiting for the youth scene to catch fire in 2014
NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - Having written last week about the various shortcomings on court at the FIBA U17 World Championship for Women, I have to confess my spirit was barely lifted by the U20 European Championship Women.
The play seemed to me at least, to be of an inferior quality to many previous editions. The Final itself, between eventual winners France and their opponents Spain, was exciting in terms of its conclusion due to the fact it went to overtime.
But, whichever way you dress it up and even taking into account the mitigation of some excellent defense - which was highlighted by Spanish senior team boss Lucas Mondelo - it was not the spectacle you would expect and epitomised much of the tournament.
My girlfriend, who is reasonably versed in the game (albeit not in women's basketball), glanced over my shoulder as I watched the gold medal being fought over. On the screen it stated '1OT' and having only just caught a glimpse of the score which was still in the mid-30s, she said "how come it's still in the first quarter?"
She didn't comprehend how I had been watching it for a while and yet the score could still be as it was. Her reaction when I told her the teams had actually both been playing for over 40 minutes was not the kind which leaned her towards wanting to become a convert of the women's game.
My heart sunk a little.
You see, the only words firing through my brain were those of my last column. It really does agonise me to echo similar sentiments to last week around the quality issues. Is it a coincidence? Perhaps it is.
I will soon find out, since I am off to the U18 European Championship in Portugal this week and I am hoping that my favourite age-level tournament will belatedly light a fire under this year's youth scene.
I am really worried that U17 to U20 deficiencies represent almost the entire spectrum of youth basketball at the international level.
However, if U18 in Europe and also in the Americas in August (another one I am paying close attention to) are able to ease my pain, then I would feel a whole lot better. These pending U18 tournaments can swing the pendulum back onto a positive note.
Please don't get me wrong. There were some outstanding players in Czech Republic and Italy. It's just that I have been trying to view things from top to bottom and there is clearly work to do on offensive principles and finishing.
Although rather amusingly in the Udine dogfight over medals, the irony was not lost on me that I enjoyed the performances in the Semi-Final and Final of Lidija Turcinovic the most. She is a player I wrote about last year at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women as being 'hard as nails'.
Crunch time suited her on Italian soil - it was the perfect scenario and while her Les Bleues team-mate Epoupa stole the headlines by finishing as MVP, her backcourt partner did the dirty work. She also made some game-winning plays down the stretch of both big games last weekend - making a couple of pivotal shots and grabbing a steal.
This is no backhanded compliment for Turcinovic by the way. It's recognition that all champion teams need fighters and 'intangible farmers' for certain situations and Turcinovic is proving to be an expert at this.
For, even if the entire U20 competition had been of a vastly higher quality and the Final itself been as memorable as the U17 one in Pilsen, there is always room for players like Turcinovic to impact on any game or tournament.
So, while I stop short of heading to the coastal town of Matosinhos thinking that the U18 European Championship Women will improve my mood because the overall standard of play can't be any worse than the first two tournaments of the summer, it's actually not that far away from the truth.
Hopefully there will be one or two people there who will humour me and sit and talk about whether the quality is stagnating, or whether defense has improved.
My own theory remains that too many coaches are under too much pressure and feel they have to be cautious - over-reliant on zone defense, scared to give freedom offensively for players.
But that's for another day.
I just know that I adore women's basketball and particularly cherish women's youth basketball, so I am really, really hoping for a good one in Portugal!
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