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David-Hein-Column
18/10/2012
Saric, Lee-Wang showdown, Okafor, Exum highlight men's youth summer

REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - Dario Saric's gold medal performance, a fantastic showdown between Wang Zhelin and Lee Jong Hyun, Jahlil Okafor's MVP showing and Dante Exum's international coming out party were just a selection of the top highlights during the summer's men's youth tournaments.

Saric showed why he is widely regarded as one of the biggest talents in basketball in leading Croatia to their first FIBA Europe U18 Championship title since 2002 with an MVP showing, including 39 points and 11 rebounds in the final. Saric, won U16 European gold in 2010 and starred at the 2011 U19 World Championship, also helped Croatia book their spot at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship - along with Lithuania, Serbia, Russia and Spain.

Turkey beat France to claim the title in the U16 European Championship, the first time Turkey won U16 gold since they knocked off France for the crown in 2005.

Lithuania, meanwhile, came up with an impressive performance at the U20 European Championship, winning the gold medal despite not having 2011 U19 World Championship title-winning star Jonas Valanciunas on the team for the country's first U20 gold since Sarunas Jasikevicius took the crown in 1996.

The 2012 FIBA Asia U18 Championship proved to be a true treat with China beating Korea 93-91 in a thrilling final, especially the battle between Wang and Lee, the former who nearly made China's team for the Olympics and the latter who played for Korea at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament earlier in the summer. In second round group play, China beat Korea 107-102 in overtime with Wang going for 33 points and 15 rebounds while Lee had 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks.

Looking to revenge their only loss of the tournament, Lee led Korea with a great performance in the final, including two free throws with 21 seconds left for a 91-88 lead. But Wang nailed his only three-pointer of the game with 17 seconds remaining and Gao Shang hit the winner with four seconds to play. Wang collected 30 points and 13 rebounds while a disappointed Lee led the silver medalists with 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.

The world can definitely look forward to this Wang-Lee showdown for many years to come - including next summer as both China and Korea - as well as bronze medalists Iran - qualified for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship.

Both China and Korea had youngsters on their team who were playing their second tournament of the summer as 16-year-old Zhou Qi was one of the stars of the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship, where Han De Long also played for China. Korean guard Heo Hoon was his team's leader at the U17 Worlds while low post players Park In Tae and Kim Minki also lined up for the Asians in Lithuania.

The U17 World Championship featured another dominating undefeated run to the title by holders United States. Center Jahlil Okafor won the MVP trophy while the explosive Justise Winslow was also named to the All Tournament Team. The world unfortunately didn't get to see much of superstar prospect Jabari Parker, who battled during the event with an ankle injury, playing only 82 minutes in total - though he collected 63 points and 24 rebounds in those minutes.

The U17s also saw the return of Croatian star Mario Hezonja, who missed the entire 2011-12 season with a leg injury and a bout of mononucleosis. But Hezonja showed why he's a huge talent - and part of a big future for Croatia with Saric.

The tournament was also the international coming out of Australian star Dante Exum, who guided Australia to the final with a fantastic all-around game. The world also caught a first glimpse of 15-year-old Justin Jackson, who averaged 13 points and 6.8 rebounds in his final six games for Canada.

Exum starred later in the summer as well in guiding Australia's U18 team to a three-game sweep over New Zealand to book a spot in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship. Exum teamed up with fellow U17 Worlds stars Nicholas Duncan and Mirko Djeric but was the leader of the FIBA Oceania qualifier with 14.3 points, 6 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3 steals per game.

Also qualifying for the FIBA U19 Worlds were the United States, who won the FIBA Americas U18 gold by beating Brazil 81-56. The Americans finished with a perfect 5-0 mark and were led by Julius Randle, Jarnell Stokes, Shaq Goodwin and Marcus Smart. Brazil, bronze medal winners Canada and Argentina also reached next summer's world championship.

Africa's two participants at the Czech Republic U19 tournament will be newcomers in Senegal and Ivory Coast. Abdoulaye N'Doye helped Senegal beat Ivory Coast 71-62 in the FIBA U18 Africa Championship title game for Senegal's first ever U18 Africa title. Ivory Coast picked up their first U18 medal.

And the summer closed with Serbia beating the USA 21-20 to claim the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship on Mihaljo Andric's shot from beyond the arc in overtime. Damien Inglis and Charly Pontens rebounded from their poor 10th-placed showing at the U17 Worlds to lead France to the 3x3 Mixed title along with Fleur Devillers and Clarince Djaldi-Tabdi.

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