REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) - Even though Bosnia and Herzegovina are known as a strong country in basketball circles, the Balkan nation has struggled at youth levels. But the emergence of Nedim Buza is changing that.
Within the past five months, the 17-year-old small forward has guided the country to two of their biggest successes as the youth levels - the first at the national team level and the second at the club level.
The Visoko native averaged 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in helping Bosnian side KK Spars Sarajevo reach the Final Round of the Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) that will be held at the 2013 Euroleague Final Four in May in London.
Buza collected 13 points, five rebounds and three steals as Spars beat Fenerbahce Ulker 73-55 in the Final of the Torneo Citta di Roma qualifying tournament.
Buza was one of a big three for Spars as Doko Salic averaged 21.8 points and 10.5 rebounds to win MVP honours and teammate Aleksej Nikolic added 18.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals to join Salic and Buza on the All-Tournament Team.
The NIJT Rome title was just the latest step in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s youth development - and just the latest in which Buza played a big role.
Last August, Sarajevo hosted the U18 European Championship Division B and Buza - despite playing a year below his age group - was Bosnia’s second-leading scorer with 15.9 points as well as 4.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.9 steals to help the hosts win the title.
Buza’s Bosnian teammates Jusuf Nurkic and Adin Vrabac (both 18 years old) were named to the All-Tournament Team with Nurkic claiming the MVP trophy.
As amazing as it sounds, that gave Bosnia and Herzegovina promotion to the Division A for the first time in any youth age group - men or women.
Bosnia and Buza were close to reaching Division A at the U16 level in 2011 but they lost in the Semi-Finals to Slovenia despite the swingman making the All-Tournament Team. One of the top Slovenian players in that game was Buza’s current club teammate Nikolic.
Bosnian fans can hope that the current success of players like Buza and Nurkic, who earned minutes this season with Euroleague side Cedevita Zagreb, can help improve the youth system in the country.
After fielding teams in U16 Division B from 2004 to 2008, Bosnia did not participate in the U16 European Championship in 2009 and 2010. The country also did not have a team at the 2011 U18 European Championship - one year before winning promotion to Division A with Buza. And 2011 was the first time Bosnia had a side at the U20 European Championship since the 2000 qualifying round. Last summer, the U20s took place without Bosnia and Herzegovina in the field.
The lack of participation at those youth tournaments very well may have cost Bosnia a potential solid senior national team player as the NIJT Rome tournament MVP Salic turned his back on Bosnia to play for Serbia at the 2011 U16 European Championship and 2012 U18 European Championship. Once a player switches nationality in international basketball, it is very difficult to make another change.
Salic definitely would have had chances to advance into the Bosnian senior national team quickly. Buza, Nurkic and Vrabec all went from the Bosnian U18 national team last summer to the senior side for their qualifiers for 2013 EuroBasket.
Buza played in three games and averaged 2.3 points, including a 5-point, 2-rebound, 2-assist performance over 11 minutes against Romania in the final qualifier. Nurkic averaged 2.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in three games, including 16 minutes against Romania. And Vrabac played nine minutes in two games with three points and 1 rebound against the Romanians.
While Buza will have the chance to play in Division A at the U18s this summer, he could also team up with Nurkic and Vrabec for a U20 team that would have a strong chance to win promotion to Division A as well - if Bosnia and Herzegovina field a team.
That would give Buza another chance to make history for Bosnian youth hoops.
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