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Charalampopoulos, Peno and Mazalin follow in footsteps of Kanter, Valanciunas

REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) - Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas are two role models for many young European players hoping to reach the NBA one day.

Youngsters Vasileios Charalampopoulos, Stefan Peno and Lovro Mazalin are among 10 youngsters in the process of taking similar early steps in Europe.

The trio leads a group of 10 European U16 players selected to compete in the International Game at the Jordan Brand Classic in April.

The Jordan Brand Classic is an annual showcase of the top high school players in the United States playing in the All-American Game, while the International Game features the top players from outside the U.S. The event also includes a regional game of local talent.

As well as Kanter and Valanciunas, some of the other recent past international stars of the International Game have been Nikola Mirotic (Spain) Andrew Wiggins and Kevin Pangos (Canada), Mario Hezonja (Croatia), Edvinas Seskus (Lithuania) and Hugh Greenwood (Australia).

The three haven't done too badly for themselves to date. Greece's Charalampopulos last summer signed a six-year deal with giants Panathinaikos, while Peno is a Serbian playing in FC Barcelona’s youth system and Mazalin is another top Croatian talent coming through the ranks with Cibona Zagreb.

They were among 41 top U16 players from 23 European nations who took part in the seventh annual Jordan Brand Classic International Camp last weekend at Ciutat Esportiva, the training grounds of FC Barcelona.

The camp featured both basketball and strength and conditioning sessions with everything geared towards teaching the athletes how to improve their skills to compete at the next level.

In addition to Charalampopoulos, Peno and Mazalin, the seven other players selected to play in next month's International Game were Sergi Garcia (CTEIB/Spain), Stephane Gombauld (INSEP/France), Andrea La Torre (Stella Azzurra/Italy), Luc Loubaki (INSEP/France), Stefan Nikolic (Red Star/Serbia), Georgios Papagiannis (Peristeri/Greece) and Joshua Steel (Barking Abbey/England).

That group of 10 players will compete in the Jordan Brand Classic International Game to be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on April 13. The Europeans will be joined by eight other players selected from around the world.

Kanter and Valanciunas both competed in the 2008 Jordan Brand Classic International Game in New York City.

The basketball world has already caught a glimpse of some of these young Europeans at last summer’s U16 European Championship.

Mazalin was the tournament’s sixth-leading scorer at 15.0 points while also collecting 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 blocks for Croatia.

Charalampopoulos averaged 10 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals for Greece, while compatriot Papagiannis led the tournament in blocks with 2.4 swats to go a long with 5.3 points and 5 rebounds a game. Gombauld helped France to the silver medal while Peno and Serbia grabbed bronze.

Charalampopoulos in fact has already played two U16 European tournaments - something that both Kanter and Valanciunas also did in their respective youth national team systems.

But Charalampopoulos, who averaged 3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists as a 14-year-old in 2011, will likely line up for Hellas’ U16 team again this summer - something not even Kanter or Valanciunas did.

Looking at the number of stars who have played in this game in the past and the quality of this year’s group, the game should be great. Casual basketball fans might have to wait a couple of years to really hear big things from these players, but many of them will be playing in the Euroleague, Eurocup and possibly the NBA in the not-so-distant future.

David Hein


FIBA’s columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

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