REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - If Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius want to repeat their Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) title this weekend in London, they will have to do it without their top star while INSEP shoot for a second crown and the remaining six teams hope to become first-time winners.
The Lithuanian giants head to the 2013 Euroleague Final Four knowing that leader Edvinas Seskus will miss the NIJT from Thursday to Sunday (May 9-12) with a knee injury. Seskus, who scored 17 points in Lietuvos Rytas’ victory over Fenerbahce in last spring’s NIJT final, collected 26 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in the Siauliai NIJT qualifying final against Zalgiris Kaunas.
For Rytas to have a chance, their two other main leaders will have to step up. Gediminas Zalalis averaged 12.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the Siauliai tournament, while Norbertas Giga had 13.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.0 block.
Also in Group A with Rytas are Ciutat de L'Hospitalet NIJT winners FIATC Joventut Badalona, Belgrade NIJT tournament winners Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) Telekom Belgrade and wild card side Team China.
Group B has Torneo Citta di Roma NIJT winners KK Spars Sarajevo of Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as wild card teams FC Barcelona Regal, 2010 NIJT champions INSEP Paris and Team England.
After group play at the London Soccerdome, the two group winners will play in Sunday’s final at the O2.
Fans in London – and viewers online – will see plenty of potential stars in the tournament.
Red Star enter the event with Dusan Ristic and Nikola Rebic as the team’s leaders. But the Serbian side will have a bit of revenge on its mind – as well as experience. Ristic, Rebic and five of their teammates - Petar Vorkapic, Marko Guduric, Brano Dukanovic, Djordje Kaplanovic and Marko Tejic – lost to eventual champions Lietuvos Rytas in the final group game to miss out on a chance to reach the title game last spring.
Joventut have a lot of big game experience with Augusti Sans and Jose Nogues being two of six members of the Spanish national team which won bronze at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship.
Team China will also use the NIJT tournament as a preparation for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship as six members of the Chinese team played for the 2012 FIBA Asia U18 Championship. Even though superstars Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi are not on hand, Gao Shang played a big role in China taking U18 FIBA Asia Championship gold with 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Jinglong Li added 10.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists while Hanchen Luo had 8.9 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds.
In Group B, Spars are led by Doko Salic, who won the MVP of the qualifying tournament with 21.8 points and 10.5 rebounds, while Nedim Buza collected 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals and Aleksej Nikolic added 18.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. All three were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Besides Lietuvos Rytas, INSEP are the only other club in London to have won the NIJT title – taking the crown in 2010. The French academy team was given a wild card after taking third place in the Belgrade qualifying tournament. INSEP are clearly guided by Damien Inglis, who averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.8 blocks in Belgrade. Charley Pontens added 14.6 points and Stephane Gombauld had 11.6 points.
Barcelona, who finished third at Ciutat de L’Hospitalet, will be a title candidate given that Croatian superstar Mario Hezonja will be on hand. Hezonja, who has played in Euroleague games for Barcelona, collected 19.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in the qualifying tournament while Marc Garcia had 17.4 points and Milovan Draskovic added 11.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
The home team, England’s U18 national team, will be looking for positive showings against the elite in Europe. The leaders will be Luke Nelson and Kingsley Okoroh, two of the top players who helped England to third place in the Division B at the 2012 U18 European Championship to join Division A for the first time at the age level.
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