While the eyes of the continent were on the A division of the FIBA Europe Under 18 men’s championship in Konya, there was plenty of top talent on display at the B division in Sofia. We spoke with Bulgarian journalist Maria Mitsova, of Gong.bg, to get her thoughts on the top players and the host nation’s aspiring young players.
BallinEurope: What have you made of Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk’s performance through the tournament?
Maria Mitsova: Obviously Svyat was the hype factor of the tournament. Basketball people in Bulgaria have been quite excited to see him play right before going to NCAA. I honestly, have only seen a few minutes of him on tape before this tournament, so I was eager to see what the hype was all about. Then I watched one of Ukraine’s games, and almost didnt miss another. That guy has real potential, amazingly athletic, his speed and body construction are superb. Obviously, he is offensive force, but he knows about defense as well, whenever he wants to do it.
The thing about Ukraine’s game though was they didnt rely solely on him. He was a bit passive throughout most of his minutes of the court, patiently waiting for the ball, not insisting on having it all the time, as you see in most junior superstars. But, at last, he decided the outcome from most of Ukraine games here, with some individual brilliance.
Of course, he was double teamed in lots of the minutes he had the possession, and everyone was giving him a hard time, including refs. Normally, they would cut some slack off the better players, and protect them with calls, but the case was exactly the opposite with Mykhailiuk, I have no idea why.
On the low side, he needs to work on his game away from the ball, and his free throw shooting. I guess he wasn’t that aggressive here, because he didn’t need to be, so I wouldn’t say he should work on that. But all this is not really low with him. The kid has good material, and college is the best option for him. I hope he gets playing time.
BiE: Aside from Mykhailiuk, what players made an impression on you?
MM: Speaking of Mykhailiuk, his teammate Oleksandr Kobets was very good as well, especially in the first couple of games, they both entered on each others place, and Kobets showed quite skilled game, penetrating and shooting the ball. With Mykhailiuk, Kobets and Shalamov, Ukraine has good future.
Obviously, Germany has been impressive. They dominated on the court in Senior team way, too physically strong for anyone to handle in this age group. Funny thing is they reached semis with their inside game, and then won the two most important games shooting threes. Mahir Agva, Niklas Kiel and Andreas Obst impressed quite a lot. Of course, Tamir Blatt had a good tournament, his look of the court is superb, a playmaker’s finest.
I won’t name someone from Finland, because those guys team game has separated them from the rest. Sharing the ball and everyone’s taking responsibility was too good and placed them in Division A. Slovenia has been my sweetheart at this tournament. This country seems to be producing point guards at every position, if that makes sense. From first to last, they all seem to have such good control of the ball, and game knowledge. If I have to name one, Blaz Mesicek is my favorite – cocky but so nice to watch.
Portugal was quite a surprise for me, with Diogo Brito, who is natural born shooter. Together with Slovenia, the most enjoyable team for me was Hungary, with Martin Bago, who is too soft now, but is has it in him to become a good PF/C in the years to come. Notable mentions should be Sheriff Drammeh, Jonannes Dolven and Oliver Vujakovic.
BiE: What about the host nation, were there any players on the Bulgarian team worth keeping an eye on?
MM: Nikolay Vangelov is our center for the future. With his 213cm now, he has grown so much over the last one year, so its exciting to see how he develops in the next 2-3 yrs. Guard Alexander Iliev as well, despite not having the best of tournament, he is my hope for future Senior PG. Maxim Aleksiev and Rumen Vasilev had good tournament as well.
BiE: Finally, I have to ask what you thought of my home nation Ireland? Were there any positives?
MM: Unfortunatelly, I only saw 2 games of Ireland, but they seemed quite nice at first. I think you should totally see positives, with their understanding of basketball game, their passing abilities and passion. Ireland was one of the most passionate teams here in Sofia, for sure. They were unfortunate to finish at that position, and I think they could have gone at least 3 places up with a bit of luck in some games. The backcourt is the best side of the team.