As befits tradition, the 2012 Nike International Junior Tournament is running in parallel with the Euroleague Final Four competition in Istanbul. Eight youth league teams are competing for the grand prize – and, individually speaking, to garner some attention from club scouts as each player’s career burgeons on the big stage.
In the bigger picture, the NIJT games (and introductory qualifying tournaments) also serve as a handy barometer of club play on the national level. After day one, then, it’s good news for Croatia and Lithuania, whose homegrown squads swept, and bad news for Turkey, as powerhouses Fenerbahçe Ülker and Anadolu Efes both lost. And what’s up with FC Barcelona…?
KK Zagreb 79, Fenerbahçe Ülker 76
As though The Next Big Thing Out Of Croatia, a.k.a. 2011 NIJT MVP Dario Saric, weren’t enough, NIJT competitors will also apparently now have to take notice of Dominik Mavra as well. While Saric put in a ridiculous man-among-boys performance of 26 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five steals, Mavra “added” 30 points and six boards as the pair consistently foiled any attempt by Fenerbahçe to establish their tempo: Each went to the free-throw line 12 times in the game and accounted for over 70% of the Croatian side’s points.
Crvena Zvezda 86, FC Barcelona Regal 77
The much-touted Blaugrana suffered a disappointing performance against Crvena Zvezda to take a nine-point loss after going up 18-12 in the first quarter and 20-15 after 10 minutes of play. Worse for Spanish basketball, Barcelona’s main contributors were foreigners Ludde “El Matador Sueco” Hakanson, Nick Spires and Alexandr Zhigulin. Crvena Zvezda’s big men pretty much had their way with Barça’s – even Spires’ 13 points belies his frustrating 4-of-15 overall shooting – as Serbia’s Dusan Ristic put in a crushing 23-point, 12-rebound (including six offensive) show.
Lietuvos Rytas 88, Anadolu Efes 69
Lietuvos Rytas displayed that trademark hallmark of winning Lithuanian squads – namely, a balanced roster of all-around players – in overcoming Anadolu Efes, 88-69. L. Rytas admirably came back from a seven-point first-quarter deficit to outscore the far less deep Efes roster 71-45 in the last 30 minutes. All 12 players saw court time for the Lithuanians, with 10 scoring: a direct contrast with the Turkish side, who played but seven with signs of fatigue obvious early in the third quarter.
L. Rytas outdid Efes in essentially every statistical category, and prospect-watchers will want to note performances by Tautvydas Jodelis (22 points including five threes); Edvinas Seskus (19 points on 7-of-14 overall shooting); Alvydas Zarskus (14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, all inside, and 10 rebounds); Denis Krestinin (10 rebounds, four offensive); and Augustinas Jankaitis (nine points, seven rebounds) – the sole black mark being the team’s 21 turnovers. While this isn’t exactly atypical for a youth game at this level, this stat is simply way too high against what was, on this night, an inferior team.
For Anadolu Efes, it was all about Burak Can Yildizli and Cedi Osman, who combined for 43 points and 17 rebounds. Both were on the floor for all but 2½ minutes of game time, belying Efes’ thinness of depth.
Žalgiris Kaunas 107, Team China 76
Finally, the cobbled-together Team China side was tormented by Žalgiris Kaunas on day one. Ballyhooed 2.15m (a bit over 7’0”) big man Wang Zhelin did not suit up for the Chinese side, which was subsequently outrebounded by Žalgiris, 43-34. Like Lietuvos Rytas, Žalgiris got all 12 of its players into the game with five – Rokas Gustys, Justas Tamulis, Mantvydas Staselis, Tomas Dimsa and Marius Grigonis – scoring in double figures, led by Gustys’ insane 20 points in under 14 minutes of playing time. Who needs a seven-footer?
Today’s Nike Invitational Junior Tournament games are Crvena Zvezda vs. Anadolu Efes; FC Barcelona Regal vs. Lietuvos Rytas; Team China vs. KK Zagreb; and Žalgiris Kaunas vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker. Tipoff of the Crvena Zvezda-Efes game is scheduled for noon local time (11am CET, 5am EST).