Skopje, Northern Macedonia – The U18 FIBA European Challengers kicked off on Monday in a slightly different format. Teams are divided in smaller groups, playing in five different competitions in Albania, Northern Macedonia, Israel, Slovakia and Turkey. Despite the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 brought and keeps bringing, we have been able to make it to Skopje, the capital of Northern Macedonia, for the second day of the event and will keep you updated with daily recaps covering the event throughout the week.
In the first game for the day Spain gave away only the first quarter to Germany, after having a slow start (16-21), then dominated the rest of the way, eventually wining 84-65. The Germans finished with the shocking number of 31 turnovers against 17 of Spain, which was one of the crucial elements that helped Spain win the game. Spain exploited those mistakes, with a 32-11 advantage on points from turnovers. Another important factor for the win of Spain was in rebounding, especially on the offensive end, where Spain had a 24-9 advantage. The leading scorers for the winners were Baba Miller (2004) and Guillermo Diaz (2003) who both finished with 19 points, and 6-of-9 from the field. Miller, a 6-foot-10 high-flyer and one of the best European prospects at his age, demonstrated a lot of potential being a threat from every spot on the floor. Diaz, a 6-foot-11 big with a developing frame which should fill out well, demonstrated an impressive versatility, hitting 3-of-5 from deep. The brother of Usman Garuba, Ab Sediq (2004), a 6-foot-4 swing, had a great defensive performance, grabbing seven boards and coming up with seven steals. Michael-Ken Rataj (2003), a 6-7 strong small forward scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds in a losing effort, while his 6-foot-7 teammate Benjamin Schroeder (2003) added nine points and three boards, but also had six turnovers.
The second game of the program was a classic Balkan derby between Serbia and Croatia, which went down-to-the-wire as it was expected to go. Serbia topped Croatia, 86-82, primarily thanks to a game breaking 10-0 run at the beginning of the third quarter which helped them gain the lead and bring their confidence back. Looking at the stat sheet it would be fair to say that once again the points scored from turnovers turn out to be one of the main keys for the win – Serbia scored nine more, 19-10. Djordje Curcic (2004), a 6-foot-2 guard led Serbia in scoring with 21 points, hitting 3-of-10 on threes, but also drove fearlessly down to the basket, and being perfect from the line (6-of-6). His teammate Lazar Djokovic (2004) added 17 points, shooting 6-of-9 from the field, including an impressive 3-of-4 from long distance for a big guy. For Croatia, one of their best prospects Andrija Jelavic (2004), a versatile 6-foot-9 combo forward had a strong showing, scoring 19 points (5-of-9 on 3s) and securing eight boards, while Luka Krajnovic (2004), a 6-4 shooting guard posted a double-double of 18 points and ten rebounds and added four assists.
The hosts of Northern Macedonia won a nail biter against Georgia – 69-66 to close the program of Day 2. Filip Nakov (2003), a 6-5 guard and Andrej Mitrevski (2003) a 6-3 guard shared most of the load for their team on offense, leading the winners in scoring with 19 points, despite not being very efficient shooting 7-of-16 and 7-of-19 from the field respectively. Georgia was led by Giorgi Ochkhikidze (2004), a 6-foot-4 high IQ guard with eyes on the back of his head, who recorded 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and only two turnovers as his team’s primary ball handler. His teammate George Natsvlishvili (2004), a big kid who has a lot of confidence and soft touch from outside, added 14 points and six rebounds.
In tomorrow’s games Croatia will look to get back on the winning track against the winless team of Germany, while in the second game Georgia will compete against unbeaten Serbia. The hosts of Macedonia will close the program in a game against one of the favorites in the event – Spain.