For some players it’s a source of motivation, for others a chance to see some of the top players at a specific position. Some will have the opportunity to cheer against their fiercest rivals and others dream of capturing glory in front of their home fans. One thing is certain, all of the players at the Nike International Junior Tournament cannot wait to play at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Milan.
Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade is making its fourth consecutive appearance at the NIJT finals. Stefan Lazarevic played for the Serbian club last season, but was not selected for the final roster for London 2013. That served as extra motivation for the wingman looking forward to the 2014 edition.
“The coach thought he needed a big guy and I was training with the team, but I wasn’t in London,” said Lazarevic. When asked if he was disappointed about not making the trip to the English capital, he shook his head and said: “No, that’s more motivation for me.”
Lazarevic knows the NIJT will be difficult for Crvena Zvezda, which finished second in its group in London. “That’s a hard tournament. Our goal is to win it. Yes, it will be tough with tough games against great teams, but our goals are high.” He also said he’s looking forward to being part of the Final Four. “It’s a great experience to see all those great players live. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Ayberk Olmaz, meanwhile, is excited about watching some of the top centers in European hoops. “I will have a chance to see the players at the same position as me and who are an example for me. And I look forward to watching them live and making the best of it,” said Olmaz, who is one of the top talents in Fenerbahce Ulker’s system. Olmaz played in Fenerbahce’s pre-season NBA Global Games Europe contest against Oklahoma City and also earned one appearance with the senior team in the Euroleague.
His main task in Milan will be to help Fenerbahce at the NIJT tournament. “This is a very important tournament for our age group. We would like to reach the final, so our expectations are high,” said the 18-year-old Olmaz.
Sergi Costa knows a thing or two about the final as he helped Joventut Badalona to the NIJT title last spring in London. The point guard is back to try to double his booty. “Last year was spectacular. It’s the most difficult club tournament and this year’s team has more younger players than last year. So that will make it more difficult,” said Costa, who had 5 points and 4 assists in Joventut’s win over Barcelona in last spring’s final.
Costa enjoyed watching the Final Four in London and once again expects to root at least mildly against his Spanish rivals. “It’s a great chance to see the great players who play. But the teams in Milan are our rivals, so I don’t know who to pick.”
Armani Junior Milan guard Andrea Picarelli has many reasons he is looking forward to the Final Four on his front doorstep. “It’s a great thing for our city to have the Final Four, also for the basketball movement because a lot of people prefer soccer. So to put an event like this in Italy is important for us, and I can’t wait to see the Final Four.”