The ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT make its third stop in the Lithuanian basketball hotbed Kaunas from Friday, January 16 until Sunday, January 18 in search of another qualifier to the finals during the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Madrid next May.
The Kaunas qualifying tournament is loaded with four former European junior champions – Zalgiris Kaunas, CSKA Moscow, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and INSEP Paris – as well as a fourth team – Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul – that reached the championship game. The other teams competing in Kaunas will be FC Bayern Munich, USK Future Stars Prague and VEF Riga. The winners from two groups will move into the final and the winner of that game will clinch a spot in the eight-team finals in Madrid from May 14 to 17. Stellazzurra Basketball Academy Rome and Real Madrid have already secured berths in the Finals after winning the Rome and L’Hospitalet qualifying tournaments, respectively.
The biggest question in Kaunas will be if any team can beat Zalgiris at home. Zalgiris, whose juniors won the continental title in 2003 and 2007 and reached the finals in 2005, 2006 and 2011, went undefeated in the Kaunas tournaments at Zalgirio Arena in 2012 and 2014. But Zalgiris has not been all about home cooking, either. Its junior team lost to Lietuvos Rytas in the final in 2013 in Siauliai after having lost to Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the 2010-11 L'Hospitalet tournament and having won the 2009-10 Rome qualifying tournament.
Zalgiris has been teamed in Group A with Bayern, INSEP and Prague in Group A. Bayern Munich is playing in its second ANGT tournament, having competed in Rome last season. INSEP will be competing in Kaunas for the first time after playing in Rome the last five seasons, and reaching the final in 2009-10 en route to its 2010 ANGT title in Paris. USK Future Stars Prague comes back to Kaunas for a second straight season after losing only to Zalgiris in group play in 2013-14. Prague went winless in Belgrade in 2012-13 and Kaunas in 2011-12 after going 1-2 in group play in Belgrade in 2010-11 and losing to Union Olimpija in the 2009-10 London final.
Group B features CSKA, Fenerbahce, Lietuvos Rytas and VEF Riga. CSKA is still the only team to win three straight ANGT titles – in 2004, 2005 and 2006 – but the Russian squad has struggled in recent years to compete for a spot in a qualifying final. CSKA did go 2-1 in group play in Siauliai in 2012-13 but then was 1-2 in Kaunas last season. Fenerbahce, which reached the 2012 ANGT final, will play in Kaunas for the first time after winning the Rome final in 2010-11, reaching the Rome final the next two seasons and then going 1-2 in group play in L'Hospitalet last season. The 2012 champion Lietuvos Rytas was second in group play in Kaunas last season after beating Zalgiris in the Siauliai final. Vilnius won the L'Hospitalet qualifier before winning the ANGT crown in the 2011-12 season. The Lithuania giant also won the L'Hospitalet qualifying tournament in the 2008-09 season before losing in the ANGT final to FMP. VEF Riga has been consistently improving in the ANGT qualifying tournament, losing only to finalist Khimki in 2011-12 and then beating eventual Siauliai champ Lietuvos Rytas in 2012-13 group play but losing on the tiebreaker after a defeat to Topsportschool VBL. Last season, the Riga team's only loss came in the Kaunas final to Zalgiris.