With the third qualifying event of the ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT ready to go in Kaunas, Lithuania from Friday to Sunday this weekend, here's a look at one player to watch from each of the eight participating teams.
CSKA Moscow, Andrey Lopatin
Lopatin will be playing at his first ANGT. The 2.03-meter forward played for Russia at the 2014 U16 European Championship – actually, it was his second U16 European Championship – and he averaged 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists. CSKA is hoping Lopatin can turn into a reliable power forward. His technique is good and he has a solid three-point shot. He's an efficient passer and does a good job on the offensive glass. Lopatin has quick hands for a big guy and he's a diligent worker. Lopatin is in his first season with CSKA's junior team and is averaging 6.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals in the Russian junior basketball league.
Bayern Munich, Richard Freudenberg
Freudenberg is playing in his second ANGT after being named to the all-tournament team in Rome last season, when he averaged 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. He played for Germany at the 2013 U16 European Championship and averaged 6.4 points and 1.3 rebounds. The 2.02-meter forward is still getting used to his body as he continues to grow. Still, he's an excellent shooter with solid technique and can handle the ball pretty well. He has excellent fundamentals and good court vision. A do-everything-guy, Freudenberg can attack the rim and finish above it with his good athleticism, which allows him to guard various positions defensively. He has high basketball intelligence, a great attitude and good game understanding. He is averaging 17.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.7 blocks in the U19 NBBL, where he was named an all-star.
Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, Egehan Arna
Arna will be playing in his second ANGT after averaging 6.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists in the L'Hospitalet qualifying tournament and then collecting 4.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists at the finals in Milan last season. He played for Turkey at the 2013 U16 European Championships, averaging 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. The 1.99-meter lefty guard can do it all, score in many ways, pass the ball and rebound well from his position. He is an above-average athlete who can get out on the break and drive to the basket. He can also hit shots from long range. Arna is the leader of the Fenerbahce team, averaging about 30 points, more than 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the U18 Istanbul league.
INSEP, Stephane Gombauld
Gombauld returns for his third ANGT and is looking to get back to his second finals. He averaged 9.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists over the qualifiers and finals in 2012-13 and then collected 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals last season in Belgrade. Last summer he played at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship and was France's second leading scorer with 15.4 points per game to go with 10.3 rebounds. Gombauld is a very good scorer in the paint with his good footwork and has good athleticism with a good ability to draw fouls. The 2.04-meter power forward has good hands and a soft touch around the basket. He rebounds well on both ends of the floor thanks to his long wingspan. Gombauld continues to struggle from the free throw line but he is developing a bit of an outside game, hitting 32% of his three-pointers this season after just 13% last season.
Lietuvos Rytas, Jokubas Svambaris
Svambaris comes back for his second ANGT in Kaunas after he collected 4.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 15 minutes last year. Svambaris also played last summer at the U18 European Championship where he had 3.2 rebounds, 1.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists. At 1.90 meters, Svambaris has good size for a point guard. He started out as a small forward and is still transitioning into a point guard. The Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy product is well-rounded and was named the MVP of the recent Sabonis Team97 Cup. Svambaris is averaging 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.9 steals in the A Lyga, but he is struggling with his outside shot, making just 21% of his threes for Sarunas Marciulionis KA Cili.
USK Future Stars Prague, Ondrej Sehnal
Sehnal will be participating at his second ANGT after averaging 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals last season. The 1.94-meter playmaker played last summer as an underclass player for Czech Republic at the U18 European Championship and averaged 8.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists. The point guard can handle and pass the ball and has good court vision and good understanding of the game. He also can drive to the basket with his good size, athleticism and quickness. He is working on his outside shooting, which can be spotty at times. He is playing in the Czech first division NBL, averaging 3.4 points while hitting 45 percent of his threes to go with 1.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
VEF Riga, Rodions Kurucs
Kurucs will be making his ANGT debut. He played for Latvia at the 2014 U16 European Championship, helped his country reach the final and was named to the all-tournament team with averages of 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks. The 2.06-meter small forward has all the tools to be a star and he is already considered one of the top players in the 1998 class. Kurucs is a smooth player with good balance and control of his long body. He uses his quickness to get past perimeter defenders and out on the fastbreak, where he can finish above the rim – also in traffic. Kurucs is a good passer and has good court vision and court awareness. He has a solid outside shot and possesses all the tools to be a good defender. Kurucs has already played in one Euroleague qualifying-rounds game, one Eurocup game and three VTB United contests for VEF this season. He is mainly playing in the LBL second division and averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.
Zalgiris Kaunas, Martynas Echodas
Echodas returns for his second ANGT after being named to the all-tournament team last season at the finals in Milan as a 16-year-old, averaging 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 4.0 blocks. A power forward, Echodas totaled 49 points and 21 rebounds in his first two games in Milan, and though he was held to just 4 points and 5 rebounds in the team's last game against Real Madrid, he compensated with 5 blocked shots. The 2.04-meter big man collected 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the Kaunas qualifying tournament a year ago. He has a good body and good athleticism, which makes him efficient around the basket (hitting 57 percent of his shots in seven ANGT games last season). Echodas has a mid-range game and can also drive and finish in the lane. Defensively, he's an excellent shot-blocker and has good hands. He is playing in the second Lithuanian league NKL and averaging 12.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.9 steals.