The ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT ‘Marko Ivkovic’ Belgrade event tips off Friday with many of the best young players in central Europe eager to take the stage. Learns more about some of the stars to watch from the eight teams about to clash for a ticket to the ANGT finals.
Crvena Zvezda – Nikola Rakicevic
This will be Rakicevic’s third ANGT. After averaging 3.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 2013, he averaged 7.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.8 steals for the title-winning team in 2014. Rakicevic helped Serbia win the bronze medal at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship last summer and was selected for the All-Tournament Team after averaging 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals. In the semifinals and third place game, Rakicevic collected 38 points (on 21 of 22 free throws), 12 rebounds and 6 steals. The 1.96-meter guard is not flashy or overly athletic, which allows others to steal the headlines and attention. But Rakicevic was the Serbian player of his generation who was invited to the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in New York City. He does a good job creating scoring opportunities on the drive, where he also can find his teammates. Rakicevic can shoot from the outside and has a knack of being in the right place at the right time with a healthy dose of intensity.
Zemun – Nikola Cirkovic
Cirkovic will be playing at his second ANGT after he averaged 5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals for Zemun at the Belgrade tournament last season. He was a role player for the Serbia national team at the FIBA U17 World Championship last summer, where he averaged 2.9 points plus 1.0 rebounds and 0.7 assists in less than 10 minutes per game. The Belgrade native is a 1.92-meter combo guard, whose biggest strength is his one-on-one play. Cirkovic can score a variety of ways and is averaging more than 20 points in the Serbian junior league. He is also known for his high basketball IQ. Cirkovic still lacks strength in his upper body, but that doesn’t stop him from keeping players in front of him. Cirkovic is Zemun’s go-to guy – not only scoring-wise, but also because of his talent level.
Canarias - Menno Dijkstra
Dijkstra will be at his second ANGT, but the Dutch big man did not play for Canarias in Belgrade last season. The 2.10-meter center has taken some big steps forward since then. The Standaarbuiten native played last summer for the Netherlands at the U18 European Championship Division B and averaged 6.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.0 block. He collected 24 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in the final two games of the tournament. Dijkstra has a high basketball IQ and seven kilograms of additional muscle has given him more confidence in the paint. The big red head’s arsenal features a good jump hook off his left shoulder and an effective jumper out to five meters. Dijkstra has very good footwork, a great attitude and superb work ethic.
Mega Leks – Novak Music
The 16-year old Music will be playing in his first ANGT tournament. A native of Belgrade, he was one of Serbia’s leaders at the 2014 U16 European Championship, where the guard averaged 7.9 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals, including a game with 22 points against Lithuania. The 1.89-meter point guard practices with the Mega Leks professional team in the morning sessions. He is exceptionally aggressive at both ends. Music is known to apply tremendous on-ball pressure on defense and has a very easy time creating scoring opportunities for himself and others. Music also is a very good shooter; he nailed 10 of 21 three-pointers (47.6%) at the U16 Euros last summer.
Partizan – Vanja Marinkovic
Marinkovic is appearing in his third ANGT. In 2013, he averaged 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. Last season, he upped those numbers to 18.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 steals. He collected two international medals last summer, helping Serbia to the silver at the 2014 U18 European Championship (8.2 ppg., 2.3 rpg.) and bronze at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship (9.0 ppg., 2.1 rpg.). The Belgrade native plays beyond his years, and he has great confidence. He is a strong and intelligent player as well as a tremendous shooter. Marinkovic has already advanced to Partizan’s senior team with whom he has averaged 5.5 points and 1.9 rebounds in the Eurocup and 4.2 points and 1.4 rebounds in the Adriatic League – despite only turning 18 in January. He scored 19 points in the Eurocup against Asesoft CSU Ploiesti and poured in 20 points in the Adriatic League against MZT Skopje.
ALBA Berlin – Moritz Wagner
Wagner will be playing in his first ANGT. He played for Germany last summer at the U18 European Championship Division B, where the team went undefeated to earn promotion to Division A. The Berlin native averaged 5.2 points and 3.0 rebounds, including 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals against Austria. The 2.07-meter power forward has excellent athleticism, which along with his length he uses well in various areas on the court. Wagner can put the ball on the floor and finish in the paint against stronger players. He also has good range on his jumper, though he doesn’t shoot much from beyond the three-point line. Wagner has already appeared in two Euroleague games and in three German League games he scored 3 points. In the U19 NBBL league, Wagner is averaging 16.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.1 steals.
Venice – Leonardo Tote
Tote will be appearing in his first ANGT. He played at two international tournaments for Italy last summer. The 2.07-meter center averaged 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds at the U18 European Championship. His biggest game was against Croatia when he collected 5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block in 19 minutes. At the FIBA U17 World Championship, the Negrar native averaged 8.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks, including a 22-point, 8-rebound showing against United Arab Emirates. Tote is versatile and mobile for his size and has shown that he has some strong leaping ability. He is still a bit skinny, but has solid mechanics and actually has good three-point range. Tote’s post game is still a work-in-progress, but the humble young man appears eager to improve.
Vaerlose – Jacob Larsen
Larsen will be playing in his first ANGT. The 2.06-meter power forward did not play for Denmark’s U18 team last summer after having guided the U16 team to promotion to Division A in 2013, when he averaged a tournament high 20.0 points and 4.0 blocks as well as 12.1 rebounds. Without Larsen this summer, the Danish U16 team dropped back down to Division B. Larsen is the younger brother of 1994-born talent Rasmus Larsen. Jacob has a good motor, is a fighter and is active. Larsen, who just participated in the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in New York City, prefers playing in the paint area, but he can also face up and drive to the basket from the high post.