Those that love watching tomorrow’s stars today are thrilled that on the heels of last weekend’s first qualifying event in the 2016-17 Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT series, the second, the ANGT Kaunas, begins on Friday in Lithuania. The opening event, the Torneig de Bàsquet Junior Ciutat de L’Hospitalet in Spain, featured many of the top talents from the Iberian Peninsula. The field for ANGT Kaunas boasts clubs from seven different countries and talents from many more. Here’s a primer on some of the players to watch from the eight teams in action this weekend.
U18 CBA Las Palmas: Li Shengzhe
Li will be making his ANGT debut. The 2.09-meter center has yet to play for the Chinese youth national team. The Shanghai native has been in the CBA program for three years now and has developed nicely. Weighing 118kg, Li has a great back-to-the-basket game and a good feel for how to deal with opponents. He is a very hard worker and possesses a great personality. Li still must work on his confidence and become more assertive defensively, though the tools to be a very good defender and rebounder are there.
U18 CFBB Paris: Yves Pons
Pons will be making his ANGT debut. He has played twice for the French national team in the past. He averaged 3.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists in helping France to the title at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2014 despite being a year younger than the competition. This past summer, Pons averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.3 blocks at the FIBA U17 World Championship 2016. He missed two and a half months this season with an injury and is slowly rounding into form since coming back at the beginning of December and he may be limited in his impact in Kaunas. But the Port-au-Prince, Haiti, native has the potential to be one of the most-athletic players on the court. He is a physical beast who is extremely explosive when driving to the basket and is one of the most exciting finishers in the game. He plays above the rim at both ends - possessing a strong sense of blocking shots from the help side in addition to attacking the basket on offense. Pons is also a very good rebounder and uses his quickness and long arms to get a lot of steals. The left-handed player still needs to improve on his attacking skills and he must learn to create for others. Pons also needs to work on his shot. There are also questions as to his natural position 1.97 meters with a lack of some perimeter offensive skills.
U18 CSKA Moscow: Aleksandr Ershov
Ershov will be playing his second ANGT tournament after averaging 3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists at the ANGT Rome last season - despite being two years younger than the rest of the competition. The 1.95-meter wing also played for the Russian youth national team and averaged 11.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 steals as Russia won the title at the FIBA U16 European Championship Division B to earn promotion to Division A. Despite being only 16 years old, Ershov is currently playing for CSKA’s second team, which is a U21 squad. And the youngster is averaging 6.1 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists in nearly 12 minutes a game. The Krasnoyarsk native has a phenomenally quick first step and is a very good shooter from both mid and long range. Ershov also has a good vertical leap and dunks easily. He still lacks aggressiveness on defense and spends most of his energy on offense.
U18 Fenerbahce Istanbul: Ahmet Can Duran
Duran heads to Kaunas for his third ANGT. He averaged 7.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in Kaunas in 2015 as a 15-year-old and then collected 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.0 blocks last season at Kaunas for Fenerbahce. The 2.06-meter center also has become a staple for the Turkish youth national teams. He collected 12.0 points and 12.1 rebounds as Turkey grabbed third place at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 and then picked up 10.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists as the Turks reached the final in their FIBA U17 World Championship debut this summer. He followed that up with 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 in December. The Afyonkarahisar native has good court vision and excellent post moves. Despite lacking athleticism, Duran's basketball IQ enables him to be a difference-maker on the court. And despite his size, Duran's excellent hands and good sense of positioning makes him a good rebounder. Duran, who has been practicing with the Fenerbahce professional team this season, still needs to improve his conditioning to be successful at the next level. He also must improve his mid-range shot and free throw percentage.
U18 Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt: Isaac Bonga
Bonga will be playing in his second ANGT after starring for Brose Bamberg last season at the ANGT L'Hospitalet, where he was named to the All-Tournament Team with 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals a game – despite not really knowing his teammates, since he was on loan to Bamberg for the tournament. The 2.03-meter guard also has played for Germany's youth national teams and averaged 8.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015. He was due to be one of Germany's leaders at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016 in December, but missed the tournament with a thigh injury. Bonga has already made his German BBL debut at 16 years of age with Frankfurt. The Koblenz native is one of Germany's biggest prospects. He has the potential to become an extraordinary guard. He has tremendous length and wingspan and could be a great rebounder at his position. Bonga also can play and defend multiple positions.
U18 Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius: Domantas Vilys
Vilys is playing at his second ANGT after he averaged 0.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists for Lietuvos Rytas last season at the ANGT Finals in Berlin. The 1.89-meter guard, who turns 17 years old on the day the ANGT Kaunas tips off, has already made his debut with the Lithuanian youth national teams. This past summer he scored 2.7 points and had 1.3 assists as Lithuania grabbed third place at the FIBA U17 World Championship 2016. The native of Kupiskio Rajonas also averaged 11 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in helping Lithuania to a second placed finish at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016. Vilys is quick and energetic and works hard. He has good smarts for a point guard his age, running the floor well while also possessing a good pull-up jumper. Vilys still must improve on his one-on-one defense and dribbling to the left side.
U18 VEF Riga: Francis Lacis
Lacis will be playing at his first ANGT. The 1.98-meter forward has played for the Latvian youth national team, with whom he averaged 4.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015. The Riga native is a wingman who can also play the power forward position. He possesses a decent spot-up jumper. Lacis has excellent athleticism and finishes well on the fast break. He also does a good job attacking the offensive glass. Lacis still must work on his pick-and-roll game and shooting off the dribble.
U18 Zalgiris Kaunas: Ignas Sargiunas
Sargiunas will be playing his second ANGT after averaging 8.9 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.6 steals last season for Zalgiris, including 11.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 2.3 steals at the ANGT Finals. Sargiunas is also a leader for the Lithuanian youth national teams. After guiding Lithuania to the final of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 with 8.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists, the 1.93-meter guard averaged 13.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in helping Lithuania to a third place finish at the FIBA U17 World Championship. He then averaged 2.7 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in getting Lithuania to the final of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016, earning qualification to this summer's FIBA U19 World Championship. The Kaunas native works hard and is a fighter who specializes in three-point shooting, but he's been adding a drive to the basket to his game. Sargiunas never gives up and isn't afraid of big shots. His defense is solid and he gives effort at that end of the court. He has played shooting guard mostly, but the club is trying to help him with his point guard skills too. Sargiunas needs to learn to control the team in order to not be too one dimensional, but instead more versatile.