Next generation of stars shines in 15 years of U18 tournament development

May 08, 2017 by David Hein, Print
Next generation of stars shines in 15 years of U18 tournament development

The EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT started as an invitation-only competition designed to assist teams in developing young talents. As it celebrates its 15th anniversary later this month at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Istanbul, the ANGT has turned into the premier youth club tournament in the world thanks to great performances from some of Europe's top future stars.

Since starting in 2003, the ANGT has grown in size from eight teams at one venue to 32 who now participate on five different stages, all hoping to hoist the trophy as Europe's best 18-and-under club. The event has grown in stature, too, such that clubs are working harder than ever to develop U18 teams with the hope of winning this annual tournament.

Ten different teams have won the event, while three of them having done so multiple times: U18 CSKA Moscow (2004, 2005, 2006), U18 Zalgiris Kaunas (2003, 2007) and U18 FMP Belgrade (2008, 2009). Seven different sides have claimed the crown in the seven ANGTs since FMP's repeat win in 2009, showing that the competition has become stronger and better balanced.

A number of superstars have graced the courts of the ANGT over its 15 years. Luigi Datome owns the record for the highest performance index rating in the finals, with 54 in 2005, scoring 38 points in that same game. In the qualifiers, Nikola Mirotic and Dragan Bender hold records with an 84 index rating and 43 points scored, respectively. Dario Saric registered a triple-double of 19 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in the 2011 championship game, leading U18 Zagreb to the title. Other former ANGT stars who have since left their mark on the European game include Bogdan Bogdanovic, Alessandro Gentile, Mario Hezonja, Mantas Kalnietis, Jonas Maciulus. Milan Macvan, Donatas Motiejunas, Cedi Osman, Alexey Shved, Jonas Valanciunas and Ante Zizic, to name a few.

Several players have been both ANGT and EuroLeague champions. Maciulis won the original ANGT in 2003 with U18 Zalgiris Kaunas and the EuroLeague 12 years later, in 2015, with Real Madrid. Current EuroLeague champion Nikita Kurbanov is one of three players, along with Shved and Vasily Zavoruev, to have won both titles wearing CSKA Moscow's colors each time. Madrid's Luka Doncic has a chance to join that list at the Final Four after having won the 2015 ANGT with Madrid as MVP.

The qualifiers were started in 2007-08 when an existing event at L'Hospitalet was incorporated and a new tournament was created in Belgrade. Rome was added in 2008-09 and a fourth qualifier the following season in London. Kaunas replaced London for the 2011-12 campaign and has served as one of the quartet of qualifiers since then. The 2016-17 season saw another change, with Coin, Spain replacing Rome as one of the hosts.

The tournament has also exposed fans to players from outside Europe. Team China was invited three times to the finals between 2011 and 2013, providing spectators a chance to see future Chinese national team stars Guo Ailun and Wang Zhelin. Team Brazil was given a wild card for the 2014 Finals in Milan.

Perhaps the biggest change in the tournament has been its increased professionalism. A major factor in that has been the event gaining a title sponsor with the subsequent brand association and hands-on contribution from that company. Nike came on board commencing in the 2006-07 campaign and the name of the event changed to Nike International Junior Tournament. Adidas took over as title sponsor prior for the 2014-15 season and the competition was re-branded as the EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT.

The U18 Tournament has come a long way since 2003 and is now bigger and more popular than it's ever been. Fifteen years of the competition are just about complete, and the future bodes well for the next generation of stars shining today.