2008 Euroleague Final Four: Juniors Day 1
By Aran Smith
Thursday kicked off the Junior competition and it quickly became apparent that this year's 1990 group is significantly stronger than the 1989 group that competed in Athens a year ago.
Barcelona 73 Red Star 69
In the first game of the day, Barcelona came out hot in the second half to edge Red Star by four in a close ball game. Barcelona's star guard Nihad Dedovic was inactive for the game, but Barca was able to come away with the close win nonetheless behind a game high 23 points from Konstantine Tomardze, 19 from Daniel Perez and 18 from Alejandro Hernandez. Red Star got 14 from Marko Loncovic.
Lietuvos Rytas 74 Cibona 72
The second game of the day was equally close and exciting. Rytas was able to edge Cibona in the end by 2 behind 23 points from Augustas Peciukevicius.
For Cibona, 6-11 forward Tomislav Zubcic showed why many consider him among the top handful of junior prospects in Europe. He exploded for 24 points and 19 rebounds with a number of impressive plays, displaying the versatility to shoot it from the perimeter as well as finish at the rim. Leon Radosevic was also impressive for Cibona with 14 and 10 showing that he's a quality second option to Zubcic
FMP 95 Maccabi Tel Aviv 68
This game quickly turned into a rout as FMP built a 27-11 first quarter lead. Maccabi appears to be severely undermanned and may struggle to win a game here. They were no match for a quality FMP team. Noam Levy led the team with 18 points. Maccabi's top talent Daniel Rom finished with 8 points on a dreadful 4-15 shooting performance.
For FMP, their two big men Dejan Musli and Bojan Subotic had 18 a piece. Their tough and athletic 6-foot-6 wing Aleksandar Ponjavic had a very efficient 15 points shooting 3/4 from 2 and 3/4 from 3 as well as 6 boards and 4 assists.
Zalgiris Kaunas 92 Real Madrid 66
The game was much closer for much of the contest than the score would indicate as Kaunas delivered a fourth quarter KO outscoring Madrid by 20 in the final period. It was an extremely tough opening game for Real, whose top players Nikola Mirotic and Ryan Richards did not appear mentally or physically ready to play and ran out of gas in the second half.
Donatas Motiejunas showed how dominant he can be when he puts his mind to it. His 28 points (9-13 fg) (10-11 ft) led all scorers on the day and he was the difference using his explosiveness and length around the basket. He was the most impressive player last year in Athens and has started off this year's junior event the same way. Ukraine's Oliksey Pecherov was taken 18th in 2006, and though that might have been a bit high for him, Motiejunas is easily a better prospect.
Mirotic had an impressive first half where he showed off his tremendous offensive skill set. He knocked down two 3 pointers as well as a bank shot high off the glass. Though he lacks great leaping ability, he shows solid speed and length and has a body and skill set reminiscent of Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He's certainly one of the more interesting players here, and being born in 1991 (listed), shows a good deal of potential. Mirotic finished with 15 and 9 and can develop into a first round pick someday if his body fills out.
Richards had a rough debut. He fouled out in just 10 minutes of action finishing with 7 points. He looks a little out of shape and his foot speed running the floor is not great. It's important to keep in mind he's a 1991 kid so he's a year younger than most of the kids here and in the US he would be entering just his junior year of high school. But right now he's looking more like a half court type of player and will need to work on conditioning and speed. His huge wingspan and solid touch give him NBA potential.