Shooting Stars in Prague

The Czech capital hosts the FIBA U19 World Championship, a showcase for NBA hopefuls

Nick Young

Written by Nick Young Published on 25.06.2013 13:45:48 (updated on 25.06.2013) Reading time: 4 minutes

Basketball fans, take notice. The FIBA U19 World Championship will be taking place in Prague from June 27–July 7, featuring the most talented under-19-year-olds playing for their home countries. A selection of sixteen teams that have fought to qualify for this tournament will battle it out for bragging rights as the top junior team on the planet.

These teams include the United States, Canada, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Australia, Lithuania, Russia, China, Korea, Ivory Coast, Serbia, Croatia, Iran, Senegal, and the Czech Republic. Each region of the globe is represented, with perennial powerhouses such as the US, Serbia, and Argentina leading the pack, and tough upstart basketball programs such as Canada and Brazil not far behind.

The tournament is organized by the Federal International Basketball Association (FIBA), which promotes the fact that it is a proving ground for players who may one day achieve NBA fame.

Proving ground for the pros

“In its 10 outings to date, the FIBA U19 World Championship has been a star-studded competition, featuring some of the biggest names in international basketball,” says Stanislav Křiváček, the organizer of this first-ever Czech edition of the tournament. FIBA players who have gone on to play in the pros include the likes of Pau Gasol, Andrei Kirilenko, Vince Carter, Andrew Bogut, Nicolas Batum, Vlade Divac, Arvydas Sabonis, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Wang Zhizhi.

This year’s tournament promises to highlight a dynamic group of young talent, as well.

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Competition is stiff

Heading up the list of European players to watch is Croatia’s Dario Saric. Saric, a 2.08 m (6’10”) power forward with point guard skills, helped lead Croatia to the Under-18 European championship last summer and was chosen the MVP of the tournament after posting a triple-double in the deciding game against Lithuania. He is considered by many basketball analysts to be one of the most exciting young talents in the world and a surefire NBA prospect. With Saric leading the way, Croatia is definitely a team with the talent and experience to win it all.

Canada features its own big-man dynamo in Trey Lyles. The 2.08 m (6’10”) power forward is one of the highest-rated big men for his age group and is being pursued by some of the top NCAA programs in the US, including University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. 

Despite some quality players such as Lyle and a #6 world ranking, it will be a tough battle from the start for the Canadian squad which is competing in what promises to be the most difficult preliminary group of the tournament, with #5 ranked Croatia and #7 ranked Spain both looking to grab the top two positions and move on to the next round.

Underdogs Ivory Coast vs powerhouse US

The biggest underdog of the tournament is without question the team representing Ivory Coast, ranked #57 in the world. The young Ivorians earned their way into the tournament with a second place finish in last year’s Afrobasket tournament, but as the smallest and least experienced team competing in Prague, it’s going to be a challenge for head coach Olivier Tea, especially when they go up against the #1-ranked team in the world in their opening match on June 27, the US. It will be a hardwood version of David vs. Goliath, with Ivory Coast aiming for what would be the greatest upset in tournament history.

The American program comes into this tournament with the greatest FIBA U19 legacy of all of the junior national teams, having won four U19 world championships and taken the runner-up trophy three times. Despite being the favorite to win, they’ve got something to prove after falling short of the top-3 in the 2010 tournament. This year’s team is led by NCAA championship winning coach Billy Donovan from the University of Florida and has a roster full of remarkable talent that combines jaw dropping athleticism with tremendous size. Some of the expected standout players and likely future NBA stars include high flying power forward Aaron Gordon (2.03 m/6’8”), 17-year-old prized center Jahlil Okafor (2.13 m/6’10”), and explosive combo guard Marcus Smart (1.95 m/6’4”).

Must-watch matches

While the US’s first game against Ivory Coast might not be the most competitive of the preliminary round, there are several others worth watching that promise to deliver some exciting action. Here, a select few in the opening days that are worth checking out:

June 27, Thursday
Spain v Canada 13:15, at Podvinný Mlýn Arena
Serbia v Brazil 15:30, at Podvinný Mlýn Arena
Czech Republic v Lithuania 18:00, at 02 Arena
Ivory Coast v US 20:15, at 02 Arena

June 28, Friday
Australia v Serbia 15:30, at 02 Arena
Argentina v Czech Republic 18:00, at 02 Arena
US v China 20:15, at 02 Arena

June 29, Saturday
Croatia v Spain 13:15, at Podvinný Mlýn Arena
Brazil v Australia 13:15, at 02 Arena
US v Russia 20:15, at 02 Arena

Games for the ensuing round start on July 1, the semifinals take place on July 6, and the championship game takes place on July 7. For more scheduling information go to the FIBA tournament website.

Tickets for the event are a bargain, starting at 150 CZK for an entire day’s worth of preliminary round games at each venue, either the smaller Podvinný Mlýn Arena  or the more modern 02 Arena. One can also enjoy the game in style and luxury with a VIP ticket (1,450 CZK) at 02 Arena that includes prime seats and catered food. Ticket prices go up incrementally for the second round and the championship round. For more info and to buy tickets online visit the Sazka ticket online or ticketportal.cz

Photo courtesy of fiba.com

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