First stage of U19 ABA League was held between 29.11. and 2.12. Total of 11 teams participated, separated in 2 tournaments.
Cedevita, Mega Bemax, Krka, Mornar and Igokea played their games in Bar, Montenegro while Buducnost, Olimpija, Crvena Zvezda, Zadar, Cibona and Partizan competed in Zadar, Croatia.
From group in Bar, Igokea and Cedevita have advanced to F4 tournament, Crvena Zvezda and Cibona did so from Croatia. Host venue and dates of Final Four tournament are not yet announced.
In this article we will do a review of the Serbian players who showed the most in stage 1 of Junior ABA league.
NEMANJA POPOVIĆ– ’01 born 6’9 forward played this tournament with one year older players. Popovic had very productive games, averaging 16.2ppg, 4.4rpg and 3.6apg in 29.2 minutes on the court. Very versatile offensive player, even though perimeter shot can’t be called a threat yet. He is faster than majority of players on his position, so he can drive by them when goes from perimeter. Nicely polished low post player, has great post skills and ability to score with both hands above the rim. Nemanja’s high IQ and feeling for the game are his strengths, too, knows how to use his advantages in the game. Really improved his toughness and physicality this year, gained some experience since he plays with senior players in 2nd Division. Could be giving more energy on rebounding part, but when he grabs one, can push the fast break right after. Has great court vision for a big, and ability to find open teammates. Defensively, can cover multiple positions which gives him possibility to switch with guards. Quick on his feet enough not to get exposed from perimeter at this stage. Uses his length and solid athletic abilities in blocking shots, averaged 1.4 blocks per game. When it comes to weaknesses, didn’t show too many of them at this tournament. As we’ve said, he is still far from sure outside shooter, but started hitting threes in past months, which gave him confidence to shoot them more often. Scored 2 of them in 5 games, but still missed 8.
LAZAR VASIĆ– Another ’01 born player from KK Crvena Zvezda. 6’4 tall PG had really slow start of the tournament, scored 3pts in first and 8pts in second game with bad shooting percentages. Averaged 11.2ppg in the end. Played the best game vs Partizan, scored 22pts and was one of the leaders of his team in 3rd win on the tournament. Also brought win to his team vs Cibona after scoring game winning lay up. Vasic is very quick and aggressive player,which he showed again on this tournament. Likes to push fast breaks and to play in transition. Solid PnR creator with ability to drive to the hoop and to take mid range shots. Good spot up shooter as well, excluding 2nd game of the tournament, had 8/14 behind the arc. After Karapandzic came to Crvena Zvezda, Vasic became more of a scorer than passing type of PG, which is visible in the stats, had only 2apg on the tournament. Defensively, very aggressive on ball defender, can force steals from his opponents, had 10 steals in 5 games. Lack of size could be an issue for higher level.
DALIBOR ILIĆ– Captain of U18 Serbian NT played this tournament on expected level. ’00 born forward is already a legit senior player who averages 13.4 minutes per game in ABA league(had couple of 20+ minutes games so far) so his performances at this stage shouldn’t be surprise, specially knowing that level of the tournament is not really the highest possible. Still had enormous stats, averaged 29ppg, 17.1rpg(7.3orpg), 3.5apg and 4.3 blocks per game. 6’9 forward is true leader of this team and mostly thanks to his performances they will play on Final Four tournament. Athletic PF with good body strength dominated in the paint, knows how to create position for himself, both with and without the ball. Missed few open layups, though, but scored 90% of his points around the rim, dunked every time he had possibility for it. Not finesse type of post player, but strong and sure finisher in the paint and above the rim. Good PnR screener, reads PnR situation very well, knows when to go for a deep or short roll, or even for a pop. Great rebounder, real grab and go type of player, takes the ball to the front court as soon as he grabs defensive board. Shows high maturity for his age, experience of playing on senior level for couple of years already is more than visible. Shot is main concern, and doesn’t show any big time improvement. He did score 2/2 behind the 3p line vs Mega in the last game of the tournament, but it’s not good enough to be a long term offensive weapon. Struggles from the FT line, as well, misses them in rows, had 24/42 on the tournament. Defensively, uses physical tools and athleticism to guard almost all 5 positions. Great rim protector and shot blocker. Beside Nemanja Popovic and Aleksandar Langovic who are year younger, the biggest prospect coming from this tournament.
ĐORĐE PAŽIN– Another ’01 born player on this tournament. Just like Ilic, played this tournament as it was expected from the best player of Partizan team. 6’7 shooting guard was the best scorer of the tournament. Scored 137 points in 5 games, 27.4 per game, 2.4rpg, 2.2apg. Had also 3spg, which is something that wasn’t so common for him in the past. Pazin is the most versatile shooter of his gen. Can hit shots from all around the perimeter, has ability to create shots for himself off the dribble, but he is equally efficient when comes off the screens or when he is spotted. Quick release and good footwork help him in all those situations. Was scoring tough shots throughout tournament, stepbacks, shots over defenders, too. Regardless big numbers he had, shot selection is a weakness, still. Was taking irrational shots in the games, but knowing he was the one who had the biggest offensive freedom in this Partizan team, it’s not a huge surprise. Improved his driving abilities, but still could be way more aggressive when goes to the hoop. Partizan’s guard did above average job on defensive end, had couple of steals that led him to an easy points in fast breaks. Body is not that big problem on this level, but it is for higher level. No improvements in terms of body strength happened in last year, should be working on it much more.
LAZAR STEFANOVIĆ– ’02 born guard was second best scorer in Partizan. Started off the tournament well, but slowed down in the end and had single digits in last 2 games. Ended tournament averaging 12.4ppg, 5.6rpg and 1.8spg. 6’4 SG continued with good performances he started on u16 EC in August. After Tarlac’s injury and absence of Tanaskovic, he was one of the leaders of this team, along with Pazin, even though he is 2 years younger than competition age. Able to finish in various ways, also can create position for his teammates to score easy. Good ballhandling and size enables him to protect the ball very well. Had many good drives to the basket, made advantage thanks to quick and long first step. Stefanovic had very high percentage of mid range shots, but scored only 2 three pointers in 5 games. Has issues with long range shooting since beginning of the season. Played good on ball defense, had 1.8 steals per game(5 of them vs Olimpija). In many situations his good defense forced his opponent to made turnover, or else led his team to fast break. He found it very simple to use opportunity for transition game and turn it into points. Was very active on rebounding part, what made him second best rebounder of his team. Body is still developing, it should get stronger in coming years.
LUKA CEROVINA– Another young player that has experience playing on senior level basketball. ’00 born player was the oldest player in Mega’s squad which made him a natural leader of the team. 6’7 SF had all around games and reminded others on his performances on ANGT in February. Averaged 20.5ppg, 7.3rpg, 4.5apg and 1.8spg. Scored 35pts vs Igokea, in the game which decided who will be the last member of F4, but his team lost the game eventually in tight finish. Just like other players who already play in senior divisions, higher level of maturity is visible. Left handed forward had very good shooting tournament, had 45.2% behind the arc. Was scoring shots off the dribble and some tougher shots which wasn’t really common for him. Again showed nice skillset on the post, ability to back up smaller players and to score fadeaway jumpers over them. Far from flashy ball handler, but he is very surewith the ball in his hands, uses dribbles very smartly. Solid driver to the hoop, thanks to his length and good body control on drives can score layups and shots around the rim. Usage of weaker hand is an issue, goes to stronger side in almost every case. Defensively did solid job, had couple of steals, and even blocks that led his team to a fast break. Body language is not on the best level, doesn’t always give 100% of energy.
ALEKSANDAR LANGOVIĆ– ’01 6’8 PF from KK Mega Bemax can be considered as one of the top 10 performers of Junior Aba League group stage. On this tournament averaged 18.5ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 apg and 1.8 bpg. Played excellent around and inside the paint, but didn’t show his full versatility. Even though he has more than solid long range shot, he struggled a lot with 3-pt shooting (1/14 in 4 games). Regardless bad perimeter shot on this tournament, Langovic was real force in the paint. Used every chance to score and dunk when he got the ball. Showed no troubles to score against stronger bigs. Did excellent job in rebounding, specially in offense. Moved great, ran the floor well, showed good athleticism once again. Good post finisher, his opponents had problems to guard him cause of his great left hand finishing and length. Still has room to improve his post skillset, which is far from polished. When he improves his strength, too, he can be even bigger threat inside the paint. Played very good defense on PnR- again thanks to his length and mobility, he is able to step up, interrupt opponent’s PG and get back to cover the paint right on time. It is very hard for his opponents to score over him. Has good timing for blocks. Needs to improve his defensive awareness, sometimes loses focus and happens that his player score easy points.