Help-Side Column: Youngsters are taking over
ZAGREB (Croatia) - If you are a regular Basketball Champions League follower, then you must have noticed two major things in the new season: (1) the ball is really orange, and (2) the young guns are here.
Now, I don't need to explain the first part of the news. Wilson is here with the new balls, and the sharp orange color of them really brought back some old school memories, because people don't do orange balls anymore. Clubs sell or give out balls in their own colors, different leagues have their multicolored balls, and then there's this.
Told you. It's orange. Like they used to be. So, welcome back, orange ball. I've missed you so much so that I've decided to dedicate the entire opening section of my first column for this young new season just to you. I should probably stop with the ball and the color now, because you're here because of the number two point of the intro, not about the number one.
Yes. The youngsters. It's not like we never had youngsters in this League. Remember Frank Ntilikina? He was here for the inaugural season, with SIG Strasbourg. Furkan Korkmaz played the Final in 2017 with Banvit. Or, more recently, Luka Samanic, who went from Petrol Olimpija Ljubljana in the Basketball Champions League to being drafted at 19 and becoming the newest San Antonio Spur this summer. Not to mention all the others who grew up in front of our eyes, like Tamir Blatt or Louis Olinde or whoever you want to pick from your own team here.
But week one of the 2019-20 season felt different. Take, for instance, the game between Teksut Bandirma and Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem, two juggernauts who are used to being in the Play-Offs in this competition, and we should probably expect them to go deep again, right? Right. So, closing minutes of the first quarter and opening minutes of the second, this was what Coach Hakan Demir went with:
- Sadik Emir Kabaca (born in December 2000)
- Atakan Erdek (June 2001)
- Sehmus Hazer (February 1999)
- Alperen Sengun (July 2002)
That's a young lineup there. And with all due respect to the first two named, it's amazing to see what Sehmus Hazer and Alperen Sengun are doing, because Hazer is now a legit starter, capable of scoring 17 points, with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals against Jerusalem on opening day, done in 31 minutes of work. Sengun? It's crazy that we are talking about a 17-year-old kid here.
Now, don't be fooled with "just" 4 points in 11 minutes, done on 1-of-4 shooting from the field and 2-of-5 from the charity stripe. Sengun is not afraid. He was out there muscling his way to the painted area, and he wasn't playing against some 1.88m (6ft 2in) tall Igor Curkovic in Croatian second amateur division or something - Alperen was doing his thing against Jerusalem, who pride themselves in having athletic frontcourt guys. I mean, Sengun went straight into TaShawn Thomas, whose nickname is Thomas the Tank Engine*, for crying out loud! Doesn't that say a lot about his toughness at 17!?
(*It's not. But it should be.)
I had the privilege of watching him at U16s in Novi Sad, Serbia last summer, and at U18s in Volos, Greece two months ago. He's got all the tricks and that 1-of-4 will become 2-of-5 next week. Then 3-of-6 the week after that. Then, some time in 2020, you'll see Sengun picking up double-doubles regularly. Because that's what Bandirma have been doing over the past years, giving their kids minutes and opportunities to work on their game in international competition, too.
But others have followed the same path, all over Europe. The Belgians in particular, as Filou Oostende Coach Dario Gjergja did not hesitate to give 23 minutes of playing time to Amar Sylla (October 2001) and - hold on, need to take my breath to get this one out in one try - Keye van der Vuurst de Vries (December 2001).
Van der Vuurst de Vries excelled at the FIBA U18 European Championship in Greece, and his feel for assists is something you notice even faster than I noticed that the ball is more orange than ever. The Dutch point guard has the additional benefit of sharing the backcourt duties with the seen-it-all 36-year-old Dusan Djordjevic, who will teach him all the tricks of running the game before you can say "Keye van der Vuurst de Vries is the real deal!"
And once KVDVDV (Keye's initials, obviously) and Oostende take on their arch rivals Telenet Giants Antwerp in the Belgian League, be sure to tune in, because Keye will be a part of an intriguing matchup. That is because a 2.08m (6ft 10in) tall Vrenz Bleijenbergh, who turned 19 three days ago, is running the point for Antwerp off the bench! And he did a fine job against the high pressuring San Pablo Burgos, with 3 points and 3 assists in 12 minutes of work, just a single turnover, and 1 steal - but a bunch of other disruptive defensive plays because bunch of other disruptive plays come easy when your wingspan is seven-feet-ish.
Now, I could go on and talk about Casademont Zaragoza's Carlos Alocen (December 2000), too, since he had 5 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 21 minutes of playing time against Telekom Baskets Bonn, but you could be pointing the finger on all of the above and say something like: "Hold up. But they all lost their games this week!?"
You'd be right. But I do have a winner among the youngsters. And he was a big reason for the win, too.
Arturs Kurucs was born in January 2000. Against one of the most experienced lineups of the Basketball Champions League, against Mornar Bar, against Derek Needham, Jacob Pullen, Antabia Waller, Damir Markota, Milko Bjelica, Mirza Begic and all the others, Kurucs started the game like he's playing the local U18s and finished with 10 points in 28 minutes, hitting 4-of-7 shots from the field, grabbing 4 rebounds, with an assist, a block and a steal to his name, for good measure.
See? You can win now and play with youngsters in leading roles, the way VEF Riga did this week. But even if you don't, the sheer fact that you get to see potentials like Hazer, Sengun, KVDVDV, Bleijenbergh, Alocen, Kurucs and all the others becoming players... Well, sometimes, that's a bigger win than outscoring your opponent.
The Basketball Champions League's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA or the Basketball Champions League.
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