These are the frontrunners in the 2020-21 Best Young Player award race
MIES (Switzerland) - Who will be named Best Young Player in the 2020-21 Basketball Champions League?
With the Regular Season behind us every eligible player had the chance to put forward his candidature but several of those young contenders will not get the chance to continue making their case in the Play-Offs, so this is a natural checkpoint for us to have a look at the frontrunners for the award.
Last season, it was Carlos Alocen of Casademont Zaragoza (now at Real Madrid) who took home the award, succeeding Tamir Blatt of Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem who had won it in 2018-19.
We take a closer look at the four frontrunners (in alphabetical order) for the award at this juncture:
YOAN MAKOUNDOU - Cholet Basket
by Dimitris Kontos
The fact that 20-year-old Yoan Makoundou, who is only in his first 'proper' season as a professional player, was recently voted as Cholet's MVP of the month for January by 77 percent of the French team's own fanbase, is a very clear indication of three things:
First, Cholet fans really like Makoundou; second, Cholet fans think Makoundou's had a real impact on the team's play during January and third, Makoundou's potential must really be enormous if he can accomplish both of the above so quickly.
What the fans' choice doesn't disclose though is that the young Cholet forward is still very much a work in progress who has to figure out several things on the basketball court, including even the position he's going to play.
Makoundou still needs to polish his finishing, his handle, and his shooting form - but he has shown he can turn out to be anything from an athletic '3andD' small forward (if he can build on the catch-and-shoot promise he's shown in recent games) to a devastating mobile big who will accompany to perfection any guard with a decent ability to read the pick-n-roll.
Let's not forget that up until last March, when the French league came to an abrupt end due to the pandemic, Makoundou was still playing for Cholet's youth team and only made five testimonial appearances with the senior side. By contrast, in the five months leading up to him receiving the recognition of Cholet fans, he averaged 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in the BCL with 7.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in the French Jeep Elite league.
AUGUSTAS MARCIULIONIS - Rytas Vilnius
by David Hein
Who should win the Best Young Player award? The answer is easy: Augustas Marciulionis of Rytas Vilnius. Allow the case to be made.
First, consider Rytas entering the Basketball Champions League for their debut campaign with pretty high expectations. This is, after all, one of the storied clubs in European history: a two-time EuroCup champion which reached a third final and finished third once as well. Rytas also claimed 11 Lithuanian league crowns between 1972 and 2010 in addition to three Lithuanian Cups and two King Mindaugas Cups.
The club (both as Statyba and Rytas) has also helped produce a number of great Lithuanian players over the decades, with contributions from greats such as Arturas Karnisovas, Alfredas Vainauskas, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Robertas Javtokas, Arvydas Macijauskas, Jonas Valanciunas, Tomas Delininkaitis, Simas Jasaitis and Sarunas Marciulionis.
The last one mentioned of course is one of the legends of Lithuanian basketball - and the father of Augustas Marciulionis. The younger Marciulionis grew up in the club’s youth ranks and also represented Lithuania twice at youth European Championships. Augustus’ Lithuanian LKL top flight debut came this season with Rytas - a club that had high aspirations in the BCL.
Two games before Marciulionis made his BCL debut, he collected 7 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals in 21 minutes of a domestic game. And head coach Donaldas Kairys had no problem letting Marciulionis play a major role in running the show for Rytas in the BCL - and that at just 18 years of age.
Emanating a mature presence of having been born for such games, he picked up 4 points and 1 rebound in 13 minutes in his first game against SIG Strasbourg. His second game against VEF Riga was his best as he collected 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 2 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal in 25 minutes.
All told, Marciulionis ended up impressing all by averaging 5.6 points, 0.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists to just 1.0 turnovers and 0.6 steals in 14.0 minutes a game.
Sure, Rytas disappointed in their first campaign in the BCL, collecting just a 2-4 record in Group E and failing to reach the Play-Offs. But the fact that Coach Kairys was willing to give Marciulionis the keys to the car holds major weight - especially since the youngster didn’t disappoint.
And Augustus Marciulionis did more than enough to earn the Best Young Player award.
NIKOS ROGKAVOPOULOS - AEK
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by Igor Curkovic
Here's a brief review of my love affair with Nikos Rogkavopoulos. Back in the summer of 2019, I was on my way to Volos, Greece for the FIBA U18 European Championship, and the info that I could gather was that there was a forward on the Greek team worth our time and dedication. Of course I tuned in from the get-go, trying to see what the fuss was about.
Safe to say, I was not impressed over the first three games, as Rogkavopoulos totaled 14 points on 6-of-33 shooting. Keep in mind, nobody is high on percentages in youth competition, but taking 33 shots to score 14 points is way too much.
I was ready to write him off, but here's the deal with Nikos. As the games get more important, so does his role. Round of 16, he scored 16 - more than in previous three games combined. Quarter-Finals: 25 with 15 rebounds. Semi-Finals and 3rd Place Game, also in double digits, with a double-double to end his run and book a spot on the All Star Five.
That growth from game to game in front of a packed house in Volos showed that Rogkavopoulos has the mentality to become a big time player in his career. Last season, he got his first taste of BCL in a game against Anwil Wloclawek, and as an 18-year-old showed no signs of fear - 15 points in 13 minutes!
He played his part in the Final 8, too, with a 10-point performance against Casademont Zaragoza in the Semi-Finals, and he's now getting regular minutes in AEK, 11 of them per game in this competition, not being afraid to shoot the ball or do the dirty work for the team.
His numbers won't impress anybody, but you know how tough it is for a 19-year-old to break into rotation in any club? And then he does it in a club as loaded as AEK, with emphasis on more experienced guys and win-now mentality? That's huge.
Along with Dimitris Moraitis, these couple of seasons could turn into a gigantic stepping stone for the future of the club. Keith Langford won't be there forever - even though I wish he would.
Jonas Maciulis won't be there forever. Matt Lojeski. Vlado Jankovic. But when they leave, Nikos Rogkavopoulos will be ready to take over. He's got the right mind to do it, thanks to his season of affirmation in 2020-21.
KEYE VAN DER VUURST DE VRIES - Filou Oostende
by Diccon Lloyd-Smeath
Across all sports we often hear the expression 'old head on young shoulders' to the point where it has become a cliché bandied about every time a young player makes a simple heads-up play.
In the case of Filou Oostende’s 6ft3in (1.91m) point guard Keye van der Vuurst de Vries, the expression is a factual description for the way he plays week-in, week-out, game-in game-out, play-in play-out.
It’s not excessively uncommon to find young point guards that can read the game. What is much more rarified is finding young players that are genuinely able to predict the game and make decisions based on what will happen two steps later in the play.
If there was a mark against KVDVDV last season it was his shooting and whilst 31 percent from behind the arc this season could certainly be better, it’s already an improvement on 24 percent last season in the BCL, and 53.6 percent shooting overall is very efficient for a 19-year-old guard.
We also need to consider that the small sample size of six BCL games can have dramatic impacts on shooting averages and across all competitions he is shooting 40 percent from deep on just under three attempts per game.
Combine that with 4.5 assists overall and 5.2 in the BCL, it’s abundantly clear that we are watching the early steps in a career that could evolve into one of the Netherlands' best ever players.