|Dario Saric left no choice to voters in the MVP race as he put up incredible numbers of 24.3 points 11.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game|
by Yarone Arbel
The 2010 U16 European Championship will be remembered thanks to an unforgettable quarter-finals day, Lithuania's third appearance in a row in the title game, the historical gold medal of Croatia and the dominance of Dario Saric who was voted unanimously as the MVP of the tournament.
Four players join the MVP on the All-Tournament team after leaving a sweet memory in Bar, Montenegro during the championship: Spain's Josep Perez, Nikola Ivanovic of Montenegro, Tayfun Eruklu from Turkey and the big guy of Serbia Nikola Jankovic.
Other players who excelled in this championship and deserve kudos are Denmark's Rasmus Larsen who couldn't save his team from relegation but is surely one of the most promising players in the tournament, Daniel Szymkiewicz of Poland, Albert Homs of Spain, Croatia's Karlo Lebo and Serbia's Vasilje Micic.
Here is the All-Tournament team of the 2010 U16 European Championship.
Power Forward - Dario Saric (Croatia) - MVP
Stats: 24.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 5.8 apg, 2.0 spg, 1.4 bpg, 53.3% 2FG, 35.3% 3FG
A player like Saric appears once in years, but at the age of 16 it's still too soon to crown him as someone who will for sure be a great senior player. In 2003 Serbia won the gold medal in the U16 tournament and their best player was Nemanja Aleksandrov, a 2.07m player who could play in all five positions and dominated the championship in a similar way to what Saric did here in Bar. He was quickly titled as the next big thing but injuries and some other reasons kept him from fulfilling the huge potential in him. Three years later Spain's Ricky Rubio seemed like something the world of basketball didn't see before and so far, at the age of 20, he meets all expectations. These two stories show how wide the range of Saric's future is. He was by the far the most dominating player in the championship from the first moment. Finished as the top scorer, holds the best single game scoring performance, displayed great ability in the clutch, showed up to the title game with a unique triple-double, a landmark he tickled in three other games, and was the main reason Croatia won the gold, and that's probably an understatement.
Saric played in five positions, knew how to create off the dribble from distance and also around the rim. He was ranked Top4 in no less than 14 categories while leading Points (24.3), Total Rebounds (11.5) and Defensive Rebounds (9.0) and going "only" second in Assists (5.8), Free Throws Made (8.4) fourth in Blocked Shots (1.4).
Standing taller than the 2.04m he's listed he spent most of his minutes in the Point Guard position and directed his team's game. More than any other player you have seen he reminds of Dejan Bodiroga, not only because of his dimensions and the things he does on court, but mostly because of the very-very unique style of Bodiroga he "adopted" perfectly. He rested in one game, after Croatia already secured the top spot in the Preliminary Round, and that's when Croatia was beaten by a Classification Round team as Germany to example his importance. In the other eight games he rested a total of 14 minutes(!) despite playing the U18 European Championship only two weeks ago. In the last minute of the Qualifying Round, when his team needed six quick points to finish at the top spot, he delivered two three pointers despite missing all his first eight attempts before. In the semi-finals he wrote 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assist before putting up a triple-double in the gold medal game, that he was just one assist shy of completing already after three quarters. Saric played the U16 European Championship last year already but since then made a huge progress not only in his game, but also in his attitude to his teammates and coaches. Yet, despite being a huge prospect, a sure European basketball superstar down the road if nothing goes wrong, as the Aleksandrov case exampled, Saric must stay alert if he wants to join the "Rubio camp", keep working hard and stay focused so he won't remain only as by far the one of the most dominating players ever in the history of the U16 European Championship.
Point Guard - Josep Perez (Spain)
Stats: 11.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg
Probably the symbol of Spain's unforgettable comeback in the quarter-finals against France, as when he re-joined the game Spain was behind by six and with his first walk to the foul line hit three shots in a row, despite being a below average free throw shooter, sparked the run that finished with the win. Perez is first of all a very good point guard who runs the offense who distributes the ball between his teammates and has the ability to slash to the rim and create for others, while just like any leading Spanish guard will pressure the ball on the defensive end to become his opponent's nightmare. Perez was also the living spirit behind Spain's last minute comeback in the semi-finals against Croatia that almost finished with the ticket to the title game. In that game he wrote his tournament high with 26 points.
Shooting Guard - Nikola Ivanovic (Montenegro)
Stats: 22.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.1 spg, 55.6% 2FG
The local hero led his team to the quarter-finals with an almost perfect record and was one of the most impressive players here on both ends of the floor. In two thirds of the games he scored 25 points or more and never went in single-digits to become the second best scorer in the championship behind Saric, yet that wasn't the only field in which he excelled. On top of doing a good job on the defensive end with and moved his feet to stop his opponents he was ranked Top10 in no less than 15 categories including four he was leading - Field Goals Attempted (19.6), Field Goals Made (8.9), Two Points Field Goals Attempted (13.0) and Two Points Field Goals Made (7.2) while ranked third in assists (5.0), seconds in steals (3.1) and in points as well as mentioned. Ivanovic is an athletic and creative guard that spent his time in both guards positions, and showed his ability to score at will. He used his good ball handling skills to slash to the rim and create good situations for himself and also for his teammates for which he distributed the ball for open shots.
Small Forward - Tayfun Erüklü (Turkey)
Stats: 14.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.1 spg
Not really a Small Forward, more a Shooting Guard, but will function as one in this guards line-up. Erüklü scored three times more than 20 points, and despite a slow finish will take from this championship mostly the quarter-finals performance when he posted 25 points, six rebound, six steals and above all a huge buzzer-beater that eventually led to the Bronze medal. The Turkish prospect is ranked Top7 in five different categories including Points (14.3 - 7th), Steals (2.1 - 6th) and Field Goals Made (5.3 - 7th). Erüklü was the leader of his team and main focus of the opponents' defense. He attacked the rim from left and right sides, was active every second he spent on court and despite having streaky days from the arc knew how to use the attention from the defense to help his friends collect points.
Center - Nikola Jankovic (Serbia)
Stats: 14.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.9 spg, 1.6 bpg, 58% 2FG
Jankovic shared his time between the Power Forward and the Center positions and was pushed up half a position since no big guy really stepped up. He wrote four double-doubles - an amount only Saric reached here, and only in one game didn't score in double-digits. The Serbian big guy is ranked Top6 in 12 different categories among them points (14.4 - 6th), blocked shots (1.6 - 3rd), Total Rebounds (8.8 - 2nd) and Offensive Rebounds (3.0 - 5th). Jankovic is an athletic big guy with a strong body that allows him to show his skills under the boards. He's a fighter who is unlikely to miss a loose ball or a rebound that falls near by, and has the post up skills to overcome most of his defenders here in Bar.