By John Askoynis/ email@example.com
History has introduced many young talents to the greater European basketball scene over the years through big games on the brightest of stages, the EuroLeague Final Four. We have seen the relatively inexperienced triumph over the experienced in what at times was a breakout performance. Some did so as active or newly-crowned EuroLeague Rising Star Trophy winners and others aged 22 or younger were lesser known before their Final Four outings.
There are many examples from recent years, including a pair of players that could play key roles this season in Istanbul. Kostas Papanikolaou and Kostas Sloukas were 21 and 22 years of age in 2012 when the former was Olympiacos’s top scorer in the championship game and the latter played a key role off the bench as the Reds came from behind to stun CSKA Moscow for the title at Sinan Erdem Dome. They were both back when Olympiacos successfully defended the crown a year later in London. After these successes, “Pap” went on to play for Barcelona and in the NBA before returning to the Reds, while Sloukas is now at Fenerbahce and might be his former teammate’s rival if Olympiacos and the Turkish club match up at the Final Four.
The season before that, Nick Calathes helped Panathinaikos Athens win the 2011 EuroLeague title. He was 22 at the time when his defense played a major role in the playoffs before he erupted for a game-high 17 points in a semifinal victory over Montepaschi Siena. Calathes went on to become EuroCup MVP when he led Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to the 2013 title and spent two seasons with Memphis in the NBA, before returning to the Green. His Panathinaikos teammate Antonis Fotsis was a teenager when he helped the Greens win the 2000 title.
Ricky Rubio left Europe in 2011, but the Spanish guard was impressive with Joventut Badalona and Barcelona in the EuroLeague in the years before that. He became won the EuroLeague in 2010 in Paris, when he was also named Rising Star. In 63 EuroLeague games he averaged 5.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 steals per game. More recently, Alex Abrines was a rotation player for FC Barcelona and made Final Four appearances in 2013 and 2014.
The list, of course, is endless as many players had the chance to shine at a very young age on the biggest stage of European basketball has to offer, even if they come from countries that don’t currently have a club in the EuroLeague. Czech Jan Vesely played with Serbian club Partizan at the 2010 Final Four and Croatia’s Roko Ukic was a member of Spanish side Tau Ceramica at the 2006 Final Four.
On the other hand, Nikola Mirotic was an important member of Real Madrid and played in two Final Fours, Pau Gasol and Hedo Turkoglu faced each other for Barcelona and Efes Istanbul at the 2000 Final four and Marco Belinelli played the 2004 title game with Fortitudo Bologna.
This year’s Final Four features a plethora of talented players who are ready to compete against anyone. Ljubljana-born Luca Doncic, who just turned 18, is the reigning Rising Star Trophy winner and has ensured a regular spot with Real Madrid. And Dimitrios Agravanis and Nikola Milutinov of Olympiacos are just 22 and could be difference makers at this Final Four.
|Alex Abrines||Barcelona||2013 (4th), 2014 (3rd)|
|Ricky Rubio||Barcelona||2010 (1st)|
|Kostas Papanikolaou||Olympiacos||2012 (1st), 2013 (1st)|
|Nick Calathes||Panathinaikos||2011 (1st)|
|Antonis Fotsis||Panathinaikos||2000 (1st), 2001 (2nd)|
|Jan Vesely||Partizan||2010 (4th)|
|Roko Ukic||Tau Ceramica||2006 (4th)|
|Nikola Mirotic||Real Madrid||2011 (4th), 2013 (2nd)|
|Pau Gasol||Barcelona||2000 (4th)|
|Hedo Turkoglu||Efes Pilsen||2000 (3rd)|
|Marco Belinelli||Fortitudo Bologna||2004 (2nd)|
|Dimitrios Agravanis||Olympiacos||2015 (2nd)|
|Nikola Milutinov||Olympiacos||2015 (1st)|