Ed’s note: Yes, we know we’re late but then again, international coverage isn’t our forte.

Hoops aren’t dead at this time of the year after all. There’s some really good basketball being played in Poland where the 2009 EuroBasket takes place. Although Italy and the Raptors due of Bargnani and Belinelli didn’t qualify for the tournament there are some players that Raptors fans should be paying attention to. Hedo Turkoglu is the most known of that group but names like Roko Ukic, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Uros Slokar, Primoz Brezec and Jorge Garbajosa should also sound familiar.

The tournament gives six tickets to the 2010 World Championship and Turkey is already there because they will be hosting the show. After almost one week competition, four teams are out of action. The first round was over quickly and Israel, Bulgaria, Latvia and Great Britain went home.

In Group A, Greece showed that despite the absence of Diamantidis and Papaloukas and a coaching change, they’re still an excellent team. Former Rockets Vasileios Spanoulis lead the team to an undefeated first round. FYR of Macedonia surprised some people beating the young and talented Israel squad and advancing to the next round. Croatia displayed great team basketball but couldn’t beat undefeated Greece.

Israel was the biggest disappointment of the tournament. Despite the absence of first round pick Omri Casspi, the young core of Lior Eliyahu and Yothan Halperin (both second round picks in 2007) were expected to at least beat Macedonia.

In Group B, Parker, Turiaf, Diaw and Batum were too much for a Kirilenko-less Russian team and a very weak Germany. Latvia was the other early disappointment finishing last despite having rebounding machine Andris Biedrins and former boxer Kaspars Kambala in their frontcourt.

In Group C, the young and talented Serbia was the biggest surprise beating an insanely deep Spain team in the first game. Slovenia, as always, brought a team full of elite players but only two NBAers, Goran Dragic and Primoz Brezec. Beno Udrih injured his leg in a friendly match and Sasha Vujacic left the team before the tournament. They are always contenders with players like Smodis, Lorbek and Nachbar and they proved it in the first round.

Spain is still trying to find some rhythm. After losing the opening game, they beat shorthanded Great Britain and managed to win against Slovenia in OT, but such a talented team should have passed the first round with ease. Great Britain severely missed Luol Deng and Ben Gordon as Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Robert Archibald were simply not enough to see them through.

In Group D played the most surprising team of the week, Turkey. Led by Hedo Turkoglu, they had no problems winning the first three games by playing arguably the best basketball of the tournament. The Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova led the team in scoring and rebounding. Turkoglu, without putting big numbers, managed to control the game from his classic point forward position.

Poland, the local team, showcased their three-headed monster and beat Lithuania and Bulgaria. With Magic’s Marcin Gortat and Maciej Lampe (both in the top ten in scoring and rebounding average) Poland displayed the best offensive paint game of the first round. David Logan is their playmaker and led the team in assists per game.

Lithuania is still suffering the absences of legendary PG Sarunas Jasikevicuis, elite shooting guards Kaukenas and Macijauskas and fomer Euroleague MVP Ramunas Siskaukas. Only one thing to say about Bulgaria: By far the worst team in the tournament.

The second round has two groups of six teams where four of each group advance to the quarter-finals. Teams don’t play against each other if they faced in the first round. With only one game left to be played in Group E and two in Group F, France, Turkey and Greece are already qualified for the quarter-finals.

France remains solid and undefeated behind the power of Turiaf, the scoring presence of Parker and the finesse of Diaw. After a strong first round, Crotia lost the first two games and needs a win against Germany to advance. Russia beat Croatia and Greece and is almost in the quarter-finals. Germany and FYR of Macedonia seems to be the odd teams out.

Group F is more complicated. Right now every team could potentially be in the next round. Lithuania is in a free fall and only a Wild Card (which they’ll probably get) will allow them to be in Turkey.
Hedo’s team kept surprising everybody and beat a disappointing Spanish team. Poland lost to Serbia and now it’s going to be very difficult for them to advance.

Raptors Related Players

  • Hedo Turkoglu is leading Turkey in every non-statistical aspect, making plays and closing games for the surprise team of the week. As I said before, he’s not putting big numbers (only 10.5 PPG) but he’s clearly the soul of the team.
  • Giorgios Printezis: The former second round pick by the Raptors plays for Greece and is serving as a back up SF and PF. He’s doing OK, not great ot bad, just OK averaging 6.4 PPG and 2.2 RPG off the bench.
  • Roko-Leni Ukic: The former Raptor is having an irregular tournament. He put some good numbers in a few games and disappeared in others. He’s not expected to lead his team because Croatia has very good and veteran players but he’s one of the many weapons this team has. That being said, 10.4 PPG and 2.8 APG are not bad.
  • Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Fan favorite Mensah-Bonsu lead Great Britain in scoring with 13.3 PPG. He did his best to carry the team but the absence of some key players and a very strong Group C kept him and his team out of the second round. There were rumors around the tournament that he wasn’t physically 100%.
  • Jorge Garbajosa: Only 1.5 PPG in 2 GP.
  • Primoz Brezec: 6 PPG for the 29 year-old center recently acquired by the 76ers.
  • Uros Slokar: 5.5 PPG but also 2 Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision.
  • Robert Archibald: Solid tournament for the Unicaja Malaga’s center. A good complement to Pops in the boards and in defense

Some Random Stuff

  • Lior Eliyahu is going to be an extraordinary player; he’s very similar to Ilyasova in the style of play. The former AP’s teammate in Maccabi is very agile for a PF and very long for a SF. Along with Halperin and Casspi they were unstoppable in the U-21 and U-19 tournaments. Israel is a team to look in the future. The rights of Eliyahu belong to the Rockets, Casspi has been drafted this year by Sacramento in the first round and Halperin was a second round pick by the Thunder.
  • Goran Dragic has a lot of potential. Despite an irregular rookie season for the Suns, he has the potential to become a starting PG in the NBA, a solid back up to Nash next season.
  • Croatia’s team basketball style is a beautiful thing to watch.
  • Ricky Rubio processes the game a second earlier than everybody else. At only 18 years of age the kid is the starting PG for one of the best teams in the world.
  • Bostjan Nachbar has proven to be a better SF than Kleiza in this tournament. He was a much cheaper option in this offseason.
  • Rudy Fernandez is the only player in the world with a style of play similar to Manu Ginobili.
  • Marcin Gortat proved he can play but not at the level of the money he will earn next season, he still is insanely overpaid.
  • Andris Biedrins is a beast, the best young center in Europe but Gortat can really catch up in this tournament.
  • It’s a true shame that Italy didn’t qualify, they are clearly better than Bulgaria, Great Britain, Macedonia, Israel and Latvia. I would have been nice to see Bargniani and Belinelli playing at this level.
  • Kaspars Kambala is huge, try to google him and read his incredibly story.
  • France has tons of NBAers in the roster, but they are not the best team.
  • Germany without Nowitzki is absolutely nothing.
  • Nick Cathales and Nando De Colo are going to be a solid back up PG in the NBA in the near future.
  • Three of the top 5 scorers of the tournament were eliminated in the first round. That says a lot about the style of European basketball.
  • Milenko Tepic, Uros Tripkovic and Novica Velickovic are going to put Serbia back on the basketball elite in a few years. And Nenad Krstic is a great mentor for them.
  • Almost 80% of the 22 year-old-or-less centers on the tournament are better than POB.

Thanks for reading.

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