Vladimir Stankovic, legendary sportswriter and master of true sports writing has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than any other journalist, writing for decades about the sport for El Mundo Deportivo and major sports outlets in his native Serbia. He was the first Director of Communication for Euroleague becoming a regular columnist on the Euroleague website, where he published portraits of 100 the most influential players in European basketball. Stankovic quickly followed this with stories of the 30 greatest coaches. He is the author of 9 sporting books including the internationally acclaimed ‘Montevideo, God Bless You’ dedicated to the participation of Serbian football players in the first World Cup in football in 1930 in Uruguay which was turned into a very popular feature film and TV series.
Vladimir talks to Future Stars about the origins of the most important junior tournament in the world, the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, which in fact was his own brainchild.
Well, at the risk of not being too modest, let me explain the history of the Euroleague junior tournament. During the 2002/03 season, with the Final Four in Barcelona in sight, in daily meetings at the Euroleague headquarters we looked for added content to give more importance to the event. In one of these meetings, I presented my idea about creating a junior tournament. FIBA had junior competitions in lower categories but only for national teams, it never (pre)occupied itself with clubs. My idea was accepted, we invited eight elite clubs: AEK Athens, CSKA Moscow, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Pau Orthez, Olimpia Ljubljana, Barcelona, KK Zagreb and Zalgiris Kaunas. The first champion was Zalgiris, who got beat Maccabi in the final 87-80. Zalgiris was led by Jonas Maciluis, later a Lithuanian and European basketball star. For CSKA boasted Nikita Kurbanov and Anton Ponkrashev.
The tournament was a great success and it was logical to continue for the next few years.
The second important step, of which I am also proud, occurred in 2007. I was no longer working directly for Euroleague, but my relations with my former company have been, and are, excellent. It occurred to me to establish a qualification system instead of direct invitations. Before talking to Jordi Bertomeu, CEO of Euroleague, I spoke with Nebojsa Covic, president of FMP Belgrade, a club that had a good youth team. I asked him if he could organize a junior tournament. With his “yes”, I presented my proposal to Jordi Bertomeu with the idea of putting the traditional tournament in Hospitalet into the system. With his impeccable instinct, Jordi accepted at once. So, we started. Tournaments soon appeared in Kaunas, Rome, France, lately in Valencia or Munich … At least 24 teams, sometimes 32, go through the preliminary phase. Champions get a ticket for the Final Eight, that is played during the senior Final Four. The other participants are chosen by Euroleague with a “wild-card”. My idea, over the years, became a true European junior club championship.
There is a long list of players who participated in this tournament and later ended up in the NBA: Donatas Motiejunas, Dario Saric, Luka Doncic, Bogdan Bogdanovic… Many NBA team scouts can miss a senior Final Four game, but they would not dream of missing the junior Final Eight.
Enough with history… This year we already have three champions. Barcelona won in Valencia and Real Madrid won the tournament in Istanbul. The last tournament, played in Belgrade, had a dramatic finale, where Mega defeated Red Star Belgrade 82-80. Nikola Jovic with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists achieved an index of 41. He was MVP of the tournament with an average index of 38. He was not the only standout. The “scouts” have pointed out the name of Tomislav Ivsic, a 2.16m center from Buducnost Podgorica, second by index (31) and first by rebounds (12.75). Djordje Jovanovic from Partizan was third with index 24.25, a good shooter (46.4%) from behing the 3 point line.. He’s also a good rebounder, 6.8 per game. Best assistant in Belgrade was Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Ido Menchel with 7.25 assists per game. The best three point shooter with an astonishing 66.7% accuracy, was Red Star’s Nikola Saranovic.
Joining Jovic on the all-tournament team was teammate Nikola Djurisic, Nikola Saranovic of Zvezda, Dordije Jovanovic of U18 Partizan NIS Belgrade and Tomislav Ivisic from U18 Buducnost VOLI Podgorica.
Djurisic contributed 17 points and 7 rebounds in the first-place game and ended the tournament averaging 19.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.8 steals for a PIR of 22.5. He ranked sixth in points, assists and index rating, and third in steals. Saranovic picked up 19 points and 7 rebounds in a losing effort against Mega. For the tournament, he compiled 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals for a PIR of 24.3. He was third in PIR, ranked first in three-point shooting accuracy (66.7%), seventh in steals and 11th in points. Jovanovic, who helped Partizan to finish third in the tournament, collected 20.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists including 46.4% three-point shooting for a PIR of 24.3. He was third in points and tied for third in index rating and second in free throw accuracy (87.5%). Ivisic, who finished fourth in the tournament with Buducnost, averaged 21.0 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.0 blocks for an index rating of 31.0. He led the tournament in rebounds and blocks and was second in scoring and index rating.
There were more outstanding players, but the real “exhibition” will be in Cologne, during the senior Final Four. So far, in this edition, 34 clubs from 9 countries have participated. A true “fair” of talents and stars of the future.
The Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Cologne will take place from 27-30th May 2021.