As international Basketball tournaments go, the Albert Schweitzer Tournament may fly under the radar of some hoops fans. However, for those who like to keep an eye on roots Basketball, this is an essential tournament and one that has become an unofficial international youth competition of sorts. The gathering takes place every two years at Easter in the German towns of Mannheim and Viernheim and is set to get underway again this weekend.
The 2014 Albert Schweitzer Tournament is taking place between April 19th and 26th and will give Basketball fans a chance to see some of the best young talent on the world stage. The showpiece event collects the best young players from Asia, South America, North America, and of course Europe for an U18 tournament that has been graced by many greats over the years.
Over the last 56 years that the tournament has been held, the event has played host to future Basketball legends such as from the US and beyond. The list reads like a who´s who and contains the likes of Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Vince Carter from the USA, and Arvydas Sabonis, Drazen Petrovic, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Pau Gasol from other parts of the globe.
The 27th edition of the Albert Schweitzer Tournament will once again feature 16 nations, but there are some shake ups in terms of which countries will participate. 2002 and 2008 champions Greece will not be making the journey to Germany, and 2010 champs and regular participants Australia will also be absent. Taking the place of those long time tournament members will be Chile and Bosnia & Herzegovina, both debutants at the AST.
While the FIBA U17 and U19 World Championships are valued highly, the U18 meet in Germany has become something of an unofficial world tournament and each nation will be at full force. Record winners the United States may have lifted the title 10 times, but there has been no success at the tourment since 1996, and although a talented team is heading to Germany this time that drought could continue.
Argentina will lead the South American contingent with Juan Vaulet the standout in the team, while newcomers Chile will be looking to point guard Nicolas Aguirre for inspiration. Argentina will be a threat during the tournament, but it is some of the nations in Europe who will enter the tournament fancying their chances.
Spain for example are the reigning champions, and the country heads into the 2014 AST with several promising youngsters on the rosta, such as Joventut pair Sergi Costa and Marc Bauza. Serbia too will be among the favourites this weekend and although the country has never won the event (Yougoslavia won three times), there are several players from the Crvena Zvezda camp that could pace the team.
Turkey has not won the competition since their solitary success in 2004, but the nation will feel confident with Okben Ulubay and Furkan Korkmaz ready to wear the jersey. A focus on youth talent in Bosnia & Herzegovina is paying dividends as the country will enter the Albert Schweitzer Tournament with a strong lineup and could be dark horses. Sweden too could spring a few surprises, but much will rest on one of the best players at the event, point guard Ludde Hakanson. Slovenia will not be as strong as some of its fellow Baltic nations, but will look to Urban Durnik for power during the weekend.
2006 champs France are not brimmed with top talent at the moment, although there are some standouts making the short journey to Germany such as Cyril Eliezer-Vanerot and Antoine Wallez. Hosts Germany has a nice talent pool to choose from and with Jan-Niklas Wimberg, Niklas Kiel and Andreas Obst on the roster the Germans could be eyeing a maiden AST win.
Unlikely to make a dent at the tournament are England, with the nation sending its first team to the competition for thirty years. However, a growing interest in Basketball in the UK has led to decent talent such as Jules Akodo coming to the fore. Akodo is currently on the roster at Union Olimpija Ljubjlana and will be looking to make a mark this weekend.
China´s love affair with Basketball continues and the Chinese will come in force with the likes of Jinqiu Hu and Hao Fu and Mingzhi Xu ready to take to the court.