By Matt Clear | @matt_clear
Last summer, Steve Bucknall’s first campaign as England under-18 coach was a turbulent one. Hit by high-profile absences, an unprecedented series of injuries, and rumblings of discontent from some players and parents, the team could only finish 14th.
This time guard Mo Soluade is the only significant injury absentee, and the build-up has been a quiet affair. Let’s hope silence is golden.
The team will be mostly comprised of last year’s promotion-winning under 16 side, with a few 1994-born holdovers (though for the second year in a row, multi-talented guard Josh Ward-Hibbert is not among them).
England have notched up some impressive wins, including victory over Division A side and Future Stars tournament winner Ukraine, but have also dropped games to Division B foes Belgium and the Netherlands.
Point guard. Jordan Spencer is the team’s best defensive player, with quick hands and a knack for anticipating what his opponents’ next move will be. Tyrell Isaacs is fearless going to the basket, and is crafty enough to get his shot off against bigger players or at least get to the line.
Shooting guard. Luke Nelson is a slasher who looks most comfortable when trying to beat his man off the dribble. In Soluade’s absence, he’ll likely be relied upon to provide plenty of points. Dwayne Orija brings defense and ball-handling to the side.
Small forward. Elliott Sentence is a knock-down shooter from 25 feet in. He can struggle when asked to create his own shot, but won’t be asked to do that much for this England team. The super-athletic Rowell Graham is an excellent rebounder and should provide some highlight-reel dunks.
Power forward. US-based Lucas Stivrins is a fundamentally sound player who moves very well, but his slight frame sometimes stops him from using his height to its full advantage. England’s other fours, Ben Mead and Tamas Okros, are a little undersized for the position and will see some time at small forward too. Mead is a good outside shooter, while Okros has a good nose for a rebound.
Centre. Kingsley Okoroh (pictured, right) will anchor the team’s defense, and the 7’0″ centre could very well lead the tournament in rebounds and blocks, as he did last year at under-16 level. David Sainsbury-Garcia is a good rebounder and solid passer out of the post, and England will likely run offense through him at times. Legend Robertin is still learning how to play, but he has good hands for a big man. His 7-foot frame makes opponents think twice about going near the basket, even if he doesn’t yet have the timing to be a great shotblocker.
England’s 1995s will remember Naor Sharon from last year’s semi-final matchup, and the talented guard will likely be a big factor for Israel once again. Like the Israelis, Hungary and Romania will bring in strong crops of 1995-born players, while Belarus are an unknown quantity, having not fielded teams at under-16 or under-18 level last year. Scotland are unlikely to pose much of a threat, but England will have to be wary of do-it-all forward Matt Wilcox, who has been impressive in warm-ups.
Promotion will be a big ask for this young side – advancing from the first group stage would be a significant improvement on last year’s finish and would set things up nicely for a promotion push next year. The key will be how the team adjusts to two big changes – the loss of Soluade and the addition of Okoroh, who has missed most of the warm-ups while at school in America.
What do you think about England’s chances? Let us know in the comments!
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