2015 U18's Australian Junior Championship Preview

The U18's Australian Junior Championships begin this weekend in Ballarat, Victoria, with some of the country's brightest young stars taking the court.

Photo credit: Basketball Australia/Kangaroo Photos

Last year's U18's tournament saw VIC Metro defeat a tough NSW Country side in the Men's Championship game while the Women's Championship game saw VIC Metro defeat their Country counterparts.


Players to Watch

Men

William McDowell-White | Queensland North

After a year of absence from National Championship basketball, William McDowell-White returns to wearing Queensland's maroon jersey. However, instead of representing Queensland South (as he had in previous years), he'll be representing Queensland North in this tournament - a move that suddenly makes his squad one of the favourites to win it all. McDowell-White is one of the most dynamic athletes in the country and will provide a great two-man combo with fellow Australian representative, Harry Froling. The 6'5 guard was extremely impressive at last year's adidas Nations Global event and will likely be a triple-double threat throughout the tournament.

Deng Gak/Adam Lulka | NSW Metro

Deng Gak | Credit: Basketball Australia/Kangaroo Photos

Deng Gak | Credit: Basketball Australia/Kangaroo Photos

Although NSW Metro will be missing Isaac Humphries in this tournament, they will still fare well in the front-court, thanks to Deng Gak and Adam Lulka. The 6'10 Gak has seen his development improve immensely since joining the Centre of Excellence at the beginning of last year - ultimately being named to the 16-man Australian U19 Squad this past week. He's an impressive athlete and provides some great length on both ends of the floor. At 6'7, Lulka is an impressive finisher in the post and has a good touch around the rim. Both players will prove to be a force inside the paint so look for NSW Metro to feed their bigs early and often.

Angus Glover/Matt Kenyon | NSW Country

NSW Country has been a consistent force in these junior tournaments and that's not likely to change this year, with recent Australian U19 squad invitees Angus Glover and Matt Kenyon leading the charge. Glover has been on the fringe of a number of Australian representative teams and is one of the more impressive shooters at this event. Kenyon is an extremely intriguing prospect, with a recent growth spurt adding another element to his game. He has an improving jumpshot and uses his athleticism well on both ends of the floor. 6'5 power forward Myles Cherry and the ever-improving Makuach Maluach will man the paint for NSW Country, opening up the floor for their guards. Both Glover and Kenyon were members of last year's silver medal winning U18 squad, as well as the gold medal winning U16 squad in 2013, so look for them to lead this year's team in what's expected to be another successful event for NSW Country.

Harry Froling | Queensland North

Harry Froling | Credit: Basketball Australia, via FIBA

Harry Froling | Credit: Basketball Australia, via FIBA

At every Junior Championship event that Harry Froling has been a part of, he's consistently emerged as one of the most productive players. This event should prove to be no different. At 6'10, Froling is one of the most imposing big-men in the tournament and possesses an impressive inside-out game. As a key member of last year's Australian U17 squad, Froling averaged 7.1 ppg and 3.1 rpg - a performance that has seen him named to the recent Australian U19 squad for the upcoming training camp. Froling will benefit most from the penetration and distribution of McDowell-White, as well as 5'10 point guard Tendekai Machando.

Gabe Hadley | Victoria Metro

In what is considered a weak year for VIC Metro - relative to previous years - the squad receives a big lift from new-comer, Gabe Hadley. Hadley has an incredible knack for scoring the ball and is one of the smoothest jump-shooters in the country. The 6'3 guard has represented Tasmania for the most-part of his junior career but a recent move to Melbourne has seen him inserted into this year's VIC Metro lineup. Hadley has been described to me as "one of the most coachable guards in the country" so it'll be interesting to see how he develops over time.

Tom Fullarton | Queensland South

Tom Fullarton is one of the new members of this year's Centre of Excellence squad and, with the departure of William McDowell-White, will be one of the key players for Queensland South. At 6'5, Fullarton has great size for a wing and excels at finishing at the rim. After averaging 14.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg at last year's U16 Australian Junior Championships, Fullarton will be looking to carry that form over to this year's tournament.


Women

Anneli Maley | Victoria Metro

Anneli Maley | Credit: Kangaroo Photography and Basketball Australia

Anneli Maley | Credit: Basketball Australia/Kangaroo Photos

As one of the more accomplished players heading into the tournament, Anneli Maley continues to makes huge strides in her game. Maley was a key member of last year's gold medal winning VIC Metro squad, averaging 15.6 ppg and 10.9 rpg, ultimately being named our Tournament MVP. As one of the most athletic players in the country, Maley is an extremely impressive rebounder and will look to use her versatility to impact both ends of the floor.

Morgan Yaeger | South Australia Metro

South Australia's Metro squad had an impressive run to the semifinal in last year's event, with Morgan Yeager playing an important part for that team achieving its 4th place finish. Since that event, Yaeger has represented the country as a part of the Australian U17 Women's team, as well as seeing her recruitment pick up. At 5'9, Yaeger is one of the most capable guards heading into the tournament, with a great perimeter game to go with her court awareness.

Chantel Horvat | Victoria Country

Chantel Horvat had an impressive showing at last year's U18 Australian Junior Championship, despite being one of the youngest players in the tournament. She averaged 11.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg as she helped lead VIC Country to the Championship game. A 6'2 wing, Horvat has emerged as one of the most impressive athletes in the country and has a great touch around the rim. As a member of the Australian U19 Gem's squad for the FIBA Oceania U19 Championship at the end of last year, this tournament will prove to be extremely important for Horvat who will be looking to remain in that squad for the FIBA U19 World Championship later this year.

Mackenzie Hoycard | WA Country

Mackenzie Hoycard put up some extremely impressive numbers at last year's U18's Australian Junior Championship and will be looking to bring that same form to this year's event. Most notably, Hoycard had a 22 point, 27 rebound and 7 block performance that put her on everyone's radar. The 6'3 big does the majority of her work inside the paint but isn't afraid to step out and work from the perimeter. Hoycard will play a big part in whether WA Country is competitive in this tournament.

Ezi Magbegor | Victoria Metro

Ezi Magbegor | Credit: Basketball Australia/Kangaroo Photo's

Ezi Magbegor | Credit: Basketball Australia/Kangaroo Photos

At 6'4, Ezi Magbegor is one of the most imposing front-court players in the tournament and, if her showing at last year's U16 Australian Junior Championships is anything to go by, she'll be an important piece of this year's VIC Metro squad. Magbegor's incredible length and timing makes her one of the best rim protectors at the tournament, with opposing offences reluctant to attack the paint due to her presence. Her immense potential earned her a scholarship to the Centre of Excellence this year and, by all accounts, she's already made a lot of improvement since beginning her time at the institute.


Predictions

Men

There are a few teams in the Men's division that can make some noise in this year's tournament. Queensland North's addition of William McDowell-White automatically puts them amongst the front-runners to win the Championship while NSW Country are coming in with a very deep and seasoned squad.

NSW Metro may be able to make some noise due to their impressive front-court and Queensland South may also be able to compete if Tom Fullarton, Will Magnay, and dynamic point guard Verle Williams play to their potential.

Queensland North gets our nod as the favourite to win the tournament. NSW Country has great depth and toughness but the star power of Queensland North may prove to be too much.

Women

Just like last year's tournament, the likely Championship game will be between the two Victorian sides. VIC Metro has once again put forth a strong team with seemingly no weakness at any position while VIC Country has brought back a lot of last year's silver medal winning squad.

Despite having no standout players, NSW Metro may be able to compete due to their depth and outside shooting ability while South Australia's Metro squad, led by Morgan Yaeger, might also be a dark horse entering the tournament.

VIC Metro has a history of winning in these Junior Championship events and this year would seem to be no different. Their size is seemingly unmatched and, with Maddison Rocci running the point, they'll be able to run teams out of the gym.


The tournament will run from the 11-18 April, with the games being played at both the Minerdome Sports Club and the Wendouree Sports and Events Centre.

View the official tournament draw here.

LIVE STATS for the event can be found here.