Young talent shows promise

Greece defeated Estonia 87-59 late Tuesday night at the men’s Under-18 European Basketball Championship in Madrid to maintain its unbeaten run at the tournament. The Greek team was due to meet France, the defending champion, late last night seeking victory for joint top spot in Group E. Latvia defeated Turkey 73-68 earlier yesterday to take a clear lead – with a game in hand – in the group with four wins from as many games. Of the tournament’s 16 qualifiers, which were divided into four groups, the top three teams from each group advanced to second-round group play. The 12 teams through to the second stage have been divided into two groups. Greece defeated Turkey, Israel and Bulgaria to capture top spot in its group in the first stage and went into last night’s encounter against France, the defending champion, with three wins from as many games in its second-stage group. The top two teams from the competition’s two second-stage groups advance to the semifinals, scheduled for this Saturday. Tonight, Greece plays its final group game against Latvia in a game likely to determine top spot in the group. Greece dominated most of the play against Estonia for its 18-point win on Tuesday night. Costas Koufos, one of Greece’s star performers at the tournament, led the scoring with 23 points and registered eight rebounds. The Greek team began strongly with a 9-0 run to indicate that a walkover was in the making. But Estonia clawed back from a 13-point deficit to trail by just two points. Greece led 27-18 at the end of the first quarter, but Estonia outscored its opponent 17-12 in the second quarter to trail 39-35 at halftime. Koufos, a dominant figure in the first quarter, was kept quiet by Estonia’s defense for the second-quarter comeback. Greece took command early in the third period with a 13-2 run for a big 52-37 lead. Koufos was back in the action, and added to his tally with a couple of spectacular slam dunks. Greece was also dominant in the fourth period to outscore Estonia 22-13 for its 87-59 victory. Greece’s best ever outing at Under-18 level dates back to 1970 when the national team ended second. The Greek side has also ended third on three occasions, at successive tournaments in 1998, 2000, and 2002, but since failed to win a medal at the 2004, 2005 and 2006 tournaments.