After FIBA restructured some of its continental championships last year, Oceania's finest squads - Australia and New Zealand - took part in the FIBA U18 Asian Championship for the first time in this year's edition. And their debut in the junior Asian fray couldn't have been grander: both squads sliced past the new competition to make the final of the tournament in Nonthaburi, Thailand. And on Friday, it was Australia who repeated the achievements of their senior team at last year's FIBA Asia Cup and came up as victors in the U18 division, too.
The final of FIBA Asia U18 was held at Stadium 29 in Nonthaburi on Friday, August 10, 2018. Australia and New Zealand, familiar neighbours, played a gritty game where the Aussies kept a steady lead, but the Kiwis always stayed close and never allowed their opponents to get comfortable. Australia took a 15-point first quarter lead, but NZ closed the gap to just seven by the end of the third period, before Australia pulled away with a 72-63 win. Koby Stattman scored 17 for the victors, while Maxwell Darling (20), Kruz Ambrose Roger Perrott-Hunt (16), and Flynn Macpherson Cameron (16) carried the scoring load for NZ in the loss.
China exacted revenge on the Philippines to win 76-57 in the bronze medal game, after losing to the same opponent earlier in the group stage. Quanze Wang scored a game-high 27 for China while Jie Xu added 18. Kai Zachary Sotto led Philippines with 16.
India came into this tournament having convincingly won the South Asian Qualifying round of the FIBA U18 Asian Basketball Championship in Dhaka. India was coached by Aman Sharma and will feature exciting young players such as Rajeev Kumar, Prashant Tomar, Harshwardhan Tomar, Seijin Mathew, Princepal Singh, and Rajveer Singh Bhati in their roster. The squad was drawn into Group D of the preliminary round with Chinese Taipei, Korea, and Syria.
In many past tournaments, India has virtually conceded the matchups against the higher-echelon Asian opponents and focused only on the 'winnable' games. But from the first tip against Chinese Taipei in Thailand, it was clear that this team had different ideas. India took an early lead over the team from Taiwan and held a surprising eight-point advantage to begin the fourth quarter. Alas, the famous late-game jitters plaguing Indian basketball struck this team, too, and Chinese Taipei bounced back to eke out a close win, 83-80. Fan Po-Yen Chen and Yan Ting Lin each scored 17 for Chinese Taipei. India were led by Princepal Singh (17) and Seijin Mathew (16).
India needed a win to make it out of the group stage, and they got it in their last preliminary round contest against Syria. The tables were now turned and India were the aggressors, opening with a 27-13 first quarter, leading by 29 at halftime, and cruising to a 100-59 win. Kumar was again India's star man with 32 points to lead all scorers.
The victory meant that India finished at third-place in their group and were awarded a knockout game opportunity to make the top-8. Alas, their pre-quarter final opponent was New Zealand, one of the toughest teams at the tournament. India fearlessly got off to a good start to match NZ 21-21 at the end of the first quarter. But James William Moors (20) and Oscar Frewin Oswald (17) helped NZ stretch their lead over the next two periods to a considerable advantage and eventually settle to a comfortable win, 109-76.
Although they technically couldn't match their 2016 eighth-place finish at this tournament, this was nevertheless a very encouraging outing for Team India's juniors. The team showed great confidence against teams that historically thrash India to smithereens. Even their losses showed promise, like the big lead over Chinese Taipei, the offensive output against Korea, and the positive start versus New Zealand. The big win over Syria was an affirmative announcement that these young players are going to be a problem for Asian opponents in the future.
Averaging 22.0 ppg, Rajeev Kumar finished as the second-leading scorer at the entire tournament! Kumar also chipped in a team-high 3.8 assists per game. Promising big man Princepal Singh nearly averaged a double-double as India's second-leading scorer with 15.5 ppg and leading rebounder (9.8). Pratyanshu Tomar was a strong force on the defensive end and in gathering rebounds all tournament, while Seijin Mathew (10.5 ppg) also played consistently well.
2018 FIBA U18 Asian Championship - Final Standings
- 1. Australia
- 2. New Zealand
- 3. China
- 4. Philippines
- 5. Japan