Being the best young player in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is almost always an early achievement for a player who goes on to have a long, successful career. There have been 11 EuroLeague Rising Stars to date. Six of them – Bogdan Bogdanovic, Luka Doncic, Erazem Lorbek, Rudy Fernandez, Kostas Papanikolaou and Ricky Rubio – won the EuroLeague title. All others had or are still having remarkable careers, such as Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari, Novica Velickovic, Alex Abrines and Nikola Mirotic. Bogdanovic, Mirotic and Doncic won the Rising Star award twice. This season, all players born on July 1, 1996, or later are eligible for the prize. Who will get the Rising Star trophy? As always, we have some ideas here at EuroLeague.net. Let’s find out who the top candidates are entering the season!
10. Aleksa Ilic, Buducnost VOLI Podgorica (1996)
An interesting forward with great upside, Ilic already sees significant playing time. Last season, Ilic showcased his talent in the 7DAYS EuroCup, averaging 3.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 14 games. It was his third season in the competition and things can only get better from now on as he tests his skills against the best big men in European basketball. A good rebounder with great timing and feel for the game, he will definitely help Buducnost a lot this season.
9. Deni Avdija, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (2001)
Born a few months before the first-ever EuroLeague game was played, Avdija already made his first-team debut with Maccabi last season and should see more playing time from now on. Avdija had an interesting summer, averaging 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds and leading Israel to a gold medal at the 2018 U20 European Championships. Maccabi will be cautious with him but he has the talent, determination and winning mentality required to be a good player at any level.
8. Tadas Sedekerskis, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (1998)
Having debuted at age 18 and played 13 games off the bench already for Baskonia two seasons ago, small forward Tadas Sedekerskis has as much EuroLeague experience already as almost any player on this list. Now back to the team after a season on loan, the challenge of winning minutes remains, but Sedekerskis, now 20, has already been there and done that. He offers Baskonia a mix of driving skills and all-around play that makes him an easy choice in the right moment, and one who already knows the competition first-hand.
7. Egehan Arna, Fenerbahce Istanbul (1997)
He began to play for Fenerbahce at age 7, reached his team’s first roster, and now hopes to start helping the team on a regular basis. Tall and quick, Arna is a mismatch at the small forward position, where he can learn from one of the best players at his position, Gigi Datome. Arna needs to improve his effectiveness and shot selection, and even when it will be hard to get quality playing time in such a strong team as Fenerbahce, he has the fire inside of defending a team he has played for since he was a kid.
6. Aleix Font, FC Barcelona Lassa (1998)
Font made sure he would get quality playing time in Barcelona this season – and did it the hard way, earning it on the court in limited playing time. He had 8 points and showed great character in a pre-season loss against Morabanc Andorra. Font has played in every game after that, even in Barcelona’s first official showdown against KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz in the Spanish Supercup. A good scorer with no fear and great determination, Font is already a fan favorite wanting to be more and more important for coach Svetislav Pesic.
5. Santi Yusta, Real Madrid (1997)
Slowly but steadily, Yusta is earning playing time with the reigning EuroLeague champions. Yusta averaged 2.4 points in 16 EuroLeague games last season but did much better – with extended playing time – in the Spanish League, totaling 150 points in 32 games. A good three-point shooter, Yusta runs the floor well for a player his size, is a good finisher around the rim – even with dunks in traffic – and is a great on-the-ball defender who never lacks intensity.
4. Petar Popovic, Buducnost VOLI Podgorica (1996)
A combo guard, Popovic is set to provide instant offense for Buducnost in the club’s return to the competition for the first time since 2003. Last season, Popovic averaged 4.1 points in 13 7DAYS EuroCup games, but he is already seeing extra playing time. In the Adriatic Supercup, Popovic scored 14 points in 20 minutes in the semifinals against Partizan NIS Belgrade. Despite featuring a backcourt led by Nikola Ivanovic and Edwin Jackson, Popovic will see playing time and could be a pleasant surprise this season.
3. Yovel Zoosman, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (1998)
He was already a regular member of the team last season, averaging 1.8 points in 14 EuroLeague games, but Zoosman is hungry and in the right environment to keep growing as a player. Zoosman was chosen as the Israeli League rising star last season. This summer, he led Israel to win the U20 European Championships, averaging 14.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals as that tournament’s MVP. Expect Zoosman to see significant playing time this season – and him to make the most out of this opportunity.
2. Laurinas Birutis, Zalgiris Kaunas (1997)
A left-handed big man with outstanding rebounding skills, Birutis will try to work his way into Zalgiris’s rotation. Last season, his second in the Lithuanian League, Birutis averaged 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks, earning MVP and best young player honors. He has already made his Lithuanian national team debut and Zalgiris has brought him back after his great season with Siauliai. Expect him to showcase his post skills, strength and will on all EuroLeague courts next season.
1. Georgios Papagiannis, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (1997)
Unlike most Rising Star candidates, Papagiannis has a lot of experience after playing 39 NBA games over the last two seasons. He is very dangerous in the low post, making the most out of his 2.20-meter size and soft touch around the baskets. His signature move is the right-handed jump hook but is also a great offensive rebounder who can find good scoring opportunities in pick-and-roll situations. Papagiannis returns to the EuroLeague ready to be an important player in the competition.