In Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, have these Irish players just battled against a future NBA legend?
But before we get into that a bit of perspective, it’s been a long time coming, 7 years to be exact, but Ireland’s win over Denmark at the FIBA u18 European B championships on Thursday broke an 11 game losing streak which preceded the 5 year exile from international competition and the financial collapse of Basketball Ireland. No big deal then. The amount of work that went into this victory cannot be understated, this squad has effectively been involved in a four year preparation program for this competition.
However the next three games didn’t go quite to plan. Versus Portugal on Friday Ireland were totally outplayed in the first and fourth quarters allowing for a comfortable victory for the Portuguese. Many in the Ireland camp might then have cast their eyes towards Saturday’s game against Scotland in their quest for a second victory having defeated the fellow Celtic nation in their previous 9 encounters at this age group. Things couldn’t have started any better when Ireland raced out to an early 17-2 lead and looked in total control. However with 4 Irish starters on the bench Scotland came back to life and would outscore Ireland 23-9 for the rest of the half. The sides went basket for basket for most of the second half and despite Ireland only being down by 2 with 3 minutes to play Scotland made their shots down the stretch to win 70-59.
Today Ireland went up against the favourites for the championship, the Ukraine. Ireland were missing top scorer Sean Flood as he sat out with a blister and Ukraine didn’t seem to take Ireland as a serious threat. Changing their lineup and rotation by leaving top scorer Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk of Cherkaski Mavpy on the bench to start the game and operating a 5 on 5 off substitution pattern. As expected Ukraine won comfortably 87-55 and Mykhailiuk only played 19 minutes, scoring 13 points. The question is did the Irish team just come up against true greatness? Check out this footage of the do-it-all guard from the Nike Hoop Summit:
There are loads of mixtapes out there from players who look spectacular in highlights though so just how good is he? Well he is 1997 born (u17) and is going to Kansas as one of the youngest players in college basketball history, when he finishes his freshman season he will still be 17, nbadraft.net lists his main weakness as:
Mostly related to a lack of potential development. He can do everything so well right now that it’s hard to think he will actually add a great deal to his game. So the challenge will be finding ways to improve.
That’s right, they list his weakness as being too good. He is a predicted future NBA top 10 pick and considered the best prospect to come out of Europe since Ricky Rubio. Yes, Ricky is currently scoring 9ppg on 38% shooting in the NBA but don’t forget how ridiculously good Rubio was at underage level. In the 2006 European Championships Rubio was MVP as he guided Spain to the title. He led the tournament in points, rebounds, assists and steals, notched up two triple doubles, a quadruple double and in the final had one of the best stat lines the tournament has ever seen; 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists and 7 steals. Oh and he also had a 60 foot buzzer beating three pointer to send the game into overtime. No need to reread those last two lines again, you read those stats correctly.
However predicting great things for young European prospects can be a dangerous game. Darko Milicic was picked second overall in the 2003 NBA Draft ahead of the likes of future hall of famers Melo, Wade and Bosh. Darko was expected to be the next great European big man ( Check out Tony Kornheiser and Doc Rivers both claim he will be better than LeBron , Melo and Wade !) but would go on to have an underwhelming NBA career which peaked with an 8ppg/5rpg season with the Timberwolves. It is indicative of Darko’s career that my personal top three Darko highlights have little to do with basketball and in reverse order involve him going into Hulk Hogan mode, the time that Chris Webber was compared to him (skip forward a few mins) and the number one highlight and possibly greatest basketball interview related video clip of all time is his infamous post game referee rant: (Warning NSFW if you can speak Serbian!)
The last time Ireland played in these championships was in 2008 when Jan Vesley was one of the top performers and would go on to be drafted by the Washington Wizards. However his career took more of a Darko trajectory and now finds himself out of the NBA with his most famous moment being that kiss. Whether or not Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will go on to fulfill his potential is anyone’s guess but this crop of Irish players will probably be hoping he goes on to reach the hall of fame so that they might one day have as cool as a story to tell as Emmet Donnelly….