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Final for the ages tops U19 Worlds storylines
REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - The 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship was packed with history, drama, laughs, thrills and wow moments. In the end the United States defeated Croatia to repeat their title and capture crown number six. But plenty of happened before the end of the nine-day tournament.
Here is a look back at eight of the top storylines of the tournament.
Under-manned Croatia almost did it
It was truly a final for the ages. Sure the match-up between the United States and Croatia wasn't the prettiest of games. But my oh my was it filled with drama. The United States were looking to become the first repeat champion since the Americans did it in 1983. Croatia were appearing in their first U19 final and running on fumes without three of their planned starting five (more on one of them in a second).
Croatia successfully slowed the game down and played their deliberate, fundamentally sound basketball and kept up with the United States. Even when the Americans grabbed a 10-point lead in the third quarter, Croatia fought back into the game. And the Europeans even had two free throws with 4.3 seconds left in regulation down by one point. Luka Bozic made the first free throw but missed the second - a shot he will undoubtedly re-live in his nightmares for years.
The United States' relentlessness combined with Croatian captain Marko Arapovic fouling out eventually wore down Croatia, who won the hearts of the fans but lost 79-71 in the U19 Final. The USA prevailed and celebrated their sixth U19 Worlds title while Croatia were joined on the podium by first-timers Turkey, who beat Greece in the Third-Place Game.
Youth being served
It seems fitting that the United States won the title considering they have five players who were playing as underclassmen. Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Terrance Ferguson were born in 1998 while Josh Jackson and Caleb Swanigan are 1997-born players. That means 41.7 percent of the USA team was younger than the allowed limit of 1996-born players. All told, the tournament had 77 such players, making up 40 percent of the total 192 players in the tournament. And many of them - just like the American quintet - played a big role.
Tatum had on highlight reel after another during the tournament as he made plays using his amazing athleticism against opponents. But the top highlight of the tournament saw him get stuffed at the rim by Croatian Nik Slavica in the Final. It was a highlight for the ages in a final for the games.
Bender heads home over sneaker war
The 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship was supposed to be Dragan Bender's playground. The Croatian star talent was supposed to stamp his name on the global game after dominating the U18 European Championship last summer. But a contractual dispute over shoes ended the 17-year-old's tournament before it even started.
Bender is under contract with Adidas while Croatia's Basketball Federation (HKS) has a long-term deal with Jordan Brand. Bender wanted to play in Adidas and the HKS would not allow it. Neither side would budge - for fear of a hefty fine from their respective shoe company - and Bender ended up leaving Crete after watching the first two group games from the stands. And the crowd was left without seeing Bender one time on the court where he was supposed to dominate.
Onuaku shooting free-throws 'granny style'
News from the United States' training camp before the tournament was that Chinanu Onuaku had been working on shooting free-throws underhanded in an effort to improve his shooting percentage - after he had hit just 47 percent of his foul shots as a freshman at Louisville.
When the USA big man came to the free-throw line for the first time against Iran, the crowd at the Heraklion Arena couldn't believe their eyes when he shot them 'granny style'. Over the course of the tournament, Onuaku shot 10 free throws that way, making six of them - and getting a round of applause from the crowd each time.
Greece were considered podium contenders from the very beginning with a great group of young talent. But those chances went up even higher when they naturalised American Tyler Dorsey just before the start of the tournament. Dorsey gave Greece a game changer, an athletic guard with scoring punch and tough defense on the perimeter. One more than one occasion, him coming into the game changed the dynamic of the contest in favour of the Greeks.
Flaccadori, Marinkovic win it in final second
Of the 56 games, two of them were decided by last-second shots. Italy and Australia were tied in the closing seconds of their Group C game when Diego Flaccadori drove to the basket with his left hand and got a lay-up to fall with 0.9 seconds left for a 69-67 Italian victory.
After losing to Australia in the Round of 16, Serbia were forced into the Classification 9-16 round and ended up playing Argentina for ninth place. The European needed a buzzer-beater three-pointer by Vanja Marinkovic for a 77-76 victory - even though the shot appeared to be released after the buzzer.
While there might not have been many people on hand to watch it, Italy came up with an amazing comeback. They trailed Spain by 24 points after three quarters in the Classification 5-8 round. Italy continually chipped away at the lead and eventually tied it, with the game going to overtime where the Italians went on to win 83-77.
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