During the weekend of October 27th to 29th, the inaugural three gamedays of the Rising Stars U18 tournament took place in Greece, featuring matchups in multiple venues across Athens and Thessaloniki. A total of 18 thrilling games unfolded during this action-packed weekend, showcasing a crop of promising young prospects who truly shone with their exceptional performances. In this report, we will take a closer look at the standout talents from the first weekend of action.

Lefteris Liotopoulos (G, 194cm/6’4, 2006, DEKA – 10Academy)

Liotopoulos had an impressive performance during the first weekend of the Rising Stars U18 tournament. He averaged 37 points (5.5/9.5 – 57.9% 2PTS, 6.5/11 – 59.1% 3PTS, 6.5/7.5 – 86.7% FT), along with 4.5 rebounds, 4 assists (2.5 TO), 1.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks in 32 minutes and 30 seconds of play over his two games (he missed one). The recent St. John’s commit stands out as a scoring guard, showcasing his ability to score in various ways, with a particular emphasis on his efficient three-point shooting. He even demonstrated this skill on second-sequence fast breaks. When driving to the basket, he does so aggressively and decisively, showing no fear of contact. His strong core and above-average athleticism contribute significantly to his success, helping him initiate fast breaks with his acceleration and fluidity. While he primarily operates as a ball-handler making decisions, he has limited experience as an off-ball player, an aspect he may need to develop further since he may not have the same high usage at St. John’s. Liotopoulos also participates in Greece’s National League 1, where he not only leads his team but also the group, in which his team participates, in scoring, boasting an average of 28.3 points per game over three matches.

Panagiotis Pagonis (PF, 202cm/6’7, 2006, AONS Milon)

Pagonis has been an outstanding player for AONS Milon, making a significant impact in both the qualification round and regular season. In the qualification round, he averaged 21.3 points (64.7% – 6.3/9.7 -2PTS, 21.9% – 1/4.6 3PTS and 59.7% – 5.7/9.3 FT), 13.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1 block per game over 7 games. In the regular season, he continued to shine, averaging 26 points (60.3% – 7.6/12.6 2PTS, 39.4% – 1.3/3.3 3PTS, 70.9% – 6.6/9.3 FT) 15.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks per game over 3 games.

Pagonis is an agile and versatile forward with excellent mobility. He excels in running the floor both with and without the ball, often initiating fast breaks after securing rebounds. His mobility and acceleration allow him to penetrate to the rim effectively, even against bigger opponents. Pagonis also shows confidence in his three-point shooting, with a fluid and quick shot mechanic and release.

Defensively, Pagonis stands out as a tenacious rebounder, and he also displays shot-blocking skills under the rim and in close-range situations. Additionally, he can effectively defend guards after switching on Pick and Rolls. Pagonis’s well-rounded game and ability to impact both ends of the floor make him an intriguing prospect.

Giannis Maragkoudakis (G, 181cm/5’11, 2006, Peristeri)

Standing at 181cm (5’11), Maragkoudakis is a dynamic point guard known for his scoring and playmaking abilities. In the three games he’s played, he’s averaged an impressive 23.3 points (9.7/17 – 56.9% 2PTS, 0.3/2.3 – 14.3% 3PTS, 3/5 – 60% FT), 3.3 rebounds, 7 assists (3.7 TO), and 1.7 steals in 33:18 of playing time, leading his team in both points and assists.

Maragkoudakis excels at driving to the basket (his floater is efficient, and he is never reluctant on it), utilizing his speed and agility to navigate past defenders, either big men or guards. His finishing skills around the rim, particularly in pick and roll situations, are remarkable. Transition offense is another strength, as he actively pushes the tempo. However, his three-point shooting needs improvement, as he is reluctant and seems not to be confident in it. His shooting mechanic is rather slow and non-fluid. While he’s primarily a point guard, his style leans more towards a shooting guard. Despite his strong assist numbers, he faces challenges in creating open looks for his teammates on the international U18 stage.

The key question for Maragkoudakis is whether he can maintain his high level of playmaking and adapt to the international stage against bigger and more athletic opponents. His leadership and scoring ability are evident, but he needs to work on expanding his playmaking skills and improving his three-point shooting to reach his full potential.

Anastasis Rozakeas (F, 203cm/6‘8, 2006, Olympiacos)

Rozakeas stood out for Olympiacos during the first weekend of games of the Rising Stars U18. Averaging 17.7 points (56.2% – 3/5.3 2PTS, 33.3% – 2.7/8 3PTS, 68.8% – 3.7/5.3 FT), 6.7 rebounds (including 5.3 offensive rebounds), 3 assists (1 TO), 1 steal in 32:30 of playing time.

Standing at 203cm/6’8 Rozakeas is a versatile and mobile forward with capabilities in scoring, playmaking and defense. On the offensive end, Rozakeas shone with an average of 17.7 points, displaying proficiency in both inside and outside scoring. He exhibited a strong shooting game, with a 56.2% success rate on 2-pointers and a 33.3% on 3-pointers (in 8 3PA per game). Additionally, he actively contributed on the boards, securing 6.7 rebounds per game, playing a key role in fast-break opportunities he himself initiated.

What sets Rozakeas apart is his court vision and precise passing ability, evident in his 3 assists with just 1 turnover, resulting in a remarkable 21.99% assist percentage. This versatility extends to his defensive prowess, where his length and agility make him an effective perimeter defender.

Alexandros Alexakis (G, 192cm/6’4, 2007, Peristeri)

Alexakis is of the best prospects of his generation in Greece and shows this at the beginning of the 2023/2024 season. In the first three games of the Rising Stars U18 season he averages 18.7 points (54.5% – 6/11 2PTS, 14.3% – 4/28 3PTS, 57.1% – 2.7/4.7 FT), 4.3 rebounds, 1 assist (0.7 TO), 1.3 steal in 33:20 minutes of playing time.

Alexakis primarily functions as a secondary offensive option, but his contributions are highly valuable. Offensively, he stands out with his proficiency in dribble penetration and transition scoring. His remarkable physical attributes, including a strong upper body, enable him to excel in attacking the rim with ease. Alexakis moves gracefully, applying pressure on the rim and adeptly finishing plays in challenging traffic situations, fearlessly absorbing contact. He also demonstrates trust in his three-point shooting and frequently makes effective cuts to the basket. On the defensive end, Alexakis proves to be a versatile contributor. He capably handles individual matchups and displays skill in switching onto forwards and centers during screen actions. He is unafraid to put his body on the line for defensive efforts, and his active hands make him a formidable defender both on and off the ball. Additionally, he secures an average of 4.3 rebounds per game, ranking third on his team.

Although his three-point shooting percentage might appear modest, Alexakis is a decent shooter from beyond the arc. In the previous Rising Stars U18 (2022/2023 through 12 games), he averaged 37.5% (37.5% – 1.5/4) from the three-point range. Similarly, in the European U16 Championship in Skopje (through 7 games), he maintained a 35.4% shooting percentage (35.4% – 2.4/6.9).