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Ntilikina, Hartenstein and why NBA execs changed their calendars

Frank Ntilikina and Isaiah Hartenstein are just two of the highly-regarded NBA prospects on display at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016.

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A set of recent news bites made NBA executives and scouts start changing their calendars. The NBA scouting community was hesitant about heading to Turkey for the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016. But then came the news.

Frank Ntilikina would be playing for France. The next news was that Kostja Mushidi and Isaiah Hartenstein were included in Germany’s roster. And then Tadas Sedekerskis was released by his Spanish club to play for Lithuania.

There were still questions if Serbian star prospect Borisa Simanic would get a release from his club. But NBA personnel bosses had heard enough - it was time to book tickets to Turkey even though many feared for their safety in the country.

“Gonna be a great tournament in the scariest country on Earth right now,” was one NBA scout’s breakdown of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2016.

Full disclosure, the tournament will be played in the Black Sea vacation resort city Samsun - a 1.5 hour flight east of Istanbul, where most of the political turmoil and terrorist attacks have been focused.

In fact it was the political upheaval in Istanbul this summer that forced European basketball leaders to postpone indefinitely the tournament - originally planned for July 30-August 7 - also due to pressure from players’ parents who feared for the safety of their children.

And it wasn’t until the end of September that the new dates were confirmed - tipping off Friday (December 16) and running until December 22. And still in Samsun.

The FIBA U18 European Championship is always the scouting highlight for NBA personnel of summers in Europe. But would the talent of this tournament stack up to its usually high level?

It was a legitimate question given that the likes of Turkey’s Omer Yurtseven, Richard Freudenberg of Germany, France’s Killian Tillie and Eric Vila of Spain would all miss out - since they are in colleges in the United States with NC State, St John’s, Gonzaga and Texas A&M, respectively. And there was the question if the top teams would be releasing their players in the middle of their seasons.

But a chance to see Ntilikina, Mushidi, Hartenstein, Sedekerskis and Simanic all at one tournament was just too much too pass up. And NBA execs were having their travel secretaries get them flights to Samsun.

NBA scouts want to see Ntilikina - a smooth 6-foot-5 point guard with great playmaking and ball handling skills and terrific understanding of the game - run a team again. The French talent has already shown he belongs at the senior level playing in the Basketball Champions League for SIG Strasbourg. But Ntilikina is playing more of an off guard with Strasbourg.

Mushidi is also playing in the Basketball Champions League for Serbian club Mega Leks Belgrade, showing his creative playing style and all-around strong skill set from the wing. And NBA execs are trying to figure out how his game will translate if he done with his development - especially physically.

Hartenstein is a tremendous physical sight - the tallest player in the tournament at an even 7-foot - and will be a beast when he further bulks up his already solid frame. He offers an enticing mix offensively with a great motor to boot, is a menacing rim protector and also loves the quick outlet pass. NBA execs haven’t seen him play that much since he left Germany last season and did not get much playing time with Lithuanian team Zalgiris Kaunas - also because of a back injury which would have kept him out of the tournament had it been played in the summer.

Sedekerskis is an enticing mix from the wing in a 6-foot-8 package with the ability to handle and pass the ball and play above the rim with a great athletic frame.

Simanic has not really played much this season for Serbian club Red Star so NBA scouts want to see the 6-foot-10 forward once again play big minutes and do his thing - a smooth fluid big man who can stroke it from outside, has a great touch inside, can finish with authority and is a great rim protector on defense. One question is his aggressiveness as he doesn’t show a lot of emotion and seems passive at times.

There is a very big chance that much of that quintet makes up the All-Star Five selection from this tournament when it’s all said and done. But they are far from the only guys to watch in Samsun this week.

Here are two more underage players to watch.

Dzanan Musa - The 17-year-old 6-foot-8 all-around guard has already played for the Bosnia and Herzegovina senior national team and dropped 50 points in a game at the FIBA U17 World Championship 2016, where he was selected for the All-Star Five.

Sekou Doumbouya - Be ready to drool - the Guinea-born French forward does not turn 16 years old until the day after the tournament ends. The 6-foot-8 forward has a tantalizing mix of skills and a great frame and already plays in the French second division ProB.

For those looking to catch the games online, all of the action will be streamed for free on FIBA’s YouTube channel.