The EuroLeague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament has developed into one of the world's most prestigious stops for future stars in basketball. From 2003 onwards, more and more players have used the ANGT to showcase their talents at a young age and gain experience in international club competition. Omri Casspi was the star of his generation in the Maccabi youth system and showed why over two seasons in the ANGT before his career as a professional took off.
Casspi was the youngest player on the U18 Maccabi roster when the team came together for the tournament in Tel Aviv during the 2004 Final Four. The squad was a talented one from which Niv Berkowitz, the youngest son of Israeli basketball legend Miki Berkowitz, and Yoni Nir would go on to have successful professional careers. Nevertheless, it was Casspi who stood out with a game-high 22 points in the opening game against U18 Montepaschi Siena, which featured stars-in-the-making Luigi Datome and Luca Vitali. It would be a short tournament for Maccabi, which lost to Siena and to a stacked U18 FMP Belgrade squad that featured Milos Teodosic, Miroslav Raduljica and Milan Macvan.
A year later, Maccabi was back at the ANGT Finals, this time in Moscow, and there was no doubt who the stars were. Casspi dominated alongside Gal Mekel as Maccabi finished a tiebreaker short of reaching the championship game. Casspi posted 25 points and 7 rebounds to lead Maccabi over U18 Zalgiris Kaunas 92-91 in the opener, but his 28 and 11 were not enough to prevent a 97-94 loss at the hands of Siena in Game 2. The forward posted 28 and 10 in a 58-80 pounding of U18 Prokom Trefl Sopot to give Maccabi a 2-1 record. Zalgiris won the tiebreaker to reach the championship game and send Maccabi home.
That tournament would be the end of Casspi's international junior career. He became a part of the Maccabi rotation in domestic action in 2005-06 and even made his EuroLeague debut with 6 minutes and 1 point in a 66-94 rout of Cibona Zagreb in the Croatian capital. Casspi took a big step forward during a season on loan at Hapoel Galil Elyon and returned to Maccabi to eventually carve out a spot in the starting lineup on a team that played in the 2008 championship game. He remained a key player for Maccabi in 2008-09 before heading overseas for a decade in the NBA. One year ago, Casspi made his long-awaited return to his boyhood club and helped Maccabi get off to a strong start before injuries ended his season in December. If all goes well, a healthy Casspi will be back in the Maccabi lineup next season.