TEL AVIV, Israel - Florida Southern College men's basketball sophomore Kai Cleary helped lead his native Great Britain to a quarterfinal appearance at the FIBA U20 Division A European Championships earlier this month. The 16-team tournament took place from July 13-21 in Tel Aviv and featured the top young talent from across Europe.
Despite falling in its three group stage matchups, Great Britain advanced to the quarterfinals thanks to a massive upset of Serbia in the opening round of elimination play. Serbia, which has four top-three finishes and three U20 European titles since 2007, entered the tournament as one of the favorites to win but could not get past Great Britain in a 77-72 upset on July 17 at the Shalom Zysman Sports Hall.
"My experience playing for the Great Britain national team has been amazing," Cleary said. "Ever since I was asked to represent my country, my love for the game of basketball has just increased more and more. I am very proud to be able to put on that jersey and represent not just my country, but my family. It's a culmination of all the hard work put in every day that helps me get better and better all the time.
Cleary saw eight minutes of action off the bench in the win over Serbia and averaged 4.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in five appearances during the tournament. He did not play in two of the three group stage contests but played 17 minutes off the bench against Germany in the quarterfinal loss (81-56). Cleary also played in consolation bracket games against Turley and Croatia, scoring 17 points and hauling in five rebounds against Croatia.
"The European Championships are very intense both mentally and physically as you put in a lot of time scouting other teams, watching film, and playing games every day," Cleary said. "Regardless of the outcome, it was an honor to step on the floor, play the game I love, and represent my country. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it."
Israel came away with this year's U20 championship after taking down Spain in the finals. The Israeli team is the first to win back-to-back titles at the FIBA U20 European Championships since Serbia won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.