The U18 Nike International Junior Tournament began on Thursday at the Palau Sant Jordi. Here are notes from days one and two from the event.
Dario Saric helped Zalgiris build a big first half lead on Day 1 against INSEP with a number of impressive plays. He loves to isolate at the top of the key and show off his handle using a crossover to get by opponents. Frequently takes guys off dribble. Made a nice spin move on athletic French forward Libio and followed that up by knocking down top of key 3 in game one. Great feel for the game. An excellent passer. Makes the game look easy. Incredible handle. Huge hands. Aggressive posting up. Missed a few shots late allowing INSEP to creep back in late. Hit an impressive runner in the closing seconds to ice the game.
Mario Hezonja Wearing bright green "lizard" shoes, Hezonja has made a big impact. Looks different than a few weeks ago in Charlotte with a short haircut. Very impressive Extremely quick and a tremendous athlete. Zagreb made short work of INSEP and Hezonja was a big reason why. Got out for a breakaway dunk showing his speed and explosiveness. Looks very comfortable playing against kids 1-2 years older. Good aggressiveness, toughness. Intense player. Solid strength. Ended the game with a reverse dunk. Considering he’s 1995, he might have more upside than any player in this event, Saric included. Has a fiery personality. Appears to be a surefire NBA SG talent. So far, his talent has stood out in the same way his bright green shoes have.
Berkay Candan impressed for Turkey on day one with his versatility. He’s listed at 2.05 meters, but appears to be shorter than 6’9. Good length and versatility but has a questionable motor and intensity. Really struggled in day 2. He likes to back his man down using . Shows some ability to handle the ball. Ulker’s top prospect but needs to develop more intensity and toughness.
The INSEP team that won this event last year in Paris has the same cast of characters. They looked good in day 2 beating Ulker but lost handily in day one against the Zagreb machine. Boris Dallo and Yannis Morin are the most interesting players on the French team. Morin’s legs look much better than they did a year ago as he has added strength. He is still skinny, but is starting to fill out and it’s allowing him to play more aggressively. Dallo has a great body but appears to be 6’4 so he could use an additional inch but shows an excellent shooting form.
For the first time at this Final Four event, China has been given a spot. China’s only serious prospect Guo Ailun had a nice sequence in the first half in Day 1 with a nifty drive through the lane and up and under with his left hand. He then found a teammate for a nice lay in with a wraparound behind the back pass. The Chinese team fell behind early and looked disorganized. Ailun is by far the team’s top player, but he obviously isn’t enough to keep them in the game. The Chinese team looked better on day 2 building a 18-11 lead and contending for most of the game before losing by double digits to the home team FC Barcelona.