From May 9th to 12th in London, the finals of the Nike Junior International Tournament took place in conjunction with the Euroleague Final 4. The qualifying teams were: Red Star Belgrade, Joventut Badalona, Spars Sarajevo, Lietuvos Rytas, FC Regal Barcelona, INSEP, China and England. The final game took place at the O2 arena and was won in blowout fashion by Joventut, who were led by break out MVP shooting guard Alberto Abalde, by a 82-59 finish. Here is a list of players that showed the most potential:
1. Mario Hezonja (1995, 6’6”, SG, FC Regal Barcelona, Croatia)
Like in every youth event he is attending everybody was expecting a lot from him in London, where he was leading a really deep and talented Barcelona team. If these huge expectations were only partially fulfilled in l’Hospitalet, in London his performances were totally disappointing. He was clearly out of sync, lacking any chemistry with teammates or a feel for the game. Plus he twisted his ankle in the second game and the injury limited his effectiveness in the final game, as he was outplayed by Abalde. He closed the tournament with 4.7 and 4.7 rebounds shooting 11% from 3 point, an example of terrible shot selection.
It has already been said the main problem of Hezonja is the fact that he trains most of the time with FC Barcelona ACB team, but plays with LEB Gold team and in rare occasions with juniors. In order to develop as a player he absolutely needs to play and train in a consistent manner, in order to exploit his immense potential properly. He’s already developed from a physical and technical standpoint to play at the ACB and Euroleague level, where he would face opponents that would push him to his limits and force him to work on his shortcomings.
2. Alberto Abalde (1995, 6’7”, SG, Joventut Badalona, Spain)
Abalde had a breakout performance during the London NJIT finals, as he led the Badalona team to the victory with MVP honors. After averaging 9.8 points with 35,3% FG in l’Hospitalet, he has emerged into the offensive go to guy for his team averaging 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. Standing 6’7” he has a great size for his role with a solid body structure that only needs a better muscular definition. An intense competitor. He’s definitely a tough player on both ends of the floor, with a fearless attitude, he’s not scared at all of contact. He has a great feel for the game and basketball IQ, and he’s highly efficient in the half court with the tendency to become streaky from three point line. He’s not extremely explosive, so most of his game is based below the rim. He has an amazing mid-range game, especially in isolation with his pull-up jumper, and shows the ability to create from the dribble, creating space with his crossover and fakes. His ball handling skills and footwork, especially his use of pivot foot, are quite remarkable for his height. He’s also really effective when attacking the basket being effective also in off balance situations: reverse lay ups, step backs, floaters, tear-drops are all in his offensive repertoire.
On the defensive side he lacks elite lateral quickness, a flaw that limits his ability to defend quicker guards. On the contrary he has great instincts in the passing lanes, and great attitude to fight through the screens.
3) Nedim Buza (1995, 6’7”, SG, KK Spars Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Buza was one of the best players of Rome NJIT with 19 points per game, where his team dominated the competition clinching the qualification to this London finals. Buza showed his tremendous abilities as a sharp shooter, with his remarkable size for the role and smooth and quick shooting mechanics. He’s a killer in catch and shoot situations and he also excels in the off the ball game, running defenders off of picks, often finding the perfect timing to release the three pointer.
During the London tournament he showed some difficulties with turnovers, plus his physical shortcomings were aggravated by the recovery from a muscular injury that has affected him for months. His main shortcoming is still the lack of explosiveness and of a quick first step, even if he’s definitely a good athlete, with the ability to play above the rim. He struggles a bit when he has to beat the defender in 1 on 1 situations, when he prefers to use screens instead of isolation. On the defensive side he has a great attitude and effectiveness, he often takes care of the best backcourt player of the opposition. Next year he’ll probably play for a top European team.
4. Stephane Gombauld (1997, 6’7”, SF/PF, INSEP, France)
Gombauld is an intriguing prospect with a high ceiling that could evolve as a stretch forward if he will work on his fundamentals. He has long arms and a good body structure but he’s a bit undersized and he still lacks some muscular definition. He’s really smooth and fluid running the floor, where he puts great energy, playing with intensity especially under the boards. He’s really mobile, and he has great instincts especially as an offensive rebounder, allowing lots of second chance opportunities to his team. He plays naturally, with a great feel for the game and sense of position. Technically he’s still raw and since he’s a bit undersized he should work on his ball handling and shooting range, plus he needs to work on his post game. He’s only 16 and his upside is really quite remarkable, definitely a name to be tracked this summer at Fiba Europe U16 in Kiev.
5. Marc Garcia (1996, 6’6”, SG/SF, FC Regal Barcelona, Spain)
The talented kid grew up in Manresa confirmed to be one of the most intriguing prospects of his team, also in this London NJIT finals. He was born in 1996, but as an underclassmen he shined on the court, showing great maturity, IQ, spacing and feel for the game. He’s now 6’6” with a skinny structure, but the impression is that he’ll grow up at least a couple of inches in the following year, since he’s still in the development age. His wingspan is quite remarkable, combined with a great fluidity and balance, he’s definitely a smooth player running the floor, showing good athletic abilities even if he’s not a great leaper. His ball handling skills are rather developed, and he likes to switch to the point forward position, creating with the ball for himself and his teammates. He’s an effective shooter, especially in catch and shoot situations, also from three point line, showing smooth mechanics. His ability to read situations and to play with off of screens allows him to receive the ball often with perfect timing. On the defensive side he has great attitude and instincts on the passing lanes, but he could struggle against bigger and stronger opponents if taken in post position. From the athletic standpoint he’s not a great leaper, but his game style isn’t affected that much from this limitation.
6. Jose Nogues (1995, 6’7”, SF, Joventut Badalona, Spain)
Athletic and mobile wing with impressive mobility and leaping abilities, his game style and body remind of Victor Claver at his age. He’s a little bit skinny and lanky, but there’s still a lot of room on which build some muscles. His mobility and first quick step allow him to beat the other wings at this level of competition quite easily, even if his ball handling and ball control are quite lacking. He’s really effective when he’s moving, after the cut in P&R situations, with back door cuts or in situations of secondary transition. He’s also really effective from the 3 point line, even if he should speed up his release some. He’s really intense on the floor on both sides of the court even if he should improve his lateral speed. Definitely a prospects with a good ceiling since his main shortcomings can be improved with weight training. A crucial point is how he will bulk up without losing his leaping abilities and mobility.
7. Damien Inglis (1995, 6’7”, SG/SF, INSEP, France)
In the Belgrade tournament, he averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists during the tournament, dominating from the statistical standpoint, but his team struggled and he suffered a knee injury during the semifinal game. He’s a point forward with astonishing physical skills, great athleticism and speed. He’s already a grown up man from the muscular standpoint, especially in the upper body, plus he has big and strong hands. Thanks to his structure he has the ability to withstand contact and attack the basket without trouble at youth level, often generating “and 1” opportunities. He often shifts to the point guard position during the offense, in fact he tends to create with the ball in his hands, sometimes generating mismatch situations taking his defender into the post position. He loves to attack the basket in ISO situations, exploiting his physical skills and his speed, with a slashing style of game.
His main shortcoming remains poor shooting, especially from outside the three point line (he shot with 21,7% in London). This is a flaw that could really limit his overall potential, since his game is predicated on physical dominance. When the athletic level of his opponents increases, his effectiveness on the court, especially on the offensive end, could be limited. Also in London his performance was limited, since the athleticism level of his opponents was higher than in Belgrade.
His game comprehension and his playmaking skills are rather limited, but his style could be tested at a strong NCAA DIV I level.
8. Djordje Kaplanovic (1995, 6’10”, PF/C, Red Star Belgrade, Serbia)
Intriguing prospect with interesting wingspan, big and strong hands and good mobility, which could make a future evolution to PF position possible for him. Even if shorter and less developed than his teammate Ristic, Kaplanovic showed more balance and toughness, putting a concrete effort on the floor and has a greater ceiling. He has a good sense of position and court vision from post position, plus he has soft hands from the free throw line. He plays with intensity and energy, being reactive especially at the offensive rebound. His main shortcoming is the lack of elite explosiveness and the rather raw offensive post moves. In order to complete his evolution as a potential power forward, he has to increase his shooting range and develop an effective post game.
9. Dusan Ristic (1995, 6’11”, C, Red Star Belgrade, Serbia)
Dusan Ristic was named MVP of Belgrade tournament last January, when he averaged 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds. He confirmed his high technical development in London, but he hasn’t overcome his shortcomings.
Standing 6’11” he has long arms and big hands, with a skinny structure and a high center of gravity. He’s not a vertical player, without great leaping abilities and he tends to struggle against bigger opponents, even when shorter than him. He has great mobility, being effective running the floor, as well as during primary and secondary transitions and in Pick and Roll situations. He’s really polished from a technical standpoint, with good post moves and use of pivot foot, and the ability to conclude using the baseline or in the middle of the area. His favorite conclusion is a reliable hook shot, which he’s able to execute with both hands. He has soft hands, with a good range out to 16-17 feet. Starting from post position he has good court vision and great passing abilities, often finding teammates on the perimeter, able to exploit the openings that the double teams on him create. On the defensive side, he shows good sense of position and intimidation skills, but despite the stats he could be a more effective rebounder.
His main shortcoming is the poor intensity and this could limit his potential when he faces bigger and stronger opponents. At the moment, he definitely lacks the necessary toughness in order to fight properly below the rim at the pro level, since his present effectiveness is related to the average limited physical power of the opponents he’s facing. He closed out the tournament with 15 points and 9.7 rebounds.
10. Luke Nelson (1995, 6’2”, PG, Team England, England)
Athletic point guard with impressive physical skills and amazing wingspan for the role and height. He’s a little bit skinny but he’s rather visible that since he’s still in the development stage, he could easily work on his body in the proper manner. He’s lighting with the ball in his hands with an impressive repertoire of crossover moves that allow him to beat every defender in transition quite easily at this level. Sometimes he tends to over dribble generating turnovers, especially when the rhythm on the floor decreases in the half-court game. He has some impressive glimpses with assists, especially with the advantage he creates with his speed in transition, anyway his playmaking skills are still rather raw, he definitely needs to add some maturity and consistency to his game. His shot is still not consistent, especially from the three point range. Next year he’ll play at NCAA level with UC Irvine.
Milovan Draskovic (1995, 6’11”, PF, FC Regal Barcelona, Montenegro)
The long lanky center definitely needs to bulk up in order to better stand contact, but he showed an improving explosiveness and toughness even if there’s still a lot of work to do. He showed good ball handling skills and mobility compared with the height, but most of his game is still based in the paint area starting front or back to the basket like he showed in L’Hospitalet. He needs to improve his shot mechanics and his range in order to evolve as a modern PF, which seems and affordable task since he has rather good hands. On the defensive side he could suffer against more powerful and athletic opponents.
Agusti Sans (1995, 6’4”, SG, Joventut Badalona, Spain)
Gritty, athletic combo guard with great scoring instincts, remarkable speed and a good size for the position. He led his team to the victory at L’Hospitalet, but in London he was substituted by Abalde as vocal leader. He has amazing body control leading the transition with effectiveness and showing the ability to finish at the basket even in off balance situations. He has a slasher style of game, he drives to the basket basically in any situation, thanks to a lighting first step, but he’s really most effective in transition. He has astonishing defensive instincts, with quick hands and good sense for the passing lanes. He’s definitely not a selfish player, with great passing instincts, even if sometimes he’s turnover prone. His main shortcoming his the lack of a consistent jump shot, and of a reliable 3 point shot.
Doko Salic (1995, 6’9”, C, KK Spars Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Salic closed the London tournament giving a lowered impression of him than in Rome, when he was the MVP and the top scorer of the tournament. He is a really skilled player with soft hands and great range for the role, being a threat in pick and pop situations, but standing 6’9” he’s undersized to play center position in the maximum European level. Anyhow his toughness and technical skills allow him to put a really concrete impact on both sides of the floor at the youth level. The concern is about how he will be able to maintain his effectiveness at senior level, since he struggled a bit against the physically gifted players from INSEP and England junior teams. In this context his ceiling seems rather limited, but he could be already able to compete at a European medium senior level. In fact he has a really robust frame, he’s already developed from a muscular standpoint, compensating his lack of length, at least at this level. He has a complete offensive repertoire, both front and back to the basket, also with great instincts and sense of position for the rebound. Next year Salic seems destined to play in a more competitive context at senior level, since Sarajevo has just being promoted in First Bosnian division.