-Compiled alongside the considerable NCAA talent was the focal point of this event: 6 teams of American high school and international junior players with a very wide variance of skill level and overall polish. The players ranged from age 15 to 19, and there were some blowouts because of the large discrepancy in age, quality and chemistry from team to team. Members of the Asia Pacific team complained of the difficulty in communicating with their teammates, since so many different languages were spoken amongst them and each player played a different style of basketball unique to their own country. The teams we focused on the most because of their importance to upcoming drafts were the 2008 adidas US National Team and Team Africa.
For Team Africa, the most intriguing player to follow was obviously Serge Ibaka
. Weve talked about him on a few occasions over the past few months so well touch briefly on what we liked about him as well as what he needs to continue to improve.
Standing 6-10 with a ridiculous wingspan and near-jaw dropping athleticism, Serge obviously looks the part of your typical NBA lottery prospect. But unlike most African players, he also plays like one too. Were not used to seeing big men come off curls and pull up fluidly for a catch and shoot 17 footer, but this is a semi-polished weapon that Ibaka already has in his arsenal. He fell in love with it too much at times during certain games (he wanted to prove himself so bad that he shot virtually everything that came his way), but also took time to go inside the paint at times to throw down some monster dunks in traffic. Ibaka even knocked down a 3-pointer during one occasion, showing off the type of versatility you dont expect on first glance.
Just as important is the potential he shows as an outstanding shot-blocking threat, being incredibly quick off his feet, but also showing great timing to rotate from the weakside and erase shots from above the top of the square. He plays hard for every minute hes out on the floor, often skying from out of nowhere to hammer home an offensive rebound, accompanied by a primal scream.
On the downside, Ibaka often plays like a guy who has still learning the nuances of the game. He is almost a black hole as noted with his passing skills, and doesnt always show the best feel for the game with his decision making skills. He has some basic pivot moves he can go to, but is not enough of a back to the basket presence to take advantage of his considerable physical advantages at this level. Ibaka will need plenty of patience and experience to round out his game and help translate his phenomenal potential into big-time production, but hes already a pretty impressive prospect who is capable of changing a game on both ends of the floor. Hes signed to play in the very competitive Spanish second division (LEB) for the next as one of only two import players for LHospitalet, but does have an out in his contract for a big team like Tau Vitoria for example to swoop in if his agents feel that is the right move for him development-wise. His Spanish agent, Gerard Darnes of U1st Sports, told us that Ibaka is entering the 2008 draft for sure.
-There were a few other players of note on Team Africa, but no one that can be considered an immediate first round draft prospect.
1989-born prospect Saidou Njoya (from top-level French team Nancy, as we learned from Christophe Ney of the excellent Europeanprospects.com
) creates offense in the blink of an eye with outstanding size, strength and athleticism, but is a work in progress as far as his passing and decision making skills are concerned. He overwhelms defenders physically with a tremendous first step and big, powerful strides, and is also able to change directions somewhat thanks to his above average ball-handling skills. He needs to improve his perimeter shooting as well as his ability to create with his left hand if he wants to crack the rotation in Nancy anytime soon. He would be well served learning from recently signed rookie Zabian Dowdell
, who just joined his team this weekend.
Aboubakar Zaki (7-1, 1988, Niger) has some intriguing characteristics about him too. He has great size and an excellent wingspan, which coupled with his solid timing and fairly decent motor, allows him to be a game-changing shot-blocking presence when he puts his mind to it. European basketball expert Yarone Arbel told us that Zaki has only been playing basketball for 3 years now, and you can tell that hes still a work in progress in terms of figuring out how to approach every play. Sometimes youll see him talking to himself after he makes a mistake, asking angrily why he didnt finish with a right-handed dunk instead of laying it up softly with his left. He clearly has a ways to go in terms of his footwork, coordination and body control. With that said, hes not completely clueless offensively at this point in his development, as he has some touch on his hook shot and he will call for the ball aggressively at times. He even knocked down a couple of very surprising 3-pointers in one particular game, which we have to say came out of absolute nowhere. He also has a pretty nice stroke from the free throw line. He reminds a bit of Boniface NDong, and we can see why Nancy is putting in the time to develop him.
-On the European front, it was pretty slim pickings as we noted in one of our previous articles. With that said, two prospects stood out from the pack as far as we were concerned.
Bearing a resemblance to Tony Parker
, it was easy to see where that comparison came from early on in the camp. Thats not really a fair association, though, not to the 6-2 Swedish 16-year old from Sallen BasketAndreas Person
--and definitely not to the French NBA Finals MVP from San Antonio.
There are some reasons to be intrigued by Persons potential, though, even if his development could still go in many different directions at this point. Hes a quick guy with good instincts on the offensive end, a nice pullup jumper he can go to from mid-range, and a pretty little floater he likes to use in the lane. He likes to push the ball up the floor and can beat guys off the dribble with a solid first step, and plays the pick and roll pretty well. Physically he still needs to mature, and his shooting mechanics dont extend very far beyond 18 feet before they start getting shaky. His point guard skills are still a work in progress as well, but hes extremely young and still has plenty of time to work on this part of his game. Well keep monitoring his progress over the next few years.
An even younger prospect who stood out from time to time was 15-year old Spanish forward Miguel Lorenzo Leis (or just Miguel Lorenzo as he was called here). Hes still a ways away from being a player, but he showed some nice flashes of talent here in New Orleans. Lorenzo has good size at 6-7, decent athleticism, and some skills facing the basket as well. He can put the ball on the floor reasonably well and has a good enough stroke to knock down open looks, particularly from mid-range. Hes a really aggressive rebounder as well, being the only one to really show up effort-wise for the full 40 minutes against the imposing Team Africa. He fought and scraped underneath the basket with players much more physically mature than him, and came away victorious on a few different occasions. Its too early to draw any long-term conclusions, but there are a few things to like out of Lorenzo at this early stage in his career.
Apparently a Florida high school product of the 2008 class, Dago Berto Pena (or Dago Pena or Dagoberto Pena as hes sometimes listed) is a 6-7 Domincan forward with a sweet (albeit inconsistent) stroke from beyond the arc. He has a good body, is fairly athletic, and can really heat up from time to time for big scoring outbursts. We didnt watch him enough to take in any more long term conclusions, but it was hard not to notice how poor his body language looked every time we saw him. He seemed to be complaining non-stop, whether to the refs, his teammates or the bench, for no particular reason. Regardless, he looked like a pretty good college prospect who should be getting his share of looks from lower-tier high-major teams.
-For Team Asia Pacific, we thought Shane Harris-Tunks (6-10, 1990, Center), Ater Mojak (6-10, PF/C, 1987) and Christian Salecich (6-4, 1990, Guard) all looked like solid college prospects who will draw their fair share of NCAA interest when the time is right.
-Check back tomorrow for our evaluations of the 2008 and 2009 high school prospects in attendance.