Before the seasons in the different professional leagues start in the next weeks, we will take a look at the players to follow in some of the main competitions in Europe. We start with a new addition in this already traditional pre-season show as we analyze the Belgian Ethias League. The Belgian league is constantly on the rise in terms of quality over the last years and a specific rule giving financial advantages to teams signing young players (not regarding their nationality) has had an effect that more international prospects came to the Ethias League over the last years. But also the Belgian players are improving.
Nemanja Besovic – 2m21 – C – 1992 – Verviers-Pepinster
This season will be a real test for the tall Serbian as he is supposed to see a lot of minutes with the Belgian team of Verviers-Pepinster. However, Besovic needs to really improve his speed of execution in the traditionally very athletic Belgian league. The 2m21 tall auto-eligible prospect comes out of a disappointing season where he rarely played as he moved from Serbia to Belgium. Now he needs to show that he is capable to play a full season on the professional level and be a factor in a mid-level league. His size is still intriguing and his overall skillset interesting for a player of his height, but his lack of physical presence and softness were always weaknesses that he needs to overcome in order to be ready for the next level. This season in Belgium will be key for Besovic in this area in order to show that he can develop into a good inside presence over the next years.
Nikola Jankovic – 2m05 – PF – 1994 – Verviers Pepinster
Nikola Jankovic had a similar last season to Besovic as he moved to Belgium and Charleroi. However, he saw already some limited minutes with Spirou and moved now to Verviers-Pepinster on loan to get a full season of big minutes to his experience. Dominating the youth national team competitions once again during the summer, Jankovic should be ready to be a legit factor in the Ethias League right from the start of the season after he had to sit out some weeks of the pre-season. The Serbian PF will have to adapt his game a bit against seasoned professionals as he is still very effective in the paint where his timing for offensive rebounding is one of his main strengths. On the professional level, he might struggle a bit more to excel in this area and needs to improve his shooting touch around the key and especially from the free-throw line. Nevertheless, Jankovic should be a key player for his team this season and could come up with some interesting numbers down the road.
Mateusz Ponitka – 1m96 – SG/SF – 1993 – Telenet Oostende
After a somehow disappointing Eurobasket for Poland, Mateusz Ponitka has joined his new team of Telenet Oostende and has had some impact right from the start in the preseason games. The Polish swingman should bring some scoring potential with his long range touch and slashing drives in a league where his athletic abilities will certainly help him to find his role. Together with the 22 year old Belgian Gillet, Ponitka will form a quite interesting duo at the Small Forward position where the Polish prospect should see lots of quality minutes during the season. Oostende might probably be only a short stop in the career of Ponitka who is clearly looking into the direction of becoming a regular contributor on the Euroleague or even NBA level in the future. He can help his team already this season in the Euroleague Qualification round in order to make the next step after his years in Poland.
Amaury Gorgemans – 2m11 – C – 1992 – Belfius Mons-Hainaut
Amaury Gorgemans could be in this preview because he had a breakout season last year in the Ethias League or because the number of seven footers who can play basketball is still quite limited. However, I inserted him as well because he was one of the first prospects I discovered as a scout six years ago when I made a trip to the Wallonia Youth Development center in Jambes. Gorgemans was one of the youngest players there and was learning more or less the basics of basketball. Now, Gorgemans has become a serious back-up on the Center position for one of the better Ethias League teams and shows that big guys are investments on the long term. Automatically eligible for the NBA Draft in 2014, Gorgemans has never been really an NBA prospect but he could catch the eye of some scouts because of his size and developing skill set. In a world where the “stretch 5” is becoming more and more a subject, Gorgemans might find his place with his long distance shooting touch.
Hans Vanwijn – 2m05 – SF – 1995 – Leuven Bears
One of the more interesting Belgian prospects to follow is the 2m05 tall forward Hans Vanwijn. Former member of the Topsportschool team that competed in the NIJT 2012 in Kaunas, Vanwijn will play both for Houthalen in the Belgian D2 and for the Leuven Bears in the Ethias League. Mainly used as a spot-up shooter, Vanwijn can become already an interesting factor this season as he is considered as the main backup on the wing for the Bears. He needs to improve his ball handling and driving skills to become a more versatile player but he is probably one of the youngest players in the league to see minutes this season. Additionally, he can gain more experience by playing for Houthalen in the second division in order to become a serious option for D1 next year.
Our wildcard goes to Naim El Khounchar who was also a member of the Topsportschool team in the NIJT 2012 in Kaunas. El Khounchar signed with Aalst last season and saw already his first minutes in the Ethias League. The athletic and combo guard might see even more minutes this year as he will compete with another youngster in Arne Steinbach for the backup role in the team of coach Brad Dean. The 1994 born and 1m91 tall prospect has an interesting future as he has a lot of interesting tools to succeed at the highest level.