Last Tuesday has been our second and last day to cover the U16 European Championship of Division A in 2011. We spent another day at the Hala Dukla of Pardubice in order to get an impression on the second group of teams that were still able to qualify for the Quarter-Finals back then. But additionally, we had another chance to scout one of the most talented players in the whole competition.
In fact, Bulgaria with Aleksandar Vezenkov had another game in Pardubice so that we could go a bit more into the details on him. Vezenkov fulfilled mainly a role as spot-up shooter and rarely took the hard drive to the basket. He created more opportunities for his team mates when he put the ball on the floor than for himself as he has not a really great first step and could not pass his defender completely in order to get an open look. He also struggled again to finish against defenders of his size when being close to the basket. His attitude was still in “high-complaining” mode but as we were told, this was not the case for example last year in Bar and might just be a temporary issue. Currently being under contract with Aris Saloniki, it will be interesting to see how Vezenkov develops in the next years as he has one of the sweetest left-handed shots in his generation but lacks probably the necessary athletic skillset in order to become a fully complete high-level forward.
Bulgaria lost their game versus a Montenegrin team that did not feature the standout prospect like they sometimes have. But a player to follow is certainly the tender 2m08 tall Milovan Draskovic. The very long but timid looking Draskovic showed some serious skills as he nailed a couple of shots from 5 meters and some good reads of the offensive rebounds. He can finish quickly once he receives the ball close to the basket and is a certain presence on the defensive end despite his thin frame. Draskovic should have a future on the forward positions as he has some good lateral speed to defend shorter players but lacks the necessary body to be used as a banger in the low post. The main scorer for Montenegro though was Luka Savic who played a role as undersized power forward. The 1m99 tall left hander scored mainly in the paint as his shooting mechanics do not really look great. He can score either on the drive or with some basic post-up moves as well and is technical enough to finish with either hand from close.
The second game was the match-up between Italy and Ukraine. While the first won, the most interesting prospect in our eyes was however on the losing side. The 2m01 tall Small Forward Anton Dziuba showed a highly interesting mixture of athleticism, skills and feel for the game. In a rather physical and rugged Ukrainian team, Dziuba stood out with a good first step on the drive that he could finish against the defense with the hang-time layup or the dunk. He showed some good reads on the passing lanes and can also help brining up the ball as he has quite good ball handling for a player of his size. When attacking the basket or on the fast break, he can also make very long steps without losing his explosiveness. Dziuba, who will turn 16 only in December, can also hit the three-point shot even if his release is a bit slow which is not a major issue for the moment.
For Italy, the players I liked the most were Simone Fontecchio and Lorenzo Baldasso. The first one was one of the players that our friend Danny Mills scouted already in the spring while Baldasso was mainly used in a shooting role. He can create his own shot out of the drive but also net the pull-up jumper when he comes of the screens. Not particularly fast or big, Baldasso has not a problem to shot against defense as he has a nice quick release. If he can stabilize his shot he might be an interesting option in the future for the SG position as he did not really show anything in terms of creation or Point Guard skills. Fontecchio impressed us with his overall physical and athletic package combined with great speed and ball handling. He has a good shot out of the dribble but was used a bit out of position on the four. His future will certainly be on the Small Forward or even Shooting Guard position as his shot is looking good and the speed is there as well.
The game between France and Turkey was probably the one with the most prospects to follow on the long term. Both teams featured some highly interesting players like Damien Inglis or Olivier Yao-Delon for France. Inglis is some kind of do-it-all forward with a great presence on both ends of the court. The right-handed player might look like he is not always giving 100% as he walks around a lot and looks like he is playing in slow motion. But he can explode and come up with the tremendous block shot on defense or the play on offense that nobody expected. He can play every position on this level from PG to C as he has quite good ball handling (even if he gets called for a lot of traveling violations on the first step) but can also use his physical presence to play with his back to the basket. When he drives, he can finish with either hand on the layup or with the dunk and he nets also the occasional three-pointer. On defense, he was often used as some kind of “goalkeeper” to appear as a second wall to defend the own basket. Very present in rebounding, Inglis is the key player of the French team who even remains on the court when he makes some bad choices. He is quite an emotional guy who discusses and shows his feelings in both the positive and negative way. But this is nothing compared to the energy level displayed by Yao Delon.
The 1m93 tall SG is first of all a terrier on defense. Extremely motivated to stay in front of his opponent, Olivier Yao Delon is hanging in the shorts and is very active with his hands to try to steal the ball. He has a rarely seen intensity level on both ends of the court which might potentially turn into overplaying at certain moments. During the only game we saw from France, it was all into the positive direction and he was one of the major factor why France managed to beat Turkey. Offensively, Yao Delon has a great first step and huge speed to attack the basket. He barely ever stops in mid-range for the jump shot but those he took went in. His shooting mechanics are perfectible at least as he takes some kind of two-handed shot both in game situations and from the free-throw line. This is translated in relatively poor numbers especially from the charity stripe (46.2%) but should be something that can be corrected on the long term. The interesting thing is that he nearly shoots the same percentage from behind the three-point line which makes him one of the best players in this exercise in the whole tournament.
More elegant but in a similar style than Yao Delon on offense is Paul Rigot. Not in his best day in the game against Turkey so that it is difficult to give you a lot of details, Rigot is a Small Forward with good size (1m99) and a nice shooting touch and athleticism. Statistically, he is the second best player on the French roster behind Inglis.
On the Turkish side, the first player to follow was of course James Metecan Birsen. The long forward, who could also play SG in the future, had not his best game against France as he was very well defended by the above mentioned Yao Delon and turned the ball over a bit too much. But this seems to be his main problem as he leads the whole tournament in turnovers with 5.0 losses per game so far. But let’s talk about the positive aspects of Birsen’s game as there are a lot. Being 2m03 tall and able to play as a full time SF, actually he never really tried to use his size to post up, Birsen displays great speed with the ball in order to attack the basket or move off the ball in order to get open. He can nearly score from everywhere, three-pointers, drives to the basket, from mid-range out of the dribble or in both catch-and-shoot or pull-up situations. His shot mechanics look very good but he is not very regular in making these shots in the tournament (36.0% FGs). Athletically, he seems to be quite good but is so far not really a physical player as it is sometimes the case very early with Turkish prospects. This might be a good sign for his potential future development as well as he showed some great decision making and passing depending on what the defense gave him. Birsen is certainly one of the most talented players of the tournament.
The top scorer of the Turkish team is the Macedonia born guard Cedi Osman. The 1m95 scorer has a superbly quick shot release and did as well a good job on defense to read the passing lanes. Overall, Osman has good speed and knows how to attack the gaps on defense. Mainly a scorer, he did not show any particular passing skills for a guard. Another player we liked on the Turkish roster was the very long Ayberk Güleryüz. He played mainly on the Center position where he used his good length (2m06) to score some easy baskets. Güleryüz was very present on the offensive rebound and showed an overall correct touch also from outside. The player to follow on the long term though is the only 14 years old Okben Ulubay. When it is difficult to say anything about 16 year old kids, you can imagine how difficult it is to judge players who are even two years younger. But even if Ulubay would be 16, his skill set was very intriguing as the 2m00 tall forward has a perfectly looking shot with the left hand, looks very calm and reflected on the court and seems to have very good fundamentals. Unable to score any point versus France, it was enough though to see that this kid has a lot of potential for the future.
The main fact of the game between Latvia and Croatia was probably that Mario Hezonja only played 17 minutes. The much hyped and very talented Croatian forward was not benched for playing bad but his team was strong enough to beat Latvia while he could rest for the game the next day against France. We have already analyzed Hezonja’s game in a previous post so we will not go into further details here. But the Croatian team featured an additional player that can certainly be considered as a top prospect as well. Getting recruited already by some of the major names in European Basketball, Marko Arapovic showed in the 20 minutes we could follow him why this is the case. He looks like somebody who just CAN play. Being 2m06 tall and born only in July 1996, Arapovic turned fifteen two weeks ago. His shooting mechanics look close to perfect and he can dribble and pass the ball. He looks like he has the potential to play every position on the court in a similar way than Dario Saric but he was only used on the Center position with this Croatian team. Arapovic has good shooting touch as well and scores at high percentage rates from anywhere on the court. Additionally, he has great court-vision for a player that young and even came up with the surprising behind the back pass in the fast break. Overall, my impression on Arapovic was great but having in mind that he is still very young. We will see how he develops and what career choices he will make in the future.
On the Latvian side, we could follow the 2m01 tall forward Rolands Smits who was not in his best day. You could see though that Smits can play basketball as he has quite a nice shot from around the key, even if his release is a bit slow. He does not look very athletic but came up with a nice dunk on the drive against the defense. Smits is a good finisher of the Pick and Rolls where he knows pretty well where to go. He played mainly the Center position for the short Latvian team and it was difficult to see what his potential is on the wing in the future.