In the first part of our review on the U17 World Championship 2012, we take a look at the European players in the event. Four teams had qualified for Kaunas next to the hosts, so this might not be a good representation of whole talent group of the 1995 born players in Europe. But some of the major prospects were present.
Mario Hezonja – 2m00 – SG/SF – 1995 – Croatia
Considered as one of the best prospects worldwide of his generation, Mario Hezonja showed in Kaunas what kind of player he can be in the future. However, he showed as well that he has still some way ahead in order to develop into a future top star. Dominating the competition before the semi-finals, he lost his magic in the round of the last 4 against Australia, playing out of rhythm and making bad decisions. He could not change his approach and was unable to lead his team to the final of the World Championship.
With his 2m00, Hezonja mainly played on the SG position where he was taller than any of his opponents. He can also play on the SF position without any problems. The first thing you recognize is that he is playing so fluidly and smooth and this despite having been injured nearly the whole season. Hezonja can do nearly everything out of the dribble. Bringing up the ball is not a problem for him and he often challenges his opponent immediately in 1-1 situations. He has though a clear preference for taking the three-pointer out of the dribble in those situations. His jump shot mechanics and balance have improved compared to what we have seen from him one year ago where he was often out of balance when taking the shots out of the dribble. In Kaunas, nearly all of his shots in pull-up, after hand-offs or out of the dribble looked perfectly coordinated. His percentages in these situations were not great though and are still a part of his game that Hezonja can improve.
When he attacks the basket, he is doing great to go around the defenders because of excellent footwork and good athletic abilities. The Croatian forward is not extremely fast but has good speed for a player of his size. Out of the drive, he can come up with the spin or the great direction change in order to come close to the basket for the finish. Hezonja is not afraid to dunk in traffic, he even tried a difficult up and under dunk when he attacked the basket over the baseline.
Defensively, Hezonja did not look really implicated into the game of his team with the exception of being in the passing lanes. He recognizes pretty well where he can steal the ball and likes to finish in the fast break afterwards. He is also an excellent rebounder on this level and can initiate the break immediately after grabbing the ball. Hezonja can push the ball up the court and find his team mates in these situations. In the set offense, you can only rarely see him share the ball once he initiated a play. This is interesting as he seems to lack the understanding of playing without the ball as the Croatian forward is only dangerous when he can be active with the ball.
As mentioned already above, the right handed swingman was not really present in the semi-final where he limited his offensive presence to three-point shooting. This is an important point of criticism in his game as he lacks the necessary aggressiveness at some moments. He seems to get frustrated easily but did not really come up with some diva attitude in the games we saw him. He looked more like not being too much interested in what is going on the court. But this might only be teenager problems and the pressure he has on his should being considered one of the best prospects in the world.
Nevertheless, Hezonja has already quite an impressive trophy collection so far as he won Gold at the U16 Euro last year, won the NIJT in Barcelona in 2011 and now a Bronze Medal at the U17 World Championship. The future looks great for him and it will be extremely interesting to see where he will head for next season and how much he can improve if he is able to work a full season on his game. The sky looks like the limit at the moment.
Stats: 20.8ppg (53.8% 2FGs – 31.1% 3FGs), 7.0rpg, 1.2apg
Marko Arapovic – 2m06 – PF – 1996 – Croatia
One year younger than the competition, Marko Arapovic was the versatile offensive option of Croatia in the paint. Arapovic, who is the son of former Croatian NT player Franjo Arapovic played the PF position where he could use at best his mobility and scoring potential. He can either step out to the three-point line or play with his back to the basket. When he is playing outside, he can make the three-point shot but is not regular from behind the arc so far. Next to shooting the ball, Arapovic can also put it on the floor to attack the basket from outside. He finishes these drives preferably close to the basket as he did not show any pull-up jumpers out of the dribble during the games we followed.
Arapovic looks to be able to finish with either hand from short range, either the normal layup but also the hook shot. His footwork allows him to do quick spin moves when putting the ball on the floor but he does not look very aggressive in his finishes as he rarely dunks the ball outside of the fast break. When putting the ball on the floor, Arapovic has good body control and can stop his intention to drive in order to make a turn around hook shot when the road is closed. Overall, his decision making looks very good as he seems to understand the game pretty well. He will play the U16 European Championship that will start on Thursday with Croatia where he has the possibility to earn another medal and be a team leader.
Stats: 10.8ppg (61.1% 2FGs), 6.9rpg, 2.1apg
Karlo Zganec – 2m03 – PF – 1995 – Croatia
The second inside option for Croatia was Karlo Zganec who mainly played in the paint. He can finish around the key with the mid-range jump shot but Zganec worked mainly close to the basket or in Pick-and-Roll situations. He has good positioning but lacks the necessary size to be considered a great Center prospect. He can finish with either hand in the paint but is not very explosive. Zganec is a great target as he moves well without the ball and created therefore a lot of offensive opportunities for himself or his team mates. He sees the court well and likes to make the extra-pass to give the ball to one of his team mates. Zganec can develop into an interesting power forward being able to hit jump shots around the key and and be a factor in the defensive rebounding area but lacks the athletic abilities and ball handling skills to be considered a high level prospect at the moment. He also has a twin brother who was with him on the U16 Team last summer called Bruno.
Stats: 14.2ppg (45.6% 2FGs), 9.0rpg, 2.9apg
Domagoj Bosnjak – 1m97 – SF – 1995 – Croatia
Bosnjak started the games for Croatia as Small Forward because of his shooting skills and defense. Bosnjak mostly had to guard the best back-court scorer of the opponent and did a good job there. His shot fell with good percentages throughout the tournament but he has quite a low release point which makes it hard for him to score with tight defense. He does a lot of small things in offense that are needed for the team running the set plays. Next to his shot, he can also put the ball on the floor with either hand but prefers to finish with his stronger right hand even when he attacks the basket from the left side.
Stats: 9.5ppg (44.4% 2FGs – 40.0% 3FGs), 4.2rpg, 3.0apg
Radovan Kouril – 1m85 – PG – 1995 – Czech Republic
The Czech PG who currently plays in Spain was by far the best passer of the tournament. He is not overly spectacular when he shares the ball but he finds his team mates nicely out of the drive or in the set plays. Kouril has excellent ball handling skills that allow him to always keep his head up when dribbling or attacking the basket. He likes to play in the mid-range area by either creating his own jump shot or attacking the defense and attract the help.
His shot selection is not great as he came up with a multitude of difficult jump shots and most of them were not taken straight but in fade away mode. This is underlined by his sPER which is below 10 despite having very good individual basic statistics. Because he has the ball so much in his hands, Kouril is also quite turnover prone as he is always in the creation mode. Additionally, as he lacks athletic abilities to finish close to the rim, he has to force his mid-range game often in order to score the basketball. He tries next to the pull-up jumpers some floaters from 3-4 meters but he was not very consistent with these attempts.
Nevertheless, Kouril is not a bad player, he can run the offense for his team and has great court-vision. He needs to improve his decision making though and get a better form for his jump shot in the future. Together with Tomas Satoransky and David Jelinek, he should form the Czech backcourt of the next 10 years if he is able to address his weaknesses and improve his shooting technique.
Stats: 11.2ppg (37.1% 2FGs – 16.1% 3FGs), 5.4rpg, 9.6apg
Adam Pechacek – 2m07 – PF – 1995 – Czech Republic
Pechacek has everything you need to become a high-level basketball player. The left-handed forward is 2m07 tall, nicely athletic, can run the court and has a quick and fluid shot. He can put the ball on the floor to attack the basket and he can also finish in the post. In fact, he is a more technical version of another Czech prospect, Jan Vesely. But, and here is the problem, he does not look very aggressive on the court and seems to not understand his potential. He came from the bench in Kaunas to give some instant offense to his team but he was never really coming up with big plays immediately. He unfortunately missed the U16 European Championship last summer so I was not able to compare how he has developed since moving to Italy. But without any doubt, if Pechacek can become more intense and alert on the court, he has the potential to become a high-level player in the future.
Stats: 12.5ppg (46.8% 2FGs – 38.1% 3FGs), 4.1rpg
Martin Peterka – 2m03 – PF – 1995 – Czech Republic
Martin Peterka was the scoring leader of the Czech team despite showing probably a not so interesting long-term profile. Similar to last summer, Peterka though impresses with excellent decision making and good footwork. He improved his speed on both side of the court a bit which allows him to play more and more from outside and develop a SF game. Peterka is really present in the defensive rebounding where he shows good boxing out and positioning. He has also the understanding to tip the ball to the right spots in order to secure the defensive rebound if he is out of position. Out of these situations, he likes to push the ball up but has not the necessary court-vision to do it well.
In set play situations, Peterka likes to play from outside and drive to the basket. He can stop his penetrations to come up with the pull-up jumper but mostly goes hard to the basket where he finishes on the layup by protecting the ball well. Out of his drives, Peterka sometimes tries the pass to the open man on the help but he was not very precise in this exercise in Kaunas. Right now, he is still quite dominant with his skillset but he needs to become more regular from outside to have a chance to be an interesting player for the top level. The Czech forward lacks the athletic abilities to play on defense against Small Forwards which puts him into a role as stretch four player. He needs though to be a good three-point shooter from the corner and has to work on his shot to reach the next level.
Stats: 14.5ppg (50.6% 2FGs – 18.8% 3FGs), 8.6rpg, 1.4apg
Prokop Slanina – 2m04 – C/PF – 1995 – Czech Republic
Another Czech player that I like particularly well is Prokop Slanina. Not the biggest upside potential but Slanina looks to me like an interesting prospect because of his length and clearly defined role in the team. He is doing a lot of the dirty work on defense, rebounds the ball and sets screens. He needs to work on his jump shot around the key as he lacks the size to play as a full time center. In the paint, Slanina can finish with the jump hook that he likes to execute with either hand. He has also a nice arsenal of fakes and his footwork is good enough to get open positions on a regular basis. The 2m04 tall right handed forward though needs to improve his shooting touch as he scores with relatively low percentages for a player of his size. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the next years and if he is able to become a regular scorer in and around the key.
Stats: 6.6ppg (38.2% 2FGs), 5.9rpg
Ilimane Diop – 2m08 – C – 1995 – Spain
Diop looked to me as one of the most interesting prospects of the tournament. After having seen him in Mannheim with the U18 National Team, I really wanted to know what he is able to do against players of his age group. Diop was simply the most important player of the Spanish team by far as he had a major impact on both sides of the court. With his terrific wingspan and quite good understanding of the game on the defensive end, Diop changes a lot of shot trajectories and can be used as a sort of goal keeper in the paint. He has his arms mostly straight up without bending them forward in order to avoid foul calls.
Offensively, you can also see clearly how Diop is improving his game. His is not only scoring on put backs and dunks but is working on a jump shot; he even took three-pointers; and he can knock down jumpers around the key. He can also face up in low post action and just shoot over his defender from the baseline. The 2m08 tall big guy also likes to put the ball on the floor and even showed a nice kick-out pass after having executed a spin move on the drive. His shooting touch has improved as well and he scored some difficult up-and-under plays against the defense.
If Diop continues to work on his technique and ball handling, you can imagine him moving to the Power Forward spot in the future. He has the necessary speed when running the court and should be able to defend players from outside as well. He lacks the necessary bulk to play defense in the low post against very strong players but he is only 17 years old. Diop seems to work hard on his skills and with good work on his shot, he should be able to score from outside in the future as well as his free-throw shot looks very fluid and executed with good mechanics.
Stats: 14.4ppg (58.1% 2FGs), 8.5rpg, 2.6bpg
Agusti Sans – 1m95 – PG/SG – 1995 – Spain
Agusti Sans looked like the best offensive creator of the Spanish team in Kaunas. He likes to attack the basket in Pick and Roll situations where he can find his team mates either on the kick out or the Roll. Not overly athletic or explosive, Sans can use his size though to finish close to the rim but he is better when he creates for his team mates. The left handed guard is not a big scoring threat from outside as his shooting mechanics are quite slow and he is not really able to create his own shooting positions out of the dribble. Nevertheless, Sans understands the game quite well as controls the game speed nicely but his long term potential to play on the highest level is a bit questionable in my eyes.
Stats: 11.0ppg (54.8% 2FGs – 32.0% 3FGs), 3.1rpg, 4.0apg
Jose Nogues – 2m02 – PF/SF – 1995 – Spain
Not the most flashy player on the court, but Jose Nogues looks like an interesting long term prospect. He has quite a good size to play SF in the future but he needs to develop a regular shot. His speed and footwork are on the level of a wing player and he has good athletic abilities as well to attack the basket on the drive. He also recognizes help situations in order to take the right decisions and pass the ball out of the dribble. If Nogues is able to score from outside in the future, he has the potential to develop into a very interesting player for the ACB level.
Stats: 6.6ppg (37.3% 2FGs), 6.0rpg, 1.4apg
Edvinas Seskus – 1m92 – SF/SG – 1995 – Lithuania
Edvinas Seskus was the player in the spotlight on the Lithuanian team as he lead his country in scoring and in rebounding. However, his potential looks limited as he had to play SF while being only 1m92 tall. Physically strong, he dominated his opponents by being more aggressive and going hard to the basket. He has quite a good first step which allowed him to beat the taller opponents he was mainly facing in the games. Seskus had an overall good decision making but his shot selection was a bit hazardous throughout the days we were in Lithuania.
Seskus is mainly a scorer who is able to create his own shot. He can attack the basket and stop the drive to score on the pull-up jumper from mid-range. His shooting mechanics are very fluid and quickly executed which gives him the possibility to score over taller players. He likes to attack the basket hard and generate the contact on the layup to score with the foul. Defensively, Seskus is an excellent rebounder where his above average physical development is a great factor in his favor. He struggles though to defend on the small forward position because of his lack of size. He needs to develop quickly a SG game if he wants to have an impact on the professional level. Therefore, Seskus needs to improve his shot selection and become quicker on lateral movements on defense.
Stats: 15.7ppg (45.2% 2FGs – 28.0% 3FGs), 9.0rpg, 2.6apg
Ernestas Serkevicius – 1m87 – PG – 1995 – Lithuania
A surprising player in the tournament was the Lithuanian Point Guard Ernestas Serkevicius. Listed at 1m87 but looking a bit shorter, Serkevicius showed some nice scoring potential and was close to Seskus in terms of points per game but had a lot better percentages. The 1995 born guard drives nicely to the basket and is able to beat his defender with a good first step. Despite his short size, he can score close to the rim by generating the contact very well and creating the necessary space like that. His jump shot looks good with a quick release and he has a good presence in rebounding as well. More of a scoring point guard at the moment, Serkevicius needs to improve his court vision and passing skills but if he is able to do so, he can develop into an interesting PG down the road.
15.3ppg (57.9% 2FGs – 37.0% 3FGs), 4.6rpg, 2.7apg
Damien Inglis – 2m04 – PF – 1995 – France
What is the future of Damien Inglis? Dominating on the U16 level because of a good understanding of the game, above average physical and athletic skills, there was not a lot of progress to be seen in his game one year later. He can still attack the basket and finish close to the rim with his physical strength, get second chances with his quick jump or find his team mates on the drive. In the paint, he has a multitude of moves in order to finish but it will probably not be enough to do this on the next level. But on his way to become a Small Forward, he has not really improved his three-point shot or overall shooting technique and approach.
Inglis needs to develop a more regular outside game if he wants to become a factor on the highest level. He has the physical aptitude but also the necessary ball handling and court-vision to play on the wing but somehow, Inglis is not as dominating as you could expect. You could see him refuse a dunk on the drive and his layup being missed instead. For Inglis, the next months are pretty decisive on the future of his career. If he is able to make a step forward and play on the SF position, he can become a player for the highest level but right now, you can not really see such a development arriving. Nevertheless, he is a prospect to follow even if he plays mainly on the PF position in the future.
Stats: 10.9ppg (50.7% 2FGs), 7.7rpg, 2.4apg
Petr Cornelie – 2m09 – PF – 1995 – France
On a long-term view, Petr Cornelie might be one of the most interesting prospects of the French team. Discovered only late, Cornelie is a long and athletic inside player with a good shooting touch. He moves fluidly on the court and likes to play in the low post. He can score with the jump hook that he creates after one or two dribbles with his right hand and showed also some basic passing skills. Cornelie reminds me a bit of Rudy Gobert from his body profile even if he has not the same wingspan. The 2m09 tall power forward is currently under contract with Le Mans and it will be interesting to see how he develops there as he is only playing basketball on the highest level for a short time.
Stats: 7.4ppg (53.1% 2FGs), 5.0rpg