By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
Down in sunny Southern California players from all around the world have gathered for the Adidas National Global tournament. There are four USA teams, two from the 2014 class and two from the 2015 class. For the International squads there are teams from Latin America (Brazil, Columbia, and Puerto Rico), Europe (Russia), Asia (Philippines), Africa (Senegal and Nigeria) and Australia.
The event focuses a lot on player development and skill work as well as game play. It’s a very interesting and appealing concept. Players get to go through skill stations in the morning, getting taught post moves from Ralph Sampson or shooting drills with Eddie Johnson. After drills teams go into their morning games, takes a few hours off, come back for a team practice and another game in the evening. It’s a great concept as it allows the players to learn and then practice what they’ve been taught immediately. There are also tons of college players acting as counselors and helping in drills with the teams. The counselors scrimmage against each other during the games.
The four USA teams are loaded with talent. The best prospects in the country are here from Jahil Okafor and Justice Winslow who were just on the U19 FIBA Championship team to 2015 recruits like Malik Newman and Stephen Zimmerman. It’s a lot easier to bring kids in from around the country than around the world so the talent level for the USA guys is a few notches above the Internationals. What’s most impressive is how hard everyone is playing, the games have become highly competitive. Teams are really getting after it and there is a focus on winning. Yes there is still a decent amount of one on one play and selfish shots but overall it’s pretty impressive how a lot of these guys have bought right into the team concept.
International Teams Rankings
Through two days every team has played either three or four games. On Sunday night the playoff round will start (top four teams) and the Championship game will be on Monday. Africa and Latin America are the only teams with shots to make the Playoffs, as they are the only foreign teams to win a game. Post-tournament we’ll have longer and more in-depth look into the best players and teams. But for now here is a rankings of how the teams stack up so far.
1. Team Africa (2-1)
Team Africa has been a joy to watch. They attack the basket with relentlessness and get out on the fast break at every opportunity. Overall the team is athletic with very aggressive players. This is probably the most talented International team here and definitely the one with the most potential talent. The most refreshing thing about this squad is that they seem to love playing together. No bench is louder or more encouraging. The team played a tournament in Las Vegas before coming to the Adidas Nations and it seems to have really helped bring the guys together. This energy runs throughout the team and guys feed off of it. It’s led to some very intense defense as each player gets the next one more riled up. Team Africa is second among teams in steals per game (11.0), third in blocks in per game (4.3), and third in points allowed per game (66.0).
The motor for this team starts with duel point guards Sidi Ndir and Nehdi Ngouma. Both are scoring points who are creative dribblers and very quick with the ball. Ndir is a stylish player who has a loose and elusive handle that’s great for driving but he needs to work on setting up his team’s half court offense. He’s very bouncy and it’s hard to know which way he’s going to go. At 6’3″ he uses his quickness to attack the lane where he isn’t afraid to try to finish among the taller trees. A real athlete, Ndir also has a quick trigger three that he shoots a lot (5/11). Ngouma is a little more patient, not quite as athletic, and looks to distribute more. He also loves to drive the ball and has quick wrist movements that allow him to go from stationary dribble to on the move quickly. Those quick wrists are also leading the tournament in steals 3.7 a game. Both guards love to get out on the fast break and are better in the open court at this stage.
Papa Sadia Diatte has been the rock of solidness for Africa. Even though Ndir and Ngouma are both point guards, it could be argued that Diatte is the team’s best passer. He isn’t flashy or fast but crafty with his dribble and a lot of the half court offense goes through him. Diatte also has a solid mid range jumper but don’t ask him to step out too far past the free throw line.
Michael Nzei rounds out the most important players for Africa and is the leading rebounder of the tournament (11.7). The slender big man is smartly aggressive and is constantly pounding the glass. He is a really good offensive rebounder as a quick jumper who might hop up three or four times in a row just to try to get a hand on the ball. Better at reactive plays (tip-ins, alley-oops) than set plays at this point.
2. Team Latin America (1-2)
An inconsistent team that relies on guys from three different countries. A decent fast breaking team but a ton of half court offense work is put on the shoulders of forward Braian Rodas. Rodas is a Sonny Weems like player in that a lot of his offense is through one on one moves and mid-range off the dribble jumpers. He’s hungry to score (averaging 20.7 ppg) and is a smooth finisher when he gets on the move. Floats to the basket.
The second best scoring option is guard Lucas Vezaro. Vezaro is a personal favorite so far as he has an incredible feel for the game and is a very craft passer and driver. At 6’1″ he plays shooting guard on this team but is used heavily on offense whether it be the in pick and roll, isolation or spot-up shooting opportunities. Vezaro’s jumper is really smooth and he can uncork it off the catch and shoot or bounce. He might have the smoothest stroke at the tournament. Overall he reminds me of another small crafty South American, Frederico Van Lacke.
Latin America has some other really small (sub 6′) guards who are flashy, quick dribblers but have had real trouble making space for themselves here. Kevin Colon has been the best among the small guards with his quick acceleration and drive and kick ability (4.3 apg, tournament leader).
The rest of the team is full of tweeners at the forward positions with Guilherme Guimaraes standing out because of his constant hustle. Two big men, Felipe Alfredo and Jose Rivadeneira have stood out in drill work because both are or are close to 7’0″ and have ridiculous wingspans. But in games neither has done much besides block a couple shots and have struggled to find a role or catch the ball on offense. Both have potential though and would be interesting to see them in a couple years if properly developed.
3. Team Europe (0-3)
This group is made up of Russia’s U19 FIBA team that finished 9th at the World Championships. Even though they’ve played together a fair amount and a lot compared to some of these other teams that are just thrown together, the chemistry really doesn’t show. There isn’t a whole lot of communication between players or emotion.
Mikhail Kulagin is the biggest prospect of the group but he has been a relative disappointment so far. He seems to want to dominate offensively too much and his effectiveness has suffered. Even though Kulagin is a very smooth ball handler, good shooter, and sees the floor well, he hasn’t been able to kickstart this offense. Reminds me of watching Mario Hezonja at the London NIJT. Really talented guy but team gels better with him off the court.
Russia was up all game over the USA 2015 Red team on Saturday night but ended up losing 60-56. Kulagin missed two free throws with under 30 seconds left with his team up one, then fouled Malik Newman on a three pointer that he made, which ended up being a four point play. Then with 20 seconds left and down three, Kulagin dribbled around for the whole possession, continually getting screens but refusing to give up the ball until he missed a contested three. It’s fine that he shot but the way he went about it was just really selfish.
Stanislav Ilnitskiy has been one of the team’s better performers. He is a little undersized (6’7″) to be a power forward but has a sturdy frame and isn’t afraid to mix it up down low. Has a decent little mid range set shot but lacks explosiveness to really offset his height for a big.
The Russian bigs have been fairly disappointing. There is a lot of really tall guys (6’10”, 6’10”, 7’2″), but they are really not a whole lot more than just really tall guys.
4. Team Australia (0-3)
Team Australia has a few young players playing key roles and it’s showed. Their point guard play is really lacking and a lot of pressure has been placed on 16 year old Jayden Hodgson. He’s a hard working player with a a Joe Ingles like frame in a 6’0″ tall body. He always looking to set his teammates up for a scoring chance but doesn’t have the reps or physical development yet to be very effective.
This team relies heavily on wings Jonah Bolden and Keanu Pinder, who were both on Australia’s FIBA U19 team at the World Championships. Both have crazy wingspans and look like they could really develop into amazing defensive players as they get older. Both also are fairly comfortable off the ball on offense and are forced into being the main scorers when it seems they would be better suited to having someone set them up. Bolden is the more polished scorer at this point.
5. Team Asia (0-3)
This team is made up of players from the Philippines and it’s been a tough road for them so far. With the tallest player standing at 6’7″ on their roster, banging with seven footers has been a problem. The toughest thing for the Filipino players seems to be being able to finish at the rim. With the shot blocker always roaming, they change their shots a lot to try to finish without getting blocked and haven’t been making as many inside shots as they could.
Arvin Tolentino standing at 6’5″ has been the biggest spark plug on the roster. He isn’t as quick as some of his smaller teammates but dissects the defense off the bounce and has been the tournament’s most prolific scorer (23 ppg).
Also if you haven’t checked it out yet, Filipino shooting guard Mario Bonleon answered some questions about him and his team heading into the Adidas Nations. He’s averaging six points so far after recovering from a rough shooting night his first game.
Game Footage: Team Africa vs. Team Australia
Africa and Australia played on Saturday night in a huge game. Africa ended up crushing the Aussies (78-51) and here is four minutes of film from the first half. Here you can see how much Africa wanted to run and how much trouble Australia had taking care of the ball on offense.
Notably playing for Africa in Green jerseys is Sidi Ndir (#74), Nehdi Ngouma (#71), Michael Nzei (#69), and Papa Diatte (#58) For Australia in the blue jerseys it’s Jayden Hodgson (#7), Jonah Bolden (#93), and Keanu Pinder (#77).