By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
International recruits from all over the world continue to pop up all around college basketball. As the basketball economy around the world continues to change and fluctuate, college basketball has become a stable place to play, gain exposure, and grow physically from the age of 18 to 22/23/24 (sometimes it takes longer than expected). After going to a week of college games in and around New York City, here are three International players making an impact.
Ahmed Hamdy, Egypt, Inside Scoring 5, VCU (Junior)
Hamdy hasn’t had the easiest road to VCU. After coming over from Egypt in 2011 and attending a US prep school, he was denied eligibility his first year at University of Houston, having to transfer to a JUCO and now ending up at VCU with 2 years of eligibility left. Having been born in 1993, Hamdy is the age of most seniors and will be 24 by the time he suits up for the pros.
In the Shaka Smart era VCU was known for quick, mobile, bigs who could be active in their HAVOC pressure defense and be a force in transition offense. Rarely was a true post big involved. Now with Hamdy in the fold and Will Wade in charge, VCU now has a post threat. Hamdy provides the ability to throw it to him on the block or at the elbows and in, and he can go to work. At 6’9” and a reported 230 lbs (he was listed at 255 as a freshman at Houston), Hamdy doesn’t have great athleticism or quickness but he is pretty nimble for his slightly bulky frame. He’s a below the rim finisher with great hands and touch. He constantly makes himself a dump off options for driving guards, always locating open space. He is pretty crafty and can face up and drive in for finishes.
In their first game, VCU gave Duke a tough test, ultimately losing and Hamdy was used as the exclusive big in lineups. But in the second game, two days later against Wisconsin, Hamdy was used much more in two-big style lineups with Mo Alie-Cox. Hamdy was equally effective in both games but played twice as many minutes with the big-big lineup. He scored 10 points with three boards in 12 minutes of game one and had 13 points with eight boards in game two.
In a four out spread Hamdy can swing between the elbows and block and have plenty of space to operate. Then playing next to Alie-Cox doesn’t make for a perfect modern lineup by any means but Hamdy makes up for it in some unique ways. While he doesn’t venture out to the perimeter much, he’s pretty mobile and active all around the lane and that forces the defense to constantly be aware of him. And when he does get a chance to face someone up or back them down, whoever is guarding Alie-Cox really can’t help because he has to worry about Mo getting on the offensive glass (he’s averaging 3.5 o-boards a game).
The option of playing big-big lineups as well as getting time as the only inside player allows flexibility for VCU and more run for Hamdy. This VCU team hung with Duke and Wisconsin this weekend and should have won one of those games.
Pienfranesco Oliva, Italian, Face-Up 4, St. Joseph’s (Freshman)
It wasn’t a huge weekend for the Italian forward but St. Joseph’s played tough and split their games versus Florida and Old Dominion. Oliva is playing 26 minutes for St. Joe’s, a team outside of NBA talent DeAndre Bembry are lacking in skilled players and scorers. Playing next to Isaiah Miles, who’s been the Owls next best offensive option after Bembry, Oliva has found a role as a skilled, multi-talented offensive four. Oliva has been pretty conservative with his shot selection, heavily deferring to his older teammates. He has become a very nice option as a distributor and ball mover. His ability to snag a defensive rebound, push the ball himself and try to find some quick offense is hugely beneficial. At the forwards spots with Oliva and Bembry, St. Joe’s has two quality distributors. Oliva is averaging 2.6 assists and game and Bembry has 4.4, one of the nation’s top passing forward combinations.
Oliva keeps the offense flowing and as he gets more comfortable will need to get more aggressive with finding his shot. His jumper isn’t that smooth and that’ll be a huge part of his game he’ll look to improve on over his college career.
Statistically one thing that jumps out is Oliva has 10 blocks through five games. Activity and good defense certainly will continue to get Oliva minutes.
Martin Hermannsson, Iceland, Slashing 2, LIU-Brooklyn (Sophomore)
The guard used to be part of an Icelandic tandem at LIU with Elvar Frioriksson but his fellow countryman teammate transferred to D2 Berry University this summer. Hermannsson remained in New York and in his second season is a leader for the Blackbirds.
Sunday in Brooklyn, LIU barely squeaked out a 77-76 victory over North Carolina Central. Hermannsson played 35 minutes and put in 15 points, two off his team-leading 17 per game. What instantly stands out about Hermannsson is his focus, he’s an attacker from the wing on offense, active on defense, and quickly gets out in transition. Hermannsson doesn’t mess around with the ball much, he makes quick, direct decisions. He’s a fearless driver who doesn’t waste any movement when he gets the ball and makes immediate moves towards the rim. He’s averaging seven free throws per a game (converting them at 90.5%) and was eight for eight versus North Carolina Central. For comparison sake, and Hermannsson is smaller but he has some Mateusz Ponitka mentality to his game.
Hermannsson is also a nifty playmaker, especially as a secondary ball handler. He’s able to make kick-outs on the drive, averaging 3.7 assists per a game this year and 3.3 last year. His weakness is three-point shooting where he’s started the season three for 12 after going 22 of 80 last year. A bit odd to see a 85-90% free throw shooter shoot three’s in the mid-twenties. Will be very interesting to see if this shooting difference continues or changes.
Hermannsson is a really cool college player and is producing at quite a high level for a sophomore. LIU plays at mid to low major level but has some good out of conference tests which will be key games to check him out. Production is production and it looks like Hermannsson has a chance to be a 2,000 point career scorer for LIU.