By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
After four days of action, eight teams battling it out from seven different countries, Joventut Badalona won the 2013 NIJT Championship. Here are some notes on the players that stood out in London. For almost every team I will also give a personal favorite player. In scouting it’s important to separate someone you like because of the way they play the game and how talented you think a player is. The personal favorites are talented players, just not necessarily in an elite sense. But they are the ones that I’d want having a role on any team I construct.
Club Joventut Badalona (4-0 +35)
Badalona was the class of the NIJT as I wrote about after their Championship win. They thrived on ball movement and the ability for almost everyone on the team to handle the ball. They got out in transition often and were always willing to throw the ball ahead. Since everyone could either shoot or handle the ball, the whole team was a bunch of space creators with so many open shots becoming available. On defense they executed a full court press nicely with a lot of pressure and intensity. They were the class of the whole tournament and it’s just wonderful to see the extra pass become a staple of a team.
#4 Gerard Gomila, G, 1.90 M, 1995
Tough and stocky guard who played both backcourt spots. He used his size well, bouncing off guys in the lane and rarely getting off balance. He had a really nice wide crossover that allowed him to get by defenders and was solid at kick out passing. With a sturdier frame he was a very good rebounding guard, averaging 3.8 per game. Solid Badalona role player who can play both guard spot but should transition to a full time point.
#6 Alberto Abalde, SG/SF, 2.00 M, 1995
Scoring magician was MVP of the tournament. Go-to move was one dribble pull-up jumper or just a catch and shoot jumper which he would knock down with ease. Always could get space for his jumper. Slender guy but tough player who could finish in a variety of ways at the hoop including reverse layups and floaters. He mixed it up on the offensive glass too averaging two a game and was good at jumping passing lanes, averaging 1.3 steals a game. Had forward size now and needs to grow into a forwards body. Could have used his left hand more but now I’m nit-picking. Was smooth in everything he did and just had a feel for the rim. Was always hungry to score.
#10 Agusti Sans, G, 1.93 M, 1995
A really strong driver who rarely gets out of control, Sans led a great passing team in assists at 5.5 per game. Really good at finding seems and driving angles to the paint. If there is an open man the ball stays in his hands for a second before being whipped out, a very willing passer. Always has his head up. Was the guy rocketing passes half way up the court on the fast break. Most well-rounded player on Badalona with scoring, ability to board, phenomenal passer, and very smart on defense. Took over the tournament on last two days, ball always seemed to be in control when in Sans’ hands. Was also named to All-Tournament Team.
#12 David Iriarte, PF/C, 2.06 M, 1995
Versatile player for Badalona who would guard the biggest guy (Ristic, Draskovic…) on the opposing teams even though he is undersized to be a center. Really hard worker capable of handling the ball and making open three’s. Averaged 3.5 fouls a game, as he really likes to body people up but we were also dealing with very debatable refereeing.
#13 Jose Nogues, PF, 2.04 M, 1995
Get out the way, the slashing power forward is coming down the lane. Nogues used a variety of herky-jerky moves to get to the basket. He wasn’t off balanced but he always did a great job of getting his defender off balance because it was really hard to read which way he’d be going. Great moves around the basket, can spin either way, finishes with a soft touch and usually below the rim. Good spacer with developing three point range, ran the pick and roll a lot with his guards. Big hustler who zoomed up the court on the fast break. Even as one of the best players on the team was always willing to kick it one pass more if a defender was closing out on him. Doesn’t have great athleticism or height but super crafty for a big man.
Personal Favorite: #9 Xavier Assalit, PG, 1.88 M, 1995
Furious rim attacker. Long, athletic frame, that he used to pester opposing point guards, jump passing lanes, and be an all out devil at the top of the press. Used long strides to get by defender with quick first step. Once he had some momentum, no one was going to catch him. Drew 10 fouls in one game going 13/15 from the line. The game flowed so freely for him, one-handed passes, quick dribble drives, and jumping all over the place on defense. Doesn’t have a jump shot and played mostly point guard. Possibly has a Victor Sada like future ahead.
Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade (2-1 +34)
They came into London as the favorite with players who played in Istanbul last year and a couple guys who have dominated the youth scene. Red Star was an incredibly solid but relatively unspectacular team. They had tons of size, controlled the boards, had one of the better point guards, and long wing players, but there was something missing. Their was limited ball movement and scoring really rested on the shoulders of just a few players (Restic, Rebic, Guduric). This is a team that should have bullied there way to the Championship but instead too often seemed to be going through the motions instead of attacking their opponent. The players were wound too tight and really crumbled in the big game versus Badalona.
#4 Nikola Rebic, PG, 1.88 M, 1995
Played 65 minutes in two games and had the ball in his hands for most of it. Patient attacker who did a real good job of feeding his big men. Better driver than shooter, finishes well with contact, and shot 93% from the line including the Belgrade and London NIJT’s. In the end the ball just seemed to stick to him too much and he had little trust in his teammates outside of Restic. Kinda plays like he’s angry.
#6 Marko Guduric, SG, 1.97 M, 1995
Was the offensive spark plug on the wing for Red Star. Has a nice jab step and found good driving angles. Fair size for a guard and was a really good rebounder, getting seven a game. A guy that was looking for scoring opportunities and has real confidence in his scoring game.
#10 Brano Dukanovic, SG, 1.96 M, 1995
Silky smooth shooter, who has mastered the one dribble pull-up. Couldn’t buy a three the first couple games and then went off in Red Star’s final showing. Hard worker on both sides of the ball, got to loose balls and ran the break well. Has real value as floor spacer, shooter, and solid passer. The word fluid comes to mind when describing his game.
#14 Dusan Ristic, C, 2.12 M, 1995
Complete offensive game for a big man at this level. Can get good post position, has the hooks, shots, and footwork to destroy other bigs at this level. Serious touch on his finishes. Ante Tomic game. Good interior passer. Not a great defender but timed his blocks well averaging 2.2 a game. With Restic it’s just more layups than dunks, a loft of softness in his game. Isn’t great finishing through contact. Incredibly skilled player but needs to get tougher, has no mean streak in his game at all. Was an All-Tournament performer.
#15 Marko Teljic, C, 2.09 M, 1995
Formed a twin towers lineup with Ristic often, but neither one was overly-aggressive enough to make it as dominant a lineup as it should have been. Good offensive rebounder, averaged three a game. Decent shot blocker and had nice length for a big.
Personal Favorite: #12 Dorde Kaplanovic, PF, 2.09 M, 1995
Uber-role player. Wasn’t afraid to bang around and go after the offensive glass. Just a down and dirty player, something Red Star needed more of. Finished well around the hoop and was a solid passer for a big man. He was the garbage man.
Team China (1-2 -29)
China had an all out mentality at the NIJT. They got the ball and attacked the rim. Attack, attack, attack. And if that lane got clogged up then it was a kick out for a three pointer. They trapped and double teamed whenever they could. If you didn’t have at least three fouls then you weren’t playing hard enough. They were the Houston Rockets of the NIJT and their overly aggressive style was always boom or bust.
#6 Qian Wu, PG, 1.90 M, 1994
Was the point guard of the Chinese attack probably because he was one of the only ones who could stay under control. Moved the ball around well and was a sneaky driver. Pesky on defense averaging 2.3 steals a game, but everyone on China was pesky. Had real shooting woes but stood out as a guy China could lean on when things were getting a little too out of control.
#11 Jinglong Li, SF, 1.95 M, 1995
He put up 30 three’s in three games which is a feat on to itself. Unfortunately he only made eight of them but he gets a mention here because he personified the Chinese outlook. Chuck and run.
Personal Favorite: #13 Kai Jiang, G, 1.90 M, 1994
Jiang was my favorite because he was the most unhinged and out of control. He fully embodied everything China was doing and eventually too a fault. Get the ball, drive straight to the basket. He did have some nice, funky moves in the lane and had a handful of crafty finishes, but in the end 18 turnovers over three games tells you exactly how much he valued ball security.
Lietuvos Rytas (0-3 -40)
This is sad because of how great the well oiled machine that won last year’s Championship was. Rytas was too small, less talented, and sadly was probably the worst team in London. They were missing their best player Edvinas Seskus who was MVP of the Šiauliai NIJT, but he couldn’t have made up for everything. Their guards worked hard, their big men not as much, and they really shot the ball poorly. Rytas failed to score more than 65 points in any game. This is a great program and it’s a testament to them that they even made it to London with this year’s crop of talent.
#4 Deividas Kumelis, G, 1.88 M, 1995
Without him they might have gotten blown out by China, seriously. Good shooter but thought he should have been more aggressive getting shots. Played tough throughout and moved the ball well. Got two steals each in the two games he actually played real minutes and I would have ridden him harder if I were the Rytas coaches.
#14 Gediminas Zalalis, PF/C, 2.05 M, 1995
Decent offensive rebounder who has a nice all-around game for a big man. Just really lacked the hustle that defined last year’s Rytas bigs. You can see he has a jump shot, some athleticism, and can sky for boards in the paint but not really a post up big and never put it all together. There were glimpses of solid play but rarely much more.
#16 Lukas Ganas, G, 1.86 M, 1995
Is probably a life long LKL player because of his inability to score but man what a rebounder for his size (4.3 rpg). Just really impressed when you see one of the smallest guys on the court battling for boards while the much taller Rytas post players can’t get to the ball. Good passer, averaged 3.3 assists per game. Would have been a great role player on a good Rytas team, but on this particular team he couldn’t maximize his strengths.
Personal Favorite: #5 Augustas Suliauskas, PG, 1.80 M, 1995
Similar to Tomas Galeckas last year, I just love point guards who yell, scream, hustle, and total take command of their team. Suliauskas was the little fireball that could. He was a really small but there was a lot of heart packed into his game. Most everything developed and stayed on the perimeter where he moved the ball around, directed traffic, and took open jumpers. When he did get in the lane, he did a good job with drop-off passes to bigs but sometimes that was his only option with finishing being a real problem at his height. In the end, it doesn’t get much tougher than him.
OKK Spars Sarajevo (1-2 -2)
This truly was a three man team and those three players listed below got driven into the ground. Spars had some talent but it seemed like they were unprepared for the moment. Had extremely few offensive options and not a team that dug in too hard on defense. Buza on the wing and Salic in the paint are great talents for this level, but it just wasn’t nearly enough against much deeper teams. Spars and Salic often got frustrated and jacked up some really questionable shots. They were a team of moments with a couple guys making spectacular plays, but that was about it. Salic and Buza made the All-Tournament team but they shouldn’t have as they have inflated stats from playing so many minutes.
#5 Aleksej Nikolic, G, 1.88 M, 1995
Barely came off the floor and had the ball in his hands a lot. Good rebounder for his size and one of the few guys on this team who could make a play for someone else. Good shooter from deep. You could see the pressure of having to do so much weighed on him.
#13 Nedim Buza, SG/SF, 2.03 M, 1995
He’s like butter he’s so smooth. But butter melts when it gets hot and Buza wasn’t up to the task last weekend. Long athlete with an incredibly clean stroke, he seems to float around the floor. More of an off-ball player because of his lack of aggressiveness but did a nice job on the glass and when Spars actually could get out on the fast break. Still maturing and has the body and offensive tools to be really good but needs an aggressiveness injection.
#15 Djoko Salic, C, 2,10 M, 1995
A man amongst boys is the usual tale for Salic. Pretty hard for a guy to average 21 points and 12 rebounds and not look that great, but Salic did. He was great at pushing defenders back into superior post position and that looks to be an elite skill, but not much came after that. He can finish very well when close to the hoop but if you can push him off the block at all the problems begin. Not a good shooter and forced endless amounts of jumpers when he was double or triple teamed. Had little interest in setting off-ball screens, boxing out, or playing help defense. With his big body and long arms you can see the potential but he made very few of the small “basketball” plays that help teams win and help out his teammates. Although dominant at times, Djoko was interested in helping Djoko.
Personal Favorite: None
Barcelona Regal (3-1 +11)
Barcelona made the Championship game but got destroyed by their fellow Catalans. Lot of individual talent on this team but guys didn’t really feed off each other’s games. Relied heavily on Garcia to score. The bigs got better at the tournament went on and really started to attack the rim. In the end everyone was looking for Hezonja to go off at some point and open up space for everyone else, but he never did.
#4 Mario Hezonja, SG, 2.00 M, 1995
Has the full offensive toolbox. Feathery stroke, great at hitting cutters, smooth ball handler, and can get up for finishes. But man does he frustrate you. He always has to make a play. If he can’t drive on you then he’ll pull up for a jump shot or force a pass into a possible assist scenario. Never let the game come to him. Often seemed disinterested and had little contact with his teammates. He had six turnovers in a game versus Team England and finished the tournament shooting 6/24 total from the field. Had an injury in the game versus Spars and Barcelona played their best basketball without him, able to move the ball without the ball stopper around. He sweats talent but with his mindset and game plan you start to worry what might become of Hezonja. The youth level is not the place for him anymore, he needs to be pushed.
#7 Marc Garcia, SG/SF, 1.97 M, 1996
Could get his jumper whenever he wanted it and has an ultra smooth release. Can catch and shoot from anywhere. Has almost a soft aggressiveness because he is instant offense but in a very gentile manner. When he drives it was usually to get his jumper as his slender frame doesn’t do well in contact. Did have some nice sneaky finishes because the ball comes off his hands so soft. Younger than most everyone at the NIJT and has time to grow but is seriously skinny. Best release on a jump shot at the NIJT, keeps the ball nice and high always so he can go right up for his shot.
#11 Adria Cantenys, F, 1.99 M, 1995
This guy can play and went too under the radar all tournament. Can do a lot of different things for a power forward. It’s not the most charming shot in the world but he can stretch out to the three stripe. Has serious ups and really put it down a few times. Good at driving by a big closing on on his shot and as mentioned, can really finish. Had a five block game against Spars. Very low usage player but effective in short spurts. Could really be utilized with smart passing point guard.
#13 Ludde Hakanson, PG, 1.90 M, 1996
You left wanting more from him. Solid shooter and decent creator for others but wasn’t a consistent force at all. Barcelona needed him to make more plays and open up the offense but he was too hesitant. Not sure if he has the quickness a high level guard needs but there were also few times he even tried to show it off. Can really handle the ball at the top of the key and start the offense, just didn’t do a whole lot else.
#18 Milovan Draskovic, C, 2.11 M, 1995
Just a giant. A Giorgi Shermandini like guy. Conquered the offensive glass and was great at going right back up for dunks. Just a pure rim protector and finisher. Did at good job at both ends but really lacks post-up moves and a strong enough body to take lot of contact on defense. His offense is about rolls, dives, cuts and getting a pass for a quick finish. Kind of a choppy player but attacks the rim with tenacity. Some people really liked him and you can see with his length that he can become a a truly disruptive force at center on both ends.
Personal Favorite: #10 Pau Cami, PG, 1.61 M, 1996
Go read that height again. He was by far the smallest guy in London but that didn’t matter to Pau. Has decent form on his jumper but couldn’t buy a basket all weekend. Looked to get others the ball in a position to score and was a little bit of an emotional leader for Barcelona even as one of the youngest on the team. But you can see the real weakness in this team when their toughest player is the smallest guy on the floor.
INSEP Paris (1-2 -34)
Similar to Barcelona, everything with INSEP was based around Inglis and waiting for him to break out. And similar to Hezonja that never really happened. This is a less talented INSEP team and they had real trouble scoring. They showed some heart in coming back from 17 down versus Team England in the second half and winning in overtime, but that was about it.
#7 Damien Inglis, SF, 2.01 M, 1995
First time you see him his body just jumps off the court. Strong, big body for a wing and is able to play the point forward role. Even with his solid stats his play was not up to expectations. He fouled out of two games. This INSEP team was under talented compared to those of the past but it was a perfect storm in a few games for him to takeover. Inglis can drive and finish but really struggled with his jumper and forcing the issue in his playmaking. NBA body, tons and tons of skills, but not totally sure how to always those skills and was on a fairly bad team.
#12 Ywen Smock, PF, 2.03 M, 1996
Pretty powerful looking player, an imposing figure. Got the ball in positions to score but wasn’t a great finisher for his size. Had six blocks and 10 rebounds versus Team England, showing you what he can bring. Wasn’t a super hustler or offensive rebounder and would like to see more of that but he is also a year younger and still learning.
Personal Favorite: None
Team England (1-2 +2)
Unlike the rest of these teams, the English players haven’t been playing with each other all year and just had a few practices to get ready for the NIJT. But they were a surprise team completely and utterly led by Nelson. Once he got going, the team followed suit. Everything was about dribble penetration with either Nelson or Dang. England didn’t have much ball movement and relied mostly on individual, one on one play. But they came within an overtime of being 2-1 and for a team recently put together, that’s fairly impressive.
#6 Luke Nelson, G, 1.90 M, 1995
Nelson was awesome, a real creative player who loved the opportunity to be England’s go to playmaker. He has a loose but impressive ball handling, really utilizing the crossover to change directions. Once he figured out how to get by his man, he was really creative in the lane with his passes and finishes. Didn’t have the best shooting performances but every defense was keyed on him and most shots were contested. Has the ability to hang in the air for a shot. In true point guard fashion Nelson would try to get others involved early and then started pouring on the scoring in the fourth quarter. That could also be a more taking advantage of opportunities than mindset too. He get after it on defense and overall was the surprise performer, in a good way, of the weekend.
#4 Jules Dang, G, 1.95 M, 1996
Dang currently plays in the Union Olimpija system. He’s very quick and has an aggressive nature to his drives. But he is a year younger and that one year is huge for development. He forced the issue too much and often was a black hole on the fast break. Once Nelson took over more of the point guard and making plays for other role, it was easier for Dang just to let the game come to him. Intriguing prospect because of his quick powerfulness once he gets moving but still needs to develop how to score in the flow of the offense.
#12 Kingsley Okoroh, C, 2.16 M, 1995
Long body and solid offensive rebounder. Sometimes had trouble catching tough passes from Nelson but was the guy guards looked for off the drive. Did a good job finishing plays but started none. Has very little muscle definition, if at all, and his height was a supreme advantage at this level.
Personal Favorite: #13 Benjamin Lawson, PF, 2.09 M, 1995
White English people who can get up like this, I start to having a little bit of a soft spot for them. He also had a three block and four steal performance versus Barcelona and I love the feistiness.
*Heights are from the roster sheet handed out at the NIJT.