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L’Hospitalet 2008: It’s a Big World

L’Hospitalet 2008: It’s a Big World
Jan 16, 2008, 11:22 pm
Part One: Balkan Dominance

The ACB teams continue their import policy, bringing players from all over the world to feed their youth programs that should provide the stars of tomorrow for the Spanish league. That’s why the L’Hospitalet Tournament, besides the fact that four foreign teams are brought every year, has become a global event in terms of participants. Besides the Balkans, we could see intriguing players coming from Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, or Spain itself, of course.

Although it ended up being an excellent edition of this tournament, the two non-Balkan foreign squads provided very little intrigue. CSKA lost every single game, even against the extremely limited hosting team. The Russian powerhouse seems to be forgetting lately about its junior program, buying instead older prospects such as they did with Anton Ponkrashov and Artem Zabelin. Perhaps they find more competition coming from other wealthy Russian clubs, but far gone it seems are the days where they featured virtually the entire Russian junior National Team core (like what happened with the 1986 and 1987 generations).

As for Pau Orthez, to bring any French team not named INSEP is likely bound to become a disappointment, since usually the best French talents play with the federal centre at the junior stage. This wasn’t any exception.

Continuity has been the theme in the selection process for this edition, as only one team changed from last year’s (Pau Orthez for PAOK). It’s surely an effective route to gain these teams’ fidelity, and both the Spanish teams involved and the likes of FMP, Cibona or CSKA are good long-term bets (we would love to see Zalgiris joining that group). Short-term wise, it obviously limits the ability to bring some squads that might provide more interest in a certain edition, like Gran Canaria this year.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the most interesting players seen here not born in the former Yugoslavian countries. The crop is headed by the intriguing African duo Michel Diouff and Papa Abdoulaye, that teamed up in F.C.Barcelona’s frontcourt.

MICHEL DIOUFF
1990, PF, 6-9, AXA F.C.Barcelona


Integrating a very athletic and intimidating inside duo with Papa Abdoulaye, Diouff put together a pretty effective performance on both ends of the court, despite possessing a limited repertoire. He’s a very well-built and athletic 6-9 power forward, who makes a living off his short jumper. Indeed his go-to move is a turnaround shot he releases from the low post. Whenever he receives the ball there, he takes a few dribbles looking for contact, and then turns to either shoulder while creating some space with his match-up in order to release his jumper, showing a nice touch in the process. Actually, he’s a solid free-throw shooter and can hit short-range shots with consistency, but his effectiveness noticeably decreases as he goes further away from the basket. Diouff can also go for short jump-hooks, while he can easily play above the rim to finish around the basket.

Right now, he’s more of a back-to-the-basket player, but Diouff looks in the process of adding some face-up skills. His ball-handling ability looks underwhelming at this point, but he’s not shying away from trying to beat his opponents off the dribble. Most of his attempts came from beyond the three-point line, right in front of the basket, and also first putting the ball on the floor and later attacking his match-up, usually with bad results, as he doesn’t handle the ball well enough to manage a decent first step.


PAPA ABDOULAYE
1990, C, 6-10, AXA F.C.Barcelona


A greatly intriguing inside player, Abdoulaye brings to the table a terrific physical/athletic profile with some already decent notions of what this game is about, despite having been playing organized basketball for (reportedly) only one year. Not only is this kid an excellent athlete, but his frame is extremely solid and he enjoys a superb wingspan, while he easily gets off the floor, showing notable leaping ability. Indeed the most spectacular part of his game comes on the defensive end in the form of blocks, where he takes advantage of his length, vertical leap and decent timing. However, he’s still not a very good defender, as he tends to overreact, losing his defensive position too easily sometimes. Anyway, his tools are outstanding in this regard, especially since his already strong frame will readily accept the bulk he needs to battle against stronger inside players.

When it comes to offensive skills, there’s not much to speak of, but enough to keep the intrigue high. Abdoulaye already enjoys a solid mid-range jump-shot that he gets off with a rather high release point, therefore not easy to block. He also shows a real soft touch around the basket, which combined with the good coordination he enjoys, should provide him with a solid low post game down the road. The tools are there for him to work and take advantage of. Besides, he seems to understand the game nicely, reading some passes, asking for the ball in the right place, flowing with the offense. As usual with African kids who come out of nowhere, his real age is a bit of a mystery, but even though his body is notably developed, his face doesn’t look particularly mature.


BOZHIDAR AVRAMOV
1990, PG, 6-5, Pamesa Valencia


Having already gained some experience with Pamesa’s first team in the ULEB Cup, the Bulgarian point guard easily stood out as the leader of the junior team, showcasing some improved abilities. Avramov features a very interesting mix of physical gifts and talent to play the game. He’s quite big, probably near 6-5, and enjoys an excellent frame, a nice wingspan and solid athleticism.

Although distributing the ball wasn’t supposed to be one of his strengths, Avramov looked more focused in L’Hospitalet then he had in the past, taking better care of the ball, sharing it with his teammates, or working to create opportunities through the drive and dish. His beloved flashy (and risky) passes didn’t show up often here, playing more of an orthodox game, but also more effective. Still, he needs to keep improving with the way he distributes the ball, sets the team tempo, and finds the right rhythm for the offense, but he’s on the right path.

He’s probably more focused and comfortable running the point because his ball-handling skills also looked improved. He could regularly beat his opponents attacking both ways, and relying on his dribbling ability, nice quickness and body to protect the ball in order to advance past his defender. Not showing much of a mid-range game, Avramov either looks for the layup or the pass. He enjoys solid court vision and easily finds his open teammates. Another big source of scoring for him is his perimeter stroke. Although staying a bit more erratic than in the last summer, he did connect on a number of long-range shots, even in off-the-dribble mode. With his superior size, it’s certainly a comfortable option for him.

It was very nice to see Avramov always stay positive on the court. He’s reportedly a good kid, always willing to joke with his mates, and he was the one cheering the team on when things went wrong, trying to keep everybody mentally in the game, and showing some leadership skills in the process.


AUGUSTO LIMA
1991, PF, 6-9, Unicaja Malaga


After the likes of Vitor Faverani and Paulao Prestes, Unicaja continues exploring the Brazilian market with Augusto Lima. Still not very skilled, Lima displays very interesting characteristics. He’s a very athletic player, quick and reactive, also very coordinated, who stays pretty active throughout games. Although a bit skinny, his frame looks very promising enough to add weight, also showing a good wingspan.

Right now, Lima is basically an on-ball player, but he does a nice job moving without the ball to look for opportunities near the basket. Probably the most intriguing part about his scoring game is his excellent touch around the basket with his right hand. He can also connect on some mid-range jumpers with promising consistency. On the other hand, besides his right-handed jumphook, he still doesn’t have any real post-up game, but his coordination, promising frame and effectiveness around the basket is an excellent building block for a productive low post package.

Although we never saw Lima attacking his rival off the dribble, he did put the ball on the floor a few times when completely open, suggesting a moderate optimism about his ability to develop some ball-handling skills. A decent passer, especially from the low post, he seems to enjoy a solid basketball IQ.

Everything in his game speaks promise and potential. He’s a very limited guy now, but with the tools to develop into a serious player. We’ll keep an eye on him.


JOSEP FRANCH
1991, PG, 6-3, DKV Joventut


Easily the most creative player in the entire tournament, Josep Franch is a very talented point guard for whom the game comes very easily. Listed at 6-3 (he looks slightly shorter), he’s nicely quick and takes advantage of his excellent ball-handling skills to operate on the court with ease. The most eye-popping ability he displays is his passing game, often spectacular, even eventually flashy. He enjoys excellent court vision and finds his teammates effortlessly, showing a wide array of different passes executed with either hand. Indeed, he’s automatic translating his dribble into a pass. He’s so confident that he sometimes overdoes things trying passes in the air that he still hasn’t decided on before leaving the ground, therefore risking a turnover that sometimes inevitably comes.

Another greatly interesting skill that Franch enjoys is a very solid mid-range jumper he can easily net, even in off-the-dribble mode. Not being very big and neither extremely athletic in order to consistently attack the basket, it’s very useful for him to be able to rely on a solid jumper. He has three-point range, but didn’t look as reliable here. An able defender, he shows good lateral quickness.

Franch usually practices with Joventut’s first team, and he kept reporting during the tournament, which likely hurt his level of performance to some degree. Anyway, his basketball talent is too obvious to hide, even under a shade of fatigue.


DAVID JELINEK
1990, SG, 6-4, DKV Joventut


We saw a rather different Jelinek than the one that showed up this past summer in the Division B of the U-18 European Championships. More of a team player, working harder, playing defense, sharing the ball and the spotlight, also a bit less confident with his game, but anyway delivering a very serious performance.

Of course he’s the same finesse and very fundamentally sound shooting guard, really skilled, elegant, always evolving with poise on the court. He showcased similar strengths as he did then, such as his very good ball-handling skills to attack his opponents, often with crossover dribbles, good touch out to the three-point line, the ability to finish around the basket with both hands creatively, or very nice passing ability that he actually took advantage of this time in drive-and-dish situations. He’s a very fluid player, fluid moving on the court, fluid on the dribble, fluid in the release of the ball, a delight for the senses.

Not a great athlete and playing the shooting guard position with his 6-4/6-5 size, he basically looks strictly a prospect for international basketball, but a very interesting one.


HONORABLE MENTION

CSKA brought a bunch of nice-but-not-great players. Among them, perhaps Dmitry Korshakov deserves some words. A first-year junior (therefore born in 1991), he’s a 6-6 wing with a terrific wingspan and a nice frame. Nicely athletic, he can put the ball on the floor to slash towards the basket with aggressiveness, and also displays a decent perimeter stroke. However, he’s not very creative and lacks a reliable off-the-dribble jumper, looking more like a small forward than a shooting guard. Anyway, he’s pretty active on defense, works on the glass and even came up with some blocks.


The most interesting guy on Pau Orthez was probably the 1990-born Jonathan Leria, a splendid physical specimen, very strong, very athletic, who stands around 6-6, but with limited skills. He’s a wing with little-to-no shooting ability, some ball-handling skills to attack his opponents, but a tendency to commit travelling violations and generally turn the ball over, and aggressiveness to attack the rim and crash the boards.


We close this player-by-player report with Alejandro Hernandez, a skinny, but talented point guard who plays for AXA F.C.Barcelona. Born in 1990, he’s physically quite an underdeveloped kid who stands 6-3, enjoys long arms and shows a decent frame to add weight. Hernandez didn’t deliver his best performance in L’Hospitalet, but regardless left drops of his potential. Pretty quick and a good ball-handler, he’s a creative penetrator with nice ability to slash in traffic and finish around the rim, while he can also find his open teammates regularly.


TOURNAMENT DEVELOPMENT

The L’Hospitalet Tournament has solidified its status as a top junior tournament in Europe with two key deals.

The tourney has been almost entirely broadcasted on national pay TV, which is a great achievement for any youth competition. Besides, it’s apparently a three-year deal that should provide TV coverage for the following two editions.

The second deal involves the Euroleague. Among other organizational details, the big news here is that the two teams reaching the final in L’Hospitalet are automatically granted an invitation for the junior tournament the Euroleague runs during the Final Four.

That means that both FMP Zeleznik and AXA F.C.Barcelona will be in Madrid early in May. That is excellent news for the Euroleague, as both were the most interesting teams seen in L’Hospitalet, and probably the top two European junior squads this year.

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