Looking ahead: Spanish U-20 Circuit

Looking ahead: Spanish U-20 Circuit
Aug 03, 2007, 12:13 am
After only two years of existence, the Spanish U-20 Circuit has become one of the hottest competitions for NBA international scouting. Blame Joel Freeland. Few NBA scouts knew him when he showed up last year in the Treviso EuroCamp, but he had played multiple times in the Circuit that very same year. Now, nobody wants to miss the next hidden guy. It's not like Freeland will turn out to be the next big thing out of Europe, but reality says that there are many interesting players to see in this setting.

The U-20 Circuit was born in the 2005/06 season as a shared project by the ACB League and the Spanish Basketball Federation. Given the considerable gap existing between the last stage of youth competitions (junior, meaning U-18) and the top Spanish Leagues, the idea was to fill that void with a competition where all these kids, particularly those between 18-20 years old, would get meaningful playing time and competition at an accurate level for them. The roster requirements are very flexible, so in the end many younger and older kids also take part, while it's designed to always be compatible in terms of schedule with the minor leagues (LEB-2, third Spanish division, and below). The emphasis is always on becoming a useful experience for the players' process of maturity.

Still, the real strength and interest of the Circuit relies in the fact that the economic strength of the ACB teams is attracting bunches of international prospects from around the world (either signed or for tryouts) that are showcased in this setting. The ACB has become the primary destination for international young talent. Even the NCAA sometimes struggles to compete nowadays with the Spanish League when it comes to importing basketball prospects. Therefore, the U-20 Circuit has become virtually an international competition.

So this is an excellent setting to take a look at some of the basketball pools outside the traditional European breeding grounds, particularly South America (with the likes of Nocedal and Faverani), Africa (Ibaka and Mbao) and marginal European pools (Norel and Driesen), to bring up some little discussed players here on DraftExpress. Of course the most promising Spanish prospects are also here, and this seems like the perfect timing to introduce Alberto Jodar, fresh off a great performance at the U-16 European Championships.

Serge Ibaka
6-10, PF, 1989, L'Hospitalet


Ibaka has needed little time to make a name for himself on the Spanish basketball scene. There's no wonder why it has happened: he can be truly a spectacular player on a basketball court, mostly thanks to a superb physical profile, but also due to some intriguing abilities that project him above your typical African physical freak. He played in the final round of the U-20 Circuit with DKV Joventut, but his rights belong to L'Hospitalet.

The forward from Congo stands up to 6-10, also enjoying a very nice wingspan. He's a very athletic guy, reactive, even explosive. He gets off his feet very easily and his dunks are very powerful. He showcases a nice ripped frame, nicely strong for his age and virtually with no fat. Obviously, he will still need to gain weight, but there's time for that given his youth.

Moving to the skill department, at first sight you find the pleasant surprise that Ibaka can actually shoot the ball. Indeed, he's fairly solid from mid-range distances and has range out to the three-point line. It's basically the jumper of a big man, static, only able to release it off the dribble from short distances, often using the glass. The fluidity of his mechanics are decent, but particularly interesting is the high point of release, both because of his leaping effort and his technique. Although he actively asks for the ball from the low post, he shows very little from there, often turning around to go up for a jump shot or just passing the ball. Serge is not a bad passer; he probably doesn't enjoy great court vision, but he stays cool with the ball in his hands, looks around, values his options and decides pretty fast. Still, his decision making is very questionable when he decides to take the ball himself. A pretty average ball-handler even for a big man, he likes to attack his opponent going right, looking a bit mechanical in the process. He can settle for short shots if he finds opposition in the lane, or go up for the dunk. If he doesn't enjoy a clear route to the basket, then he doesn't look too smart trying to get something done, overdoing himself with ineffective dribbles and fakes. Generally speaking, his understanding of the game seems average at this point.

Defensively, Ibaka is gifted with superb tools, but he's inconsistent using them. He's rather nimble on his feet for a power forward, showing nice lateral quickness to contain his match-ups and deliver good flashing moves defending pick-and-roll plays. He's potentially a notable shot blocker, with length, mobility and leaping ability to get the job done on defensive rotations, but also the reactivity to easily contest his own match-up's shot attempts. However, he doesn't always deliver the same effort and degree of activity. Sometimes his defensive rotations are poor or he doesn't look too focused. Besides, as often happens with players of his profile, he sometimes tends to go for the block instead of focusing on stopping the opponent. Although strong for his age, he's still a bit skinny and might eventually get outmuscled in the low post, where he doesn't show particularly physical defense. Also a potentially excellent rebounder, he enjoys very nice hands to come away with the ball, although he doesn't always properly box out his rival.

All in all, he's a very intriguing guy, and we've been told that he learns pretty fast. We'll see soon how he deals with good-level competition in the LEB league, the Spanish second division, playing for L'Hospitalet. He's been training in the States over the past month at Abunassar Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, and will be participating at the Adidas Nations event in New Orleans this upcoming week.

Matias Nocedal
6-5, PG/SG, 1990, Tau Vitoria


There's apparently quite a big void alter the current Argentinean generation that has been delighting basketball fans around the world for some years now. Nobody seems to enjoy truly great potential, nobody except this 16-year-old gem called Matias Nocedal. Signed through a very long contract with Tau Vitoria, he took part in the Division B of the U-20 Circuit playing with AutoCid Burgos, since the Basque club doesn't have a team of its own in this competition.

A skilled and rather athletic combo guard, Nocedal is a very talented player with an excellent feel for the game. At this point, he's still a pretty wild guy who needs to learn the ropes of the playmaking. He's not a pure point by any means, but he displays nice tools and certainly has time to improve. He comes up with excellent and creative passes from time to time, either off the drive or from the perimeter, showing good court vision, but he's not a consistent distributor.

Quite strong for his age, showing a good frame for a guard and nice wingspan, the Argentinean often falls in love with his ball-handling skills and ability to beat opponents off the dribble. He's a very solid ball-handler with his right hand, but rather suspect with his left. Still, he's pretty explosive for his age, quite effective with crossover dribbles and shows excellent footwork on slashing moves (for example, he likes to split both defenders on pick and roll traps), so for him it's pretty easy to get into the lane. However, he often forces too much and runs into dead-end streets. On a positive note, he's a tough guy who can play off contact and also finishes with both hands near the basket (better with the right), although he releases his layups a bit too low, therefore easier to block.

A rather intriguing part of his game is his ability to knock down jumpers at his young age. For a guy with his slashing abilities and physical gifts, it's refreshing to see that he doesn't only rely on them. Although he needs to gain some consistency from the arc, Nocedal displays nice form and is pretty consistent shooting off-the-dribble.

To sum up, Nocedal displays a nice array of skills to work with, while his biggest weaknesses are nothing that maturity and work shouldn't be able to fix up to certain extent.

Vitor Faverani
6-11, PF/C, 1988, Unicaja Málaga


After a troubled tenure loaned in Cai Zaragoza at the LEB league, Faverani had the chance to go back to Unicaja and join the U-20 squad late into the season and deliver some extremely intriguing performances in the Circuit. He's an impressive prospect, combining both a great physical/athletic profile and an excellent skill set. Still immature in some areas of the game, the real drawback about him is his mentality as a basketball player. There are serious concerns about his work ethic, commitment and behavior. His ceiling is as high as his floor is low.

The Brazilian big stands close to seven feet, enjoys a good wingspan, nice strength, an excellent frame, and he's certainly athletic for a guy of his size. The real intrigue starts whenever you check that, along with those physical gifts, he actually can play the game. He's a very solid guy both in the low post and from the mid range area. Faverani has the strength to operate down low, enjoys nice footwork and an excellent touch with both hands on his hook shoot. Needless to say, that a superb combination that makes him very effective there. If he's not banging in the paint, he can shoot the ball from the mid-range, even out to the three-point line, with very nice mechanics and accuracy. Eventually, he can also release his jumper off the dribble with decent results. Although able to put the ball on the floor, he rarely attacks his match-ups off the dribble. He's not a bad player without the ball, particularly if he feels motivated (when he shows more activity on court). He's an able pick and roll player and nicely fills the lane looking for post-entry passes.

With this array of skills and abilities, it would be logical to expect very regular offensive production. Actually he often looks completely effortless delivering some of his stuff. However, it's not rare at all to see Faverani disinterested, passive on the court, not focused on the game. He badly needs to mature on the mental side. Maturity and knowledge of the game is what he also needs on the defensive end. Despite enjoying superb tools, such as excellent mobility, athleticism, length or strength, Faverani is often clueless about how to stop his opponents. His positioning on court is poor, his timing for defensive rotations pretty bad, he's very foul prone as he falls for most fakes looking for the block. Experience, defensive discipline, concentration and hard-work are what he lacks most.

To summarize and try to picture the kind of player we're dealing with here, Faverani could be easily make some noise in the ACB League next season and end up as a lottery pick in a year or two from now, but he just as well could virtually fall off the map due his work ethic and troubled behavior.

Alberto Jodar
6-9, SF/PF, 1991, Alta Gesión Fuenlabrada


The youngest kid in this review, Jodar is a forward who still has a very long way to go, but is already showing excellent potential. He's fresh off a great performance in the U-16 European Championship leading Spain to a silver medal and clinching a spot in the all-tournament team. And last summer, he was a very important part of the supporting cast that upped Ricky Rubio's Spain to win that very same continental championship. This season he has regularly played in Fuenlabrada's junior team.

The intrigue starts with his physical profile. He's a very long kid, not only standing 6-9 tall and still growing, but displaying a superb wingspan. In terms of his frame, Jodar is not particularly wide, actually more in the line of lengthy players, but still shows a nice body structure that will allow him to become strong enough to operate in the frontcourt. Nicely athletic, he logically has a ways to go in terms of explosiveness.

His go-to move is the spot-up jumper. Jodar is rather effective out to the three-point line (although he looked very erratic in the Circuit), displaying nice mechanics in the process, but he barely shows any off-the-dribble ability in this regard. Actually, he's still not much of a ball-handler. Fuenlabrada is putting emphasis on his perimeter abilities, trying to make him versatile enough to play small forward. Still, at this point his profile suits better with the power forward position. He shares his time both on the perimeter and in the low post (particularly against his peers), where he shows some decent moves and a limited ability with the jump-hook. Jodar can put the ball on the floor with both hands and attack his match-ups. Even if he nicely keeps control of the ball, he's too slow off the dribble, showing an average first step, although with nice strides. In the end, he is rarely able to completely beat his opponent, but he usually stays under control, and easily finds his teammates off-the-dribble. Indeed he's a pretty nice passer, reading well the game. Defensively he intimidates with his wingspan and cares about team defense, staying alert in the passing lines. On the other hand, he's still a bit slow in the lateral movement department. Showing nice hands, he's also a productive rebounder.

Although looking like an excellent player in the making, Jodar will have to seriously work on his off-the-dribble skills to really emerge as a top perimeter prospect.

Henk Norel
6-11, PF/C, 1987, DKV Joventut


A very talented and skilled big man, Henk Norel is quite a familiar name for Spanish basketball fans, having been often praised as a great prospect with a bright future. Still, he's on the verge of turning 20 years old and has barely played at any higher level than LEB-2 in Spain. And that's in spite of being part of Joventut, a team that is well-known for providing playing opportunities to its youngsters early. The reason probably rests in the fact that Norel is still a very immature player in terms of his physical development.

Henk is a long guy, standing easily 6-11 in shoes, with a nice wingspan. He's quite skinny, though, and shows an average frame, while being easily pushed around on both ends of the court. However, he's a highly skilled and pretty versatile player with a very nice feel for the game. A very intriguing mix, as strength is something that is easier to add, even in Norel's case.

Currently, perhaps his best offensive weapon is his mid-range shot, showing a sweet and solid stroke. He can even shoot from near the arc, although not consistently. Anyway, he enjoys a pretty interesting soft touch near the rim, being able to net jump-hooks regularly with both hands. It's not really his specialty, and his mechanics sometimes look pretty unorthodox; it's probably due the fact that he's not very prolific in the low post, where he suffers physically and doesn't make up for his lack of strength with polished enough footwork, even if he eventually shows some very nice moves. On the other hand, he's rather active playing without the ball, being nicely effective in pick-and-roll situations, where he doesn't hesitate to look for the dunk if he's offered the space. Also, he can decently put the ball on the floor with both hands, although he still doesn't show the quickness and reactivity to light his defender up. A nice passer from both the high or low post, Norel shows a good basketball IQ playing the game.

On defense his physical immaturity limits his effectiveness. He can suffer in the low post against physical players, he still lacks some reactiveness despite his nice mobility, and perhaps you can miss a small degree of aggressiveness to challenge his opponents. Still, he has delivered a pretty solid season in LEB-2 and he might get some burn in the ACB for the next campaign.

Youssoupha Mbao
7-1, C, 1990, Gran Canaria Grupo Dunas


Another intriguing international recruitment for Gran Canaria (with the likes of the first-round draftee Joel Freeland and the Hoop-Summit participant Ryan Richards), Mbao is an extremely raw young big man, but at the same time enjoys the kind of potential that only his great length can provide. Standing over seven feet and coupled with a nice wingspan, the kid displays a skinny body in an average frame. For a guy his size, Mbao is a pretty athletic player, running the court quite well and showing some interesting reactiveness (always considering his young age). He's a coordinated player who moves on the court with a certain feel for the game; nothing spectacular, but still you can see a serious project of a basketball player.

At this point, Mbao does most of the damage on the defensive end. He fully takes advantage of his length to change many shots, actively contesting either his own opponent's shots or on defensive rotations. Actually, he shows quite good positioning and mobility on the defensive end, and some interesting timing when he goes for the block, which is not that often. Offensively, he lacks any serious go-to move. He barely shows any type of shooting stroke (his free-throw percentages are awful) and his low post game is still pretty ineffective; not only is he not strong enough to play physical down low, but his footwork looks unpolished and his jump-hook very rusty at this point. On the other hand, he's a pretty nice passer out of the low post and can eventually put the ball on the floor. Sometimes he lacks some aggressiveness to attack the rim, and as the game advances, he might look a bit passive on court, too static without the ball, not filling spaces quick enough.

A long-term project, extremely raw on the offensive end, very immature on the physical side, still intriguing but extremely unpredictable as far as his eventual development is concerned.

Yannick Driesen
7-1, C, 1988, MMT Estudiantes

2541[c]Driesen on a defensive situation[/c]

We hadn't seen Driesen since back in the 2005 U-18 championships, a sort of coming out party for him, where he fed the intrigue with a very nice perimeter stroke for a seven-footer. But that was virtually everything he did on the court, spot-up long-range jumpers. You can tell Estudiantes is trying to increase his versatility and array of weapons, although he still has a long ways to go. Actually, whenever he would have shot the ball without a second thought from the three point line in the past, now he often contains himself even if he's fully open.

Apparently, the mantra for him is to go inside. Driesen has gained significant strength in the past couple of years, but there's still work to do on that regard. He's rather active in the low post, but his footwork looks unpolished and his moves lack fluidity. He still doesn't show much ability to release hook shots, so in the end the usual outcome is a turnaround jumper, being able to use a slight fade away move to create space. He's also showing some timid attempts of putting the ball on the floor, usually with the right hand, but getting mixed results.

Decently athletic for his size, enjoying a good wingspan, he's a solid rebounder and has some interesting defensive tools, although again his lack of strength hurts him in this department. Combine that with his offensive limitations, and chances are we will still have to wait until we see him in the ACB League.

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