by: Luis Fernández - Director of International Scouting
February 20, 2008
While the Cup week brought a wide array of strong performances delivered by youngsters across Europe, this past week delivered an unusually weak collection of noticeable outings. In this context, the most consistent guy throughout this period has been the Italian guard Luca Vitali, a foundation piece in the pretty successful Premiata Montegranaro. This past weekend he provided 21 points, including a winning three-pointer to steal the victory from Pesaro.
Italy has always had a small-market tradition in basketball, but it’s not that easy to find a similar situation to Montegranaro’s. With less than 15,000 habitants, its team Sutor (Premiata Monegranaro with the sponsorship name) currently ranks second in a devaluated, but still fairly strong Italian league.
One of the key pieces of the team’s core is an unorthodox and versatile youngster who answers by the name of Luca Vitali, and who can play all three positions on the perimeter. He’s not athletic at all and doesn’t deliver any flashy moves, indeed he’s not a player whose game jumps out at you, but Vitali is one of the most solid youngsters you can find in Europe. He can shoot, he can pass, he’s really smart, and he enjoys excellent size to play in the backcourt.
Coming off a 23-point performance in the Italian Cup, Luca completed his 20+ back-to-back effort with 21 points and 4 assists in a road victory over Scavolini Pesaro. He connected on the winning shot, an NBA-range three-pointer with 6 seconds to go that decided the game in Premiata’s favor.
Photo: Luca Tori
Vitali is averaging 11.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.3 steals, coming off the bench to provide perimeter firepower and some real playmaking skills, easily leading his team in assists. He’s mature beyond his years and enjoys an excellent basketball IQ, emerging as a reliable player that nobody fears to put on the court.
Beyond that, there’s not much NBA potential to speak of. His lack of athleticism is blatant in terms of the American league. But he should be able step up for some big team in Europe down the road.
State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot
Nathan Jawai led the Cairn Taipans to consecutive victories in the Australian NBL League, putting up some impressive numbers. Against the Townsville Crocodiles, he had 21 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists, and then 20 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists against the Wollongong Hawks. Jawai ranks 17th in scoring (17.7), 3rd in rebounds (9.6), 9th in blocked shots (1.0) and 5th in field goal (57.5%). His team hosts a one and done elimination playoff game against the New Zealand Breakers tomorrow that could end up being his last performance in the NBL (update: Jawai's team lost, he had just 4 points and 3 rebounds on 2/9 shooting in 31 minutes). His new agency, Entersport, recently sent us a 10-minute highlight reel they created of Jawai’s best moves this past season.
Check it out:
Joe Ingles followed his countryman with an excellent showing against the Sydney Kings, 24 points and 4 rebounds, that still were not enough to help the Dragons –the bottom ranked team- beat the league leader. Although he only recorded 1 assist in this game, Ingles ranks 4th in the NBL with 4.9 per game, which is pretty impressive for a wing player. His season is now over, and from what we’ve been told, he is headed to the States next month to prepare for the draft.
Chen Jianghua delivered a couple of 17-point performances while helping Guangdong move 3 games up on Liaoning in the CBA Finals. Chen keeps playing an offensive spark role, but it’s interesting to note his terrific percentages. He credits throughout the season on making 64.5% in field goals, almost unheard of for a guard, including a superb 52.6% on three pointers. The trick relies in the huge amount of layups in transition that he scores regularly by taking advantage of his quickness. Still his behind-the-arc accuracy does show a nice improvement in his shooting stroke.
State of the Prospect: Who’s Not
It’s the second time this season we feature Nenad Mijatovic in this section. The first took place in October, where we voiced the poor playing level he was displaying then. Later that very same month, he played his last game as starter, a defeat that left his Buducnost with a negative record in the Adriatic League. Since being relegated to the bench, Nenad averages 1.5 points in 6 minutes during 10 games in the Balkan competition, actually having missed four, and only has been able to record 1 assist in that spam. Meanwhile, his team has managed to pull off a 9-5 record that puts them back in the positive territory. Bad times for the Montenegrin guard.
Rounding Up… Cup Fever
While we were busy the previous week covering the Spanish Copa del Rey, we can’t overlook what happened in other countries’ cups, especially when many youngsters emerged as very important players in their respective tournaments.
Two guys stand out above the rest: Nando de Colo and Milenko Tepic. Both earned MVP honors while leading their teams to the French and Serbian titles.
De Colo is one of the hottest names in Europe right now, and his performance in La Semaine des As, leading one of the bottom-seeded teams -Cholet- to victory, has created some serious buzz. In the three Cup games, he averaged 19 points, 6.3 rebounds (12 in the Final), 4.3 assists and 2 steals.
Meanwhile, Tepic seems to be rebounding after some sort of hiatus at some point of this season, right in time to shine at the Radivoj Korac Cup. His best game came in the semifinal against FMP, when he erupted for 27 points and 4 assists.
Closely following them, Anton Ponkrashov enjoyed a huge role in Khimki’s shocking win in the Russian Cup (a Final Four tournament with a level only comparable in Europe to the Spanish Copa del Rey). In the semifinal against Dynamo Moscow, he dished out a whopping 12 assists, only to switch to scoring mode in the final and end up with 16 points and 3 assists in a very convincing victory against the almighty CSKA.
Back to the French Cup, Alexis Ajinca deserves a very special mention. For a guy who barely got consistent minutes during the season, to blossom for 14 rebounds and 7 blocks in the quarterfinal, is quite notable. He is apparently strongly considering attending the Nike Hoop Summit this year once again (along with possibly Serge Ibaka, Giorgi Shermadini and fellow Frenchman Nicolas Batum—according to rumors)
In addition to the seven teams mentioned above, Douai will also showcase a group of 12 African prospects also playing under the Adidas Nations umbrella. Youssoupha Mbao and Negueba Samake were two names mentioned already as participants.
Physicals Height: 7' 2" Weight: 220 lbs. Birthday: 02/17/1987 30 Years Old Teams: High School: Previous Team: Barcelona , PRO Drafted: Rnd 2, Pick #14 in 2008 Draft by the Jazz Positions: Current: C, NBA: C, Possible: C Quick Stats: 13.5 Pts, 7.3 Rebs, 2.2 Asts
Physicals Height: 6' 5" Weight: 221 lbs. Birthday: 09/19/1989 27 Years Old Teams: High School: American Christian Academy Previous Team: Kings , PRO Drafted: Rnd 1, Pick #4 in 2009 Draft by the Kings Positions: Current: PG/SG, NBA: PG/SG, Possible: Quick Stats: 13.0 Pts, 4.5 Rebs, 4.0 Asts