The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Centers

The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Centers
Sep 05, 2005, 05:30 pm
We finally arrive to the most prized pieces, the seven footers. The object of the biggest desires for many teams, but at the same time, a frequently risky proposition. Everybody wants the next Gasol, but nobody wants to mix up with the next Frederic Weis. Indeed we’ve seen some great kids in Belgrade in terms of potential, but none of them is free from serious concerns. Only time will tell, we can just guess.

We’ve addressed every player in the neighborhood of seven feet in this “centers” article, even if some may end up playing power forward. The bunch featured in this chapter enjoys easily the biggest NBA draft potential among the positions dealt in this articles series. Have a read; you’ll see why…

More coverage from Belgrade:

European Junior Championships Recap One

European Junior Championships Recap Two

European Junior Championships: The Power Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Small Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Shooting Guards

European Junior Championships: The Point Guards

All photos provided by FIBA Europe’s excellent official website

Croatia; 1987; 7-1; C; 30.5 mpg, 12.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 spg


Tomic was the most pleasant surprise of the tournament, a player every NBA team is likely drooling about. Given the usual pattern with international bigs these days, Tomic is almost just a few characteristics short of being a “dream come true”. Picture this: a 7-1 center with really nice mobility, all around skills, but particularly gifted to play in the low post. Forget about all those seven footers in love with their jumper; Tomic can nail them, but he will primarily look for menacing near the basket. It’s rather surprising when you consider that he used to play the point in the past, before growing like crazy.

The first thing that claims your attention when he grabs the ball in the low post is how comfortable and under control he looks there despite his physical flaws. He evaluates his options and usually takes the right decision. If he sees an opportunity to score, he knows how to get it done. For a skinny guy like him, weaker than his average matchup, it’s remarkable how he manages to bang and make space down low, faking, and executing precise moves while perfectly controlling the ball dribbling it. Once he’s reached a good position, he will deliver a nice half-hook shot with either hand. He already features a soft touch, although it’s still improvable.

If Tomic doesn’t feel confident about his chances of scoring, he looks for the pass. Tomic perfectly uses his size to see over the other guys on court and feeds the cutters or punishes a double team by finding the open man on the perimeter. He’s also a good passer facing the basket from the high post or even the three point line.

Ante can score facing the basket through his static jumper, enjoying range out to the three point line. His mechanics are ok even if the release is a bit slow. His can also be productive on pick and roll plays, and despite rarely showing any slashing movement, he can carry the ball in transition thanks to his excellent handles.

The biggest concern about this player is his strength. In Belgrade, he was regularly outmuscled in many situations, particularly on defense and fighting for rebounds. His frame is not the worst seen around, but it doesn’t look like a true center’s one. Nevertheless, with the appropriate work, he could be able to bulk up enough to hold his own in top competition. He should definitely start playing consistent minutes against mature guys in the Adriatic League as soon as possible.

France; 1988; 7-0; PF/C; 14.9 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 spg

Listed at 7-0, but probably on his way to 7-1 while enjoying an excellent wingspan, the surprising skill set of this kid makes him enjoy fabulous potential which is only limited by his extremely thin body and frame. He was constantly outmuscled during the tournament, greatly shortening his production and presence on court.

Anyway, Ajinca was the most athletic big man seen in Belgrade. He’s extremely quick for a guy his size, enjoying quite a good vertical, and running the floor like a wing. However, he still hasn’t figured out how to effectively translate his mobility into defensive lateral quickness. Otherwise, he’s a pretty good intimidator whenever his skinny body allows him to be, also using his wingspan to get some steals.

Besides his freakish body and athleticism, it’s stunning to see the relationship that a guy like him has with the ball. Alexis has very sensitive hands that allow him to feature some serious ball skills. Like many big Euros, he has a nice static jumper with three point range and accurate form, although it losses consistency the further he ventures from the basket. He can put the ball on the floor, even attacking his rival using his quickness, looking for a slashing movement. He can also pass the ball with good criteria and quick execution, whether from the post or facing the basket.

Even more than the games themselves, where he had trouble making his presence felt given his lack of playing time and his physical flaws, he was particularly impressive in the warm ups, showing his nice fundamentals and forward-like skills. Indeed, his skill set and athleticism might allow him to play power forward. I’m sure that his fragile body would be really thankful if it turned out that way. Nevertheless, if he keeps on growing, it could be a different story. Anyway, it’s too early to tell.

The goal for Ajinca now is to work hard on his body and start playing with grown men. It’s important to insist on his role in the junior National Team, which was very limited, not even starting the games for France. We’re talking about an extremely raw and unready player. The good news is that with the new rules in place, he can forget about the NBA draft for a couple of years. However, even this period sounds too short for guy like him, just the time to start figuring out if his development will take him anywhere. For the moment, he will spend another year at the INSEP center, where he plays in the third division French league.

Germany; 1988; 6-11; PF/C; 29.8 mpg, 15.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg


This German big man is a pretty familiar name in youth basketball circles, a guy who had been on the radar for some time now despite his age. However, I don’t think many people fell in love with him in Belgrade. Everybody could see his excellent potential, but I would say that his game lacked a bit of fire and passion.

He’s not quite seven feet, just in the neighborhood, but yet another skinny specimen with an average frame that otherwise should work for him if he evolves into a power forward down the road. In this tournament, he was frequently outmuscled on both ends of the court. Defensively, you could see him getting banged, while offensively he had troubles establishing position near the basket. This was the reason why his teammates played with him much less than they should have, besides the fact that he’s one year younger than most of his German fellows. He also wasn’t particularly active asking for the ball either. In general, Ohlbrecht seems like a player who lacks a certain small degree of aggressiveness and intensity, being a bit cold on the court.

However, he has some really intriguing characteristics, like his good athleticism, which he uses to intimidate guarding the basket or to finish strong offensively if there’s not too much opposition. He enjoys also good range on his jumper out to the three point land while showing nice mechanics, although he’s still inconsistent when it comes to netting them. He shows nice ability to deliver half hooks with a soft touch, even if his low post game is very raw at this point. Indeed, he needs serious work on his footwork. He’s not also a bad pick and roll player, being able to attack the basket with either hand.

Ohlbrecht looks like a kid very familiar with the game; he usually shows rather good instincts, although it’s not a given. On defense, he not only gets banged, but he sometimes suffers against skilled post players that outsmart him, being able to beat him even if he enjoys accurate lateral movement.

Regarding his future position, Ohlbrecht’s athleticism may allow him to play power forward down the road. He still is not that skilled, lacking for example the typical face-up offense putting the ball on the floor. Center is not out of the question. His frame is not outstanding, but he’s very young and might gain enough strength, while he could also grow a little bit more. One way or another, he’s an intriguing prospect.

Belgium; 1988; 7-1; C; 21.4 mpg, 9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.8 bpg


What should be a exception regarding big men, surely doesn’t sound that way for many people when talking about Europeans; a 7-1 skinny shooter is just about what Yannick Driesen currently is. Indeed, we could stop right here, carry on with the next guy, and you wouldn’t miss that much of significant information about this Belgian.

At this point, you will rarely see him doing anything else in the offensive end other than firing jumpers. He never puts the ball on the floor against the slightest opposition, so it’s easy to figure out that his shot is always static. He enjoys a rather quick release, with not the most orthodox mechanics, placing his arms a bit closer than usual, although it seems polished through practice.

Despite his length, he doesn’t frequent the low post. The few times he asks for the ball and receives there is just to give it back to the perimeter. Nevertheless, once he did deliver a nice mid-hook shot just after receiving the ball from about 10 feet, and it was good. He also netted a one-handed shot near the basket, looking like he enjoyed a fairly good soft touch. Indeed he seems to feature some nice skills to develop an effective low post game.

Yannick is not a bad passer facing the basket, appearing to feature a decent basketball IQ. He’s not awfully athletic, but he’s rather gifted considering his size, and features really nice mobility, enjoying accurate lateral quickness. He’s potentially a good intimidator, and already showed his credentials in Belgrade by ranking fourth in blocked shots, but he should work on his timing to keep improving.

A 1988 guy, so very young, with intriguing enough characteristics not to forget his name. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to showcase his potential improvement next summer in the Division A of the European Junior Championship, as Belgium lost the category, being forced to play in Division B next year.

Spain; 1987; 6-10; C; 22.8 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1 apg, 2.3 bpg


Rey’s consistency under the rim was one of the biggest reasons Spain reached the semifinals. He definitively looked better than he did in L’Hospitalet earlier this year, but still faces a big problem NBA-wise: he plays totally like a center and doesn’t feature the combination of size and athleticism to look intriguing enough at that position.

Anyway, his defensive effort in the Championship was remarkable, becoming the virtual bodyguard of Antelo, and a real intimidator in the paint (second in blocks in the tournament). He delivered his best production against Serbia and Montenegro in the quarterfinal round, getting no less than nine rejections in the first half of the game. He’s quite mobile, showing a nice vertical leap, and enjoys really good timing, but still goes for the block too much, which gets him into foul trouble in some games, although his defense didn’t suffer because of it. He was also dominant going for the rebound, imposing his strength and frame, while using again his timing.

Offensively, I think he was severly misused. Blame it on the coach, blame it on certain teammates who were too in love with their scoring options, blame him for not asking for the ball insistently enough, but the feeling was that he could have been a much important producer for Spain, and quite effective by the way. Rey features the skills to easily become an offensive reference in this category, starting with his nice post-up game, where he shows some footwork and accurate footspeed. He can also hit the mid-ranger with some consistency, even with a slight fade-away movement. Putting the ball on the floor to attack his rival is another option, as he’s quicker than most of his center rivals, although he’s not too prolific here. But he wouldn’t be so valuable with the ball in his hands if he weren’t a good passer, particularly facing the basket.

Not a bad profile at all for a paint player. And even if his NBA potential is very limited, he has the tools to eventually become a pretty good player in Europe.


One of the rawest guys in Belgrade was Italian big Gino Cuccarolo. Standing easily 7-1 and enjoying a nice wingspan, he’s a player with pretty decent mobility, although limited all-around athleticism. He’s skinny, but has quite a good frame, and if he managed to develop his game, his physical profile should allow him to earn a living. But he has a long way to go. He doesn’t enjoy even one single polished skill. From his low post game to his mid-range shot, everything looks forced. His movements down low are very limited, not displaying significant quickness in the execution and not showing a good enough touch to finish them. His shooting mechanics need serious work, as well as his semi-hooks. We won’t even start with his handles... Regarding his passing game, it’s not that bad, and he seems to understand the game, but the execution is also improvable. However, he was a significant presence for the Italian team, and his size helped them in the defensive end, where Gino intimidated. All in all, he’s just a guy to keep on the radar.

We again met in Belgrade another member of the awesome CSKA squad that amazed in L’Hospitalet earlier this year (indeed that CSKA team was the structure of the Russian squad seen in this Championship), the seven footer Anatoly Kashirov. He went rather unnoticed and really didn’t show anything that we didn’t know already, though. He’s a decent player, but not really highly intriguing. He’s big, but his wingspan is not particularly good and his athleticism average. He’s not too skilled, although he can score given the chance with some post moves and his mid-range shot. His potential looks limited, but he’s a seven footer and this is a small reminder that he also played in Belgrade.

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13.3 PER

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