U-18 European Championship Prospects: Centers

U-18 European Championship Prospects: Centers
Sep 17, 2006, 08:56 pm
Pictures courtesy of FIBA Europe. For more information on the competition, please visit the official website.

Part One: U-18 European Championships Prospects: Point Guards

Part Two: U-18 European Championships Prospects: The Wings

Part Three: U-18 European Championships Prospects: Power Forwards

This is the last chapter of’s extensive coverage of the European Junior Championships. Centers are usually the most tracked and desired pieces in the international market, and we could see some guys here that could develop into very valuable inside players in the future.

Alexis Ajinca
France, PF/C, 7-1, 06/05/1988; 6.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg


We were really looking forward to checking out Ajinca’s stage of development after the intrigue he delivered last year in Belgrade, but came away with mixed feelings about his performance. He’s the same old physical freak, a super long and skinny guy, although not as dramatically skinny as last summer. Ajinca has gained a bit of weight that has allowed him to operate near the basket, even if he still gets regularly outmuscled.

Indeed this year he has looked much more of a post guy than last summer. Perhaps we’re let our imagination go too much, though, as after all, he got little playing time back in Belgrade. But with that athleticism, those surprisingly good hands, his jumper, and the way he handled the ball the few times he showed it, we certainly got the feeling that he could evolve into a power forward with a significant face-up game.

You can’t really rely on just one competition, on one setting. Many factors chime in, like his coach’s mindset, for example. But in this championship, enjoying consistent playing time, some of that intrigue seems gone. Particularly, we have found little trace of his ball handling skills. I don’t think he faced a matchup and attacked him off the dribble even once. His shooting was still there; he regularly delivered a static jumpshot, although with quite limited accuracy.

So for the moment, we’re left with his low post game, which could be great if he managed to develop enough strength to battle with bigs at a pro stage (that’s still quite a big “if”). After all, there’s no better way to capitalize size (and wingspan) than sticking near the basket. Not being any low post dancer, the big French shows some moves to take advantage of his length, and what’s perhaps even more important, he doesn’t fear contact at all, which doesn’t mean that his game doesn’t suffer by getting regularly outmuscled. Anyway, it was a bit frustrating to see the problems he showed finishing near the basket. He rarely dunks the ball, and doesn’t feel comfortable at all releasing the ball while suffering contact. However, he will likely resolve this problem as he gets stronger, although he might lack a bit of a soft touch near the hoop.

On defense, he has surely made great strides from last summer. Now he shows decent lateral quickness (well, he has basically learned to move laterally), and delivers great intimidation that, anyway, could still be a lot better. Ajinca didn’t manage to become an intimidator against his rivals. He was a few times outsmarted by quick and skilled guys, while also outmuscled by stronger ones, although he often gets the job done regardless thanks to his incredible length.

Last summer we predicted that it would take at least two years to start figuring out where his development will take him. It’s one year already and, despite the notable improvement in some areas, it’s still awfully complicated to make any kind of prediction.

Miroslav Raduljica
Serbia and Montenegro, C, 7-0, 05/01/1988; 15.1 ppg (63.3% FG), 8.8 rpg, 2.8 apg


The enforcer of this tournament, Raduljica is a true center with virtually all the characteristics you look for in a regular five-man. Given the lack of mature bigs, he barely faced any serious competition that could stop him from operating almost at will in the paint. Actually, this fact has limited our ability to figure out his real dimensions as a player at this moment, as he just wasn’t challenged enough.

Anyway, despite Dasic’s offensive production, we can argue that the center piece in Serbia and Montenegro was actually Raduljica. He became a reference on both the offensive and defensive ends whenever he was on the court. He’s one of these uncommon bigs that actually plays inside and does pretty well what a center is supposed to do on the floor. He certainly has the tools, as he’s not only a 7-footer, but a well-built guy with good strength for his age, also athletically solid and nicely coordinated.

Raduljica operates from both the high and the low post. Down low, he easily establishes position to receive the ball, showing a nice ability to score. With simple and solid moves, spinning and banging his rivals, he uses his body very well to get high-percentage baskets. He can finish around the rim with his both hands, showing a nice semi-hook shot. If he’s not close enough to the basket, or just feels like there’s too much traffic, or even just to make his offensive effort less predictable, he delivers a rather reliable turnaround jumper. He often suffered double-team defenses in the championship, but he’s an excellent passer that uses his size extremely well to see the court and feed the right man. Indeed, he doesn’t look obsessed at all about stockpiling points, but he weights what his team needs every time, and doesn’t doubt for a second if he thinks that passing the ball is the better choice for the team.

It’s a bit of the same story in the high post. He’s as reliable a passer from there, if not better. Looking for the basket, the mid-range shot gains importance here. He shows solid mechanics and accuracy (just as he does from the free-throw line), but he can also put the ball on the floor and attack his rival. He’s a fairly quick guy for a 7-footer, and enjoys nice ball-handling skills. His big men rivals often can’t keep up with this type of skills. All in all, he’s a very fundamentally sound guy.

Raduljica was also a very important defensive presence. With his size, strength, good mobility and excellent positioning, he became a defensive anchor in the paint. Perhaps he’s not a super aggressive player, but you can see that he’s always focused and delivers the right intensity.

Everything in Raduljica’s game speaks the word “solid”, whether physical gifts, skills, and how he puts all together on the court showing a remarkable basketball IQ. He won’t blow anybody away with stunning potential, but he’s bound to become a very useful center.

Tim Ohlbrecht
Germany, C, 6-11, 30/08/1988; 15.1 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg


Perhaps the main department where this German big has shined is in wasting his gifts. Yes, we know, he was the leading rebounder of the tournament. This was not enough, though, for a guy that was meant to dominate the paint but just refused to do it.

We shouldn’t expect anything else from a guy with his characteristics. Size, strength, athleticism, he has the complete physical package. Standing near seven feet, and enjoying a good wingspan, Ohlbrecht has a very nice frame and already some good strength for a junior player, showing visible improvements from last year. For a guy his size, he’s an athletic player, with a nice vertical leap. With these gifts, good timing and the lack of any other big in Germany, he built his rebounding title, while also got notable shot-blocking production.

The problem comes mainly in his offensive role. It might be that he wants to be a power forward, or it might be that he’s just soft, but Ohlbrecht made extremely inefficient use of his skills. Stubbornly planted on the three-point line, the German settled for way too many perimeter shots with very poor accuracy. You can bet he’s not the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki; his mechanics don’t go beyond the “decent” category. Considering his great limitations when it comes to putting the ball on the floor, the only positive outcome playing so open was his ball distribution from the very high post. Not that he particularly shines passing the ball, but he decently used his size to comfortably send the ball to the weak side, creating some options for his team.

Working in the paint was a luxury only regularly provided against teams with the “frontcourt strength” of Iceland, Israel or Ukraine. Only when he didn’t feel intimidated he dared to become a regular visitor to the low post, getting nice production there. Actually, even if he’s not the most polished post guy, he knows how to use his body to create easy baskets. He can finish with semi-hooks but he doesn’t seem to enjoy too much of a soft touch. Of course, he can easily dunk the ball taking advantage of his terrific gifts and showing nice reactivity. Indeed, he’s potentially almost unstoppable when he’s really close to the basket, but many times he’s just not aggressive enough to get the job done.

The clear-cut rebounding leader of the tournament and third in blocked shots, Ohlbrecht shows nice timing and just takes advantage of his physical skills to do the work. Actually, he didn’t need to be particularly physical or aggressive to achieve those numbers.

We’re hoping for a lot more from this guy. He has the tools to become a terrific player, but needs to improve his intensity and aggressiveness. He should have taken over his team, becoming the clear-cut leader, but he doesn’t show that kind of mental attitude. He just doesn’t like taking the heat.


One of the few interesting new names (at least, new for us) that we met in Greece was Andrea Renzi, a 6-10 Italian inside player with a nice wingspan and decent athleticism that showcased some solid skills in the post.


Actually he was perhaps the guy who tried the most complicated moves in the low post among all the players in the tournament. He doesn’t always succeed, but he shows good footwork and nice ability finishing with both hands. He can also shoot from the mid-range area, with inconsistent results, as well as put the ball on the floor. A 1989 kid, next year he should be one of the best inside players in the next championship.

We finish with the Lithuanian bigs, a couple of very valuable players for this silver-medalist team. Vaidas Cepukaitis had already drawn attention last summer in León at cadet stage. He’s a 6-9 inside player with an excellent wingspan and solid athleticism. Not very skilled (he’s still not much of a post player), most of his offensive production comes with mid-range jumpers that he releases from a very high vantage point. Where he really shines is doing the dirty work; rebounding and blocking shots. He has excellent timing and nice positioning. However, his potential looks a bit limited unless he grows (it could happen, he looks underdeveloped and he’s a first-year junior) or develops his skill set.

His teammate Pranas Skurdauskas delivered similar work. He is bigger (officially listed at 6-10, but actually looking about 6-11) and shows nice athleticism and an excellent body to work with. Not very skilled at this point, he did deliver some interesting moves near the basket that might turn out to become very useful in the future. Anyway, he primarily worked off the ball, talking advantage of the backcourt passing, although showing questionable hands. A nice defender, his rebounding production was terrific, particularly staying aggressive in the offensive glass. A guy to seriously keep under the radar.

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