By Kostas Psimoulis
As issued by the Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, Aleksandar Vezenkov (’95) accepted the scholarship he was given by the University and decided to play basketball aboard. However, according to a recent interview he gave to a Greek web site (pressaris.gr), there’s nothing in stone so far thus he’ll take his final decision after the Greek playoffs. He agreed on signing the Letter of Intent just to keep an option open for his future. His father also said to a Greek newspaper that it is possible to stay if Aris’ head coach, Vaggelis Aggelou, remains in the team’s head coaching position. Vezenkov comes of a very successful tournament in Greece in which his team won the national championship while him was selected the tournament’s MVP (not Final’s MVP though) and member of the tournament’s 1st All-Team.
On that tournament Vezenkov showed signs of dominance mainly on the offensive end; it was a tough task to guard him in the open court or keep him off the offensive glass. His movement away from the ball combined with his excellent instincts and timing on the glass, and his always nice shooting touch made him a very hard-to-defend player. Playing against grown men (Vezenkov also plays for Aris’ men’s team) has helped him strengthen his body and understand the game to a much better extent than he has been the year before. Moreover, Vezenkov is athletic and quick enough for a player his size and has shown great potential on the defensive end, too; He’s played the biggest percentage of his minutes as a big man showing good lateral quickness and great use of his size and length.
He impressed with his ability as a PNR defender; thanks to his big strides and effective positioning he is able to cut down penetration, farther away from the three point line, by minimizing attacking angles, while showing great quickness when recovering onto his man. He’s not a great overall defender right now but the potential is obvious on that end of the court. As a member of the men’s team, Vezenkov has played lots of minutes out of position as a “4” or even a “5” on small lineups because the head coach wants a mobile big that can cover ground easily and rotate quickly on defense, while spacing the floor. Aggelou keeps his minutes and his role under control while trying to insert him into the team’s nuances step by step.
College basketball has a few technical differences compared to European ball so Vezenkov seems ready to contribute right away. He’s more experienced than most of his future peers and, coming out of a pro European league, has already faced physical and smart players. College basketball is as physical a game as you could find thus Vezenkov needs to add more strength if he’s going to play as a combo forward at Xavier.
He has to embrace contact and display toughness, competitiveness and determination. On the defensive end I’d love to see him more engaged in the future, eager to run the floor hard and put a body on rebounds every time. Also he has long ways to go as a post defender, Vezenkov, especially at the junior level, often tries to defend the post player by giving space between himself and his man rather than trying to body him straight up. He gives space and tries to block the shot with his long arms; at the college level he won’t be able to be effective using that strategy thus he has to add strength in order to be capable to push his man off of his spots. All the other parts of his game translating well at the NCAA level; Vezenkov runs the floor well, can shoot from the perimeter or play above and under the rim.
His energy and motor would give him a chance to find points and collect rebounds from the first day in order to boost his confidence and gain more minutes on the court. Defensively it remains to be seen how he’ll handle quicker and adept off-the-dribble players and how he’ll manage to put a body on stronger and tougher players at the under-the-rim area. At the college level strength is a must-have weapon if you want to be good at defensive rebounding and Vezenkov needs to put in hard work if he wants to position himself among the best rebounders at his position at the college level.
"Aleksandar Vezenkov is one of the top European talents born in 1995 and undeniably the best European NCAA recruit in class 2013," said Rafal Juc, International Scout for the basketball prospects web site Eurohopes.com. "Standing at 6-8 he impresses with his versatile offensive skill-set, taking an advantage of his length, mobility and great ball-handling for his size. Vezenkov is a modern face-up combo-forward and a nightmare match-up on the offensive end. He displays an ability to stretch the floor as a power forward and make a good use of his solid handle as a small forward. Given his international experience at the highest European level, basketball IQ and work ethic, this 18-year-old should translate his game easily to the NCAA standards and make a major impact in Xavier right off the bat. Despite being well-known for his scoring instinct, Vezenkov has a high upside to become an elite defender as well. With his size, length, quick feet and strength, he should be able to defend both wing positions."
Aleksandar Vezenkov to Eurohopes.com: „NCAA is a big challenge and is a new way of life. The basketball is different there from European style of the game and it will be very competitive for me to play with the athletic American players on daily basis. To be honest, Xavier and Temple were the only programs that show real interest. I saw something positive and something real in the face of the coach of Xavier Chris Mack. My final decision will be taken at the beginning of June when the season with my team will be over”
Photo: FIBA Europe