Eurohopes has attended the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Rosario and Santa Fe, Argentina. In what will be probably remembered as the coldest environment in FIBA tournaments history, we’ve had the chance to evaluate players from the five European teams in attendance.

France ended up in second place, losing by 43 points to USA in the final (95 - 52). The team was led by guards Killian Hayes (’01), Theo Maledon (‘01) and Malcolm Cazalon (‘01), among the most awaited prospects in the competition who nonetheless struggled a lot in the final against the physical pressure from the American team. Hayes, the only European player named in the All-Tournament Team, started relatively slow in the tournament, showing questionable body language in group stage: not really tested by the defense of Argentina, Croatia and Philippines, he played with erratic effort and like it was just too easy for him to perform there; something he often does when playing at the youth level of competition, but which resulted in him giving up a little bit too much on defense because of underestimating his opponents. His above average explosiveness and creativity off the dribble was more on sight during the knockout stage, where he played with better attitude and ended up putting up his best performance against Turkey in the quarterfinals. He averaged 16.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, with outside shooting still looking like his most evident lack in his game. Cazalon finished as France’s top scorer in the tournament, averaging 16.4 points per game, to which he added 4.4 rebounds and 3 steals. His attitude was instead positive during the whole tournament, he played with good motor on both ends of the court and was a vocal presence as well. Another impressive athlete with explosive first step and the ability to naturally play above the rim, he also struggled with outside shooting and looked way more comfortable shooting with his feet set rather than on the move or off the dribble. With the ball he has excellent body control, can change the angle of his shot around the rim and change direction when attacking the basket, but his ball-handling is still shaky and his decision making below average: so far he’s at his best if he can attack a closeout and get straight to the rim, where he’s a disruptive finisher. Maledon ended up averaging 11.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game, and also struggled badly with his three point shooting, looking still inconsistent in his form and hitting only 18.2% of his attempts from beyond the arc. He had some impressive flash of his ball skills, finding his teammates with some advanced solution, being able to create separation and beat his man thanks to his body control and ball-handling, scoring at the rim with soft touch using either hands; but, being the less gifted athlete in the backcourt trio, he was the one suffering the most inside the paint, where his lack of explosiveness didn’t always allow him to finish effectively. A pleasant surprise was the shooting efficiency of Timothe Crusol (’01), who was the only French player to hit at least on triple per game and finished the tournament shooting 39.1% from beyond the arc, despite being quite streaky in his performances. The 6’4 guard had a solid showing in the competition, lacking elite burst but doing a good job of playing in the halfcourt, getting to the rim with strong drives and using his body to avoid defenders and protect his shot in the paint. A breakout player in the backcourt was Matthieu Gauzin (’01), a guard with still undeveloped body but impressive speed with the ball and above average explosiveness; he also lacks outside shooting, but was able to provide a solid offensive spark off the bench, averaging 8 points in just 14 minutes of playing time. In the frontcourt, Maxime Carene (’01) showed some intriguing progress, being more active and using better his outstanding physical tools, despite being still raw in his development; while Essome Miyem (’01), who also has an interesting physical profile and some promising touch, looked still too soft in his approach to the game.
Turkey upset Serbia in the Round of 16 and ended up in the fifth place in Argentina, after finishing in the same spot last year at FIBA U16 European Championship. They featured a pretty young core who relied heavily on centers Alperen Sengun (’02) and Furkan Haltali (’02) under the basket and on wing Mustafa Kurtuldum (’01) on the perimeter, and looked like a well-coached team which played better basketball than the sum of its talent. Sengun, an undersized inside player with below average explosiveness, was a force in the paint where he outpowered most of his opponents: he’s a strong and very physical big man who makes a good use of his body to seal deep under the basket and score at the rim, has good footwork to spin around both shoulders and a decent combination of pivot foot fundamentals and touch to finish even in a crowded paint. Playing always with proper motor and intensity level, he’s also a terrific rebounder with a nose for the ball, strong hands to catch and the ability to use his low centre of gravity and thick frame to take deep position under the basket. He’s mainly a post up player at this stage of his development, lacks offensive range outside the paint and his upside is limited by his below average athletic tools. Haltali has better size and frame, he’s little more mobile as a cutter and P&R player but also faces concerning athletic limitations, as he lacks proper explosiveness and lateral quickness. He was also mainly effective off post up possessions or finishing drop off passes in the paint, but he’s rawer than Sengun in terms of ball skills, touch and basketball IQ. 6’6 wing Kurtuldum ended up as his team’s top scorer averaging 18.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game, shooting a total 16/44 (36.4%) from beyond the arc through seven games in Santa Fe. Shooting is clearly Kurtuldum’s elite skill as of right now, with him being a confident and quick shooter with extended shooting range; not a great ball-handler, he’s at his best when playing off the ball even though can easily pull up and use a ball screen to shoot. He’s a mature player with good basketball IQ, and his leadership and attitude on the court were always up to the leadership task which was asked him. In the backcourt Omer Yasir Kucuk (’01) left positive impressions as well, even though his playing time was quite erratic: the skinny guard has huge personality and showed interesting ball skills and creativity by passing naturally off the dribble, finishing around the defenders and always showing proper aggressiveness with the ball in his hands. Center Adem Bona (’03), who has roots from Nigeria, had some playing time in the first three games and showed some promise thanks to his impressive frame and athleticism, being able to have an impact by running the court, contesting shots, playing with high intensity and being vocal on defense.
Croatia, which finished in seventh place, featured a talented roster which lacked some depth and a degree of toughness. The core of the team was also quite young, with 6’7 power forward Roko Prkacin (’02) who ended up as the team’s top scorer and rebounder, averaging 12.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 3.1 turnovers, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. Prkacin is a highly versatile player who was able to have impact on both ends of the floor: strong and physical for his age, he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and shows natural instincts for the game, as well as a high basketball IQ. He’s a good passer and shows solid decisions with the ball, particularly when posting up and being able to call on him the defensive help; not featuring elite explosiveness, he has quick feet and knows how to use his body to finish into the defender. He has nose for rebounding the ball and gets rebounds outside of his area, being also able to put the ball on the floor right off the defensive rebound. On defense he has impressive instincts and good footwork, can switch and guard multiple positions at this level of competition and he’s a constant threat with his quick hands when attacking the ball handler or bringing a defensive help. What really is missing in his game right now is any reliable shooting ability, as he can’t hit shots from outside and also hit only 5 of his 12 total free throws. Forward Matej Rudan (’01) averaged 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2.7 assists, leaving mixed impressions in the competition. His body is still light and undeveloped despite having a promising frame, and right now he still struggles a lot in playing through physical contact, something which he doesn’t seem to like that much. His creativity with the ball, shooting skills and strong personality make him an intriguing prospect, and he also made few big shots in the first games of the tournament, but right now he’s stuck between the two forward spots and needs to develop from a physical standpoint. Undersized center Matej Bosnjak (’02) had a solid showing as well: he still lacks a wiry frame and is not explosive, but in Argentina did a good job in using his body and footwork to get deep position in the paint and finish around the basket; he also showed good tools to move without the ball, cut, catch and finish inside, crashing the offensive boards and handle physical contacts. Forward Ivan Perasovic (’02) is still raw and doesn’t have a true position on the court so far, but had a big role for his team and seemed one of Croatia’s most intriguing prospects giving his combination of size, length, mobility and basketball IQ.
Montenegro was eighth in the competition, after losing to Croatia in their last game of the tournament. A well-rounded team which didn’t feature elite talent and was highly dependant from outside shooting, they weren’t able to replicate the success of the 2017 FIBA U16 European Championship played in Podgorica. After finishing the previous tournament in the All-Tournament Team, power forward Bojan Tomasevic (’01) had another strong showing and was his team’s top scorer and rebounder averaging 19.1 points and 7 rebounds per game. A highly confident shooter off the catch, Tomasevic is a volume scorer with extended shooting range, able to take fire in any moment and with a short memory for his missed shots; he was at his best shooting with his feet set or after P&P sets, and his ability to spread the floor playing as a center was a key aspect in his team’s offensive plan. He was also able to finish well off dynamic situations like cuts and P&R sets, not being afraid to finish through physical contact despite lacking explosiveness and quickness. He’s a tad undersized for his position, standing at 6’8 at best, and lacks proper length, which is something which limits his upside. Guard Jovan Kljajic (’01) was once again the main contributor for his team, showing his all-around game and impacting the game in many different ways: at 6’6’ he loves to handle the ball, and despite lacking elite athleticism he’s able to create separation using his strong body and changing speed properly on the perimeter. He averaged 15.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game, taking lot of responsibilities on offense and hitting some key big shots through the tournament. He has amazing vision and touch, which make him an above average passer, and his shooting skills have shown some key improvement over the last few months; he’s also a master in using his body to post up smaller player and get proper rebounding position, and has the ability to run the transition right off the defensive rebound. He’ll need to further improve his outside shot to maximize his potential, even though his lack of explosiveness and some concern in finishing against length put a certain ceiling to his upside. 6’4 wing Stefan Vlahovic (’01), who joined Tomasevic in the All-Tournament Team in Podgorica, struggled more to perform in Argentina, mainly because still lacking a reliable outside shot. He was at his best when playing off the ball and let Kljajic and other teammates to handle it, since he lacks elite ball-handling skills, and he’s more comfortable if he can drive to the basket on the move or attacking a closeout. He showed a solid first step and the ability to change direction in the paint, going around the defenders and finishing strong at the rim, also changing the angle of his shot to protect himself from the defensive help.
Serbia was quite disappointing in the tournament, finishing only in tenth place and lacking significant guard play in its team. Wing Djordje Pazin (’01) was the most consistent performer for them and the only one averaging double-figure scoring: in the competition he posted 15.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, hitting more shots from three than from inside the arc (21/53 from beyond the arc, 39.6%). After missing nearly one season because of the controversies regarding his transfer from Stella Azzurra Rome, he didn’t show major improvements from one year ago: despite having good size for his position, his frame is still undeveloped and he lacks a major athletic dimension. On offense his ability to create for himself and his teammates is limited, he can make some play attacking the closeout or putting the ball on the floor on the move but his main tools are still his spot up and off screens shooting, where he shows extremely extended range and quick and consistent release. He struggled on defense because of his erratic effort, quite high centre of gravity and lack of lateral quickness, but it’ll be interesting to follow his development as he gets back the chance to play on a regular basis. After being quite disappointing at ANGT tournaments during the season, big man Aleksandar Langovic (’01) bounced back nicely in Argentina, averaging 9.1 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block in just 21 minutes per game. At the youth level of competition, when he plays with a decent level of aggressiveness he can be disruptive thanks to his physical and athletic combination. He was able to crash the boards thanks to his length, explosiveness and activity level, and in the game against the USA was the only one in the frontcourt able to handle the physicality of the opponents. His try to become more of an outside player is still a work in progress, but showed some potential to be able to shoot and put the ball on the floor from the perimeter. Big man Aleksej Pokusevski (’01) had some up and down in the tournament, having some issue to deal with the physical level of the competition and not being granted the same freedom he has when playing with Olympiacos. His size and mobility were extremely effective though, and his passing and ball-handling were on display particularly when he was matched up against smaller opponents. His shooting is still an issue, but in the tournament he posted a quite impressive stat line with 7.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 assist, 2.6 turnovers, 1.4 steals and 3 blocks in just 19.7 minutes of playing time. Who struggled more in the frontcourt was Nemanja Popovic (’01), who has impressive footwork for his size and passing skills on offense, but also lacks a reliable jumper and didn’t look comfortable with the physical level of the competition, showing some frustration when physically challenged. Both Pokusevski and Popovic though are among the youngest big men in their class, being born respectively the 26th and the 29th of December, so the development of their bodies will need to be tracked closely. Center Dusan Tanaskovic (’01) left some good impression as well, averaging 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 19.4 minutes per game: he has grown up and he’s also developing from an athletic standpoint, his frame still needs to improve but he was fearlessly challenging opposing big men inside, showing good toughness and never giving up on a missed shot. He finished well inside the paint, displaying solid touch and footwork.

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