By Albert Robledillo
The 'Rest Day' in the FIBA U19 World Cup is here after the first two days of competition, where we've seen pretty exciting games. Seven of the first 16 matches finished with a margin of fewer than 10 points, which is not very common in the phase group of a World Cup. But we are in Latvia to enjoy the country and examine the prospects and it has been a pretty interesting show so far, as some players are presenting their credentials for the 2022 and 2023 NBA Draft. And not only for the Draft, players who will be available for different markets are also standing out. So let's take a first look at them.
There are 184 players (out of 192) older than Victor Wembanyama ('04)
in this championship, but he is fourth in points per game (19), fourth in rebounds (9.5), second in blocks (4.0), eighth in assists (3.5), and second in efficiency (23.5). He is the most unique prospect of the tournament. Period. You can project him doing everything in a basketball court in the next level; he has potential as a shot-blocker and lob-catcher, but he will be an excellent stretch-big. Can we rule out the possibility of him being a shot-maker and creating for himself? Not at all. On top of that, he is an excellent passer; every read makes sense. It's just ridiculous because there is no precedent for a player with his body, skills, and feel for the game. So, let's sit and enjoy.
Spain and Turkey couldn't have their best players of the 2002 generation as Garuba and Sengun were with their first National Teams. So, both sides had put together solid squads with promising players born in 2003 and 2004. Juan Nuñez ('04) missed all the preparation with Spain because he was at the U18 Championship with Real Madrid. He is on a minutes restriction (16 per game) despite being the most differential player on the team. It's the same case with Prolific Prep's Adem Bona ('03), who is just playing 15 minutes per game, but he is spreading his energy all over the place. Nikola Jovic ('03) and Nikola Djurisic ('04) had solid performances with Serbia, too.
The College view
The 2021 recruiting class out of Europe is a pretty solid one, and this event is proving it. UIC's incoming freshman Filip Skobalj ('02) is leading Serbia with ridiculous percentages; Saint Mary's Augustas Marciulionis ('02) is, as expected, the best passer in the tournament (7.5 assists per game) and Utah's Lazar Stefanovic ('02) has proven himself as a prolific scorer so far. 2021-class Kristians Feierbergs ('02), who enrolled in Maine, is the most productive player for Latvia.
Arizona's sophomore, Azuolas Tubelis ('02), is already making his case for a spot in the Best Five. His former teammate, Tibet Gorener ('02), who transferred to San Jose State, has shown some glimpses of his shooting skills and versatility in the perimeter. Among the players available for NCAA, 2021-class Lithuanian Hubertas Pivorius ('02), 2021-class Latvian Toms Skuja ('02), and 2022-class Noa Viljamsons ('02) are producing for their teams.
I hope the basketball gods will deliver a Holmgren-Wembanyama match-up. USA brought a team that plans to hunt opponents with a high tempo style and full-press, which helps guards shine. But here is Chet Holmgren ('02), who is waiting for his moment and producing all over the place. He makes almost no mistakes and doesn't force situations, as you can see the game gravitating towards him when the team needs it both in offense and defense.
Canada's Ben Mathurin ('02) put on a show with 30 points against Japan after a shy game against Lithuania. Australia's Dyson Daniels ('03) displayed his outstanding combination of size, body control, and IQ. In Argentina, Fuenlabrada's Juan Fernández ('02) is an incredible force that attacks the rim facing up and makes impressive reads. And Senegal's size with FC Barcelona's Ibou Badji ('02) and Gran Canaria's Khalifa Diop ('02) overwhelms opponents. Jun Seok Yeo ('02) is the best player in Korea, but there is nothing like a player taking advantage of his National Team to raise his stock: I am pretty sure that Aaron Clark's ('03) recruitment will take a big leap after this event finishes. The 2023-class shooting guard from Puerto Rico is a true scorer.