By Artau Pascual

Spanish basketball sits first in the FIBA ranking. Last summer, all the Spanish National Teams earned first or second place in the tournaments they took part in: the Senior NT won the Gold medal in the Eurobasket, the U17 and U16 teams finished their tournaments in second place and the U18 and U20 ones obtained a well-deserved first spot in their events.

All these teams had the ideal mix of talent, self-pride and competitiveness to fulfil their goals. In these youth summer tournaments, we were able to see how Spanish basketball produces high-floor players on a great basis. The problems come later: when it’s time for them to transition from youth basketball to senior leagues. Short-term thinking and a lack of daring to give young players the room to prove themselves are insurmountable barriers for most of them. During the first week of May, we were in Huelva for the U18 Spanish Championship. It was a good opportunity to see firsthand the development of many of the players who were part of the U17 National Team last summer and will be a common topic in the upcoming NBA Draft conversations. What would be the ideal next step for them?

Aday Mara

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Aday Mara’s situation. He’s been linked to UCLA and, despite there being no official announcement, College basketball is a probable scenario for the 7’3 Spanish Big.

Aday, 18, has been playing for Zaragoza for almost the whole season. His case isn’t easy at all: he had to step up in a difficult situation because Fisac’s team was fighting to avoid relegation. Aday needed to have an immediate, winning impact on the game while being, at the same time, one of the players who had to help to keep the chemistry alive between the supporters and the team. Both goals were accomplished: he left glimpses of his potential scoring and doing the right reads for his teammates, and at the same time he turned into one of the most beloved players on Zaragoza’s roster. On the defensive end, Aday was a mixed bag: he felt comfortable as a rim protector because of his instincts, timing and positioning, but he struggled in pick&roll coverages and demonstrated he’s better at guarding in small spaces than when he has to cover wide spaces.

Aday could contribute to every Liga Endesa roster, even to the ones that will be playing in Euroleague. His development curve suggests he could easily climb in every rotation in a short time span. Anyway, College basketball would be a wise decision for him: the league is slower than Liga Endesa, and he will be less exposed on defense. Also, if he does well, at some point his team will be able to run the offense through him, which would help him to build his status for the next level. College would give him more margin to improve his motor, which surely is the swing attribute to determine his ceiling and stock for his NBA candidacy.

We still need to see the full picture of how UCLA will look like to figure out if, in case he inks the deal there, it would be the ideal place for him. He’s not the kind of physical, athletic, high-motor big UCLA had in the last seasons -let’s have Adem Bona in mind-, and he shines in different offensive scenarios, so some key adjustments will be needed for Aday’s success.

Sergio de Larrea

Sergio de Larrea’s case is strange. He’s arguably the player with the highest ceiling on the list, but he didn’t have a good U17 World Cup and during the season he hasn’t had real chances to play consistently for Valencia’s first team. This being said he’s finally feeling well from the knee injury he suffered last season -which was a big trouble in the World Cup- and in the ANGT, as well as in this U18 Spanish Championship, he put on display his big-time potential as a scorer and, especially, as a passer. De Larrea has done a good job filling his frame and is starting to look like a professional basketball player. Talent-wise, the NBA upside has always been there.

Valencia knows of Sergio’s potential but, as for every other team, it turns into a difficult task to demonstrate their belief on the court. Especially when it comes to players that, to unleash the best of their game, need to take high risks. For the 2023/24 season, it’s still difficult to imagine De Larrea having minutes with the first team because Valencia’s perimeter rotation looks already set, and the young player who should earn the last spot is Guillem Ferrando. In addition, it’s already pretty clear he can’t play in LEB Silver because he already dominated the competition this season.

There are different alternatives in this case: The main ones are loans to LEB Gold or Liga Endesa teams. The first one is risky. Despite LEB Gold being in the middle of the path between Liga Endesa and LEB Silver, it doesn’t look like a good place for a player like De Larrea: he’s not made to play against the kind of physicality of the league and the pace and spacing wouldn’t help him at all. On the other hand, a loan to a low-end Liga Endesa team opens many questions like what would happen if he had a breakout season scenario or what consequences would mean having a small role in a key year. 

In his case, it’s important to take into consideration he still hasn’t decided on who will be his agent. Expect the decision to be made by the end of the season.

Lucas Langarita

Langarita is one of the most athletic guards in the 2005 European generation. Casademont Zaragoza has made huge investments in his development as a high-usage scoring ball-handler, and he has already flashed his three-level scoring talent. Langarita has already played some minutes for Zaragoza’s first team.

The idea of a loan to a LEB Gold team suits better his case than De Larrea’s. Given how Zaragoza works with young players and considering he was part of the first team for some time, it wouldn’t be strange either to see Langarita embracing a low-end role from the first moment. He has the physical tools to handle this league’s level, as well as he looks already good to go to handle a high-usage role as a second unit scorer. Lucas has been the first option in offense for the U18 Zaragoza team for a big part of the season, and he’s also been able to play some PG on the offensive end. His athleticism is hands down above-average for European standards, and he has put on display many times his ability to consistently hit big-time shots. If he defines himself on the defensive end and develops his decision-making as a creator for the team, he’ll raise his ceiling even more.

Lucas Marí

In Huelva, we lived firsthand the whole Lucas Marí experience. The 6’5 Spanish G/F was, by far, the bravest player in the tournament: he wasn’t afraid of taking leadership duties on both ends of the floor and demonstrated his athleticism jumps off the page at the current level. Lucas Marí’s decision-making sometimes leads to mistakes, but no one believes more than him in his own capability.

Lucas is establishing himself as an undersized SF for professional basketball. He doesn’t move like a SG and, despite he can create shooting windows for his teammates either driving to the rim, leading fastbreaks or transition or initiating pick and roll schemes, playmaking is not his go-to skill. He would suit perfectly in college basketball because he can slide from 1 to 4 on the defensive end, and probably he would end up handling a prominent role on the offensive end. He’s also done some nice improvements as a spot-up shooter: the results are still inconsistent, but he likes taking big shots and mechanics and range look translatable. This being said he looks determined to continue in Europe.

Lucas Marí can adjust to different roles. If he stayed in Valencia Basket, he could end up handling a similar role to the one Josep Puerto had in the start: big impact on defense, spot-up on offense, and reduced minutes. At the end of the day, this is the normal start for most of the young players. If he moved to a worse Liga Endesa team, he could stay in the 10-12 minutes per game range consistently. And if he played for a LEB Gold team, given how athletic and tough he is, he could embrace a starter role. Lucas Marí will likely be able to stick in high-value roles because of how hard he plays.

There were a few sequences that helped us to create a clear idea of what kind of player he is in the game Valencia won in the OT against Real Betis. He hit some big-time shots, but he was also willing to guard the best player of the rival and didn’t hesitate to speak to his Coach about potential adjustments on the defensive end in key situations. The ceiling of players like him is often determined by their leadership.

Bonus track: Hugo Gonzalez

Hugo González is the only 2006-born player on the list, but he was a huge contributor to the U17 National Team and everyone knows about his readiness and long-term potential. Hugo has dominated all the categories this season, and it’s tough to imagine him playing another ANGT or more Liga EBA games in 2023/24. Given his development curve, his case is -as of right now- a countdown until his NBA eligibility.

Madrid U18's two best talents are Hugo González and Egor Demin, the first and second-ranked players in the 2006-born Eurohopes players ranking. However, the main ball-handler of the team was 2005-born Slovenian G Jan Vide, a 6’5 player whose impact is more limited off the ball. Hugo has constantly put on display his awesome potential on the margins of the game: he has shades of Rudy Fernández as a weak-side and help defender, his development as an on-ball defender has been remarkable too and, in addition to what he’s always been able to do going downhill and driving in transition, he’s started to score consistently spot-up and off the dribble shots. Tournaments like ANGT Munich helped us to figure out how good he can be as an outside threat.

Hugo is ready to help every European team. He could play big minutes for a mid-tier Liga Endesa team, low-end minutes for Real Madrid in Regular Season game or, also, he could be a dominant player in foreign leagues like Germany or Italy. He could also handle France’s physicality and athleticism. Madrid has the margin to, if they are unsure about his role for next season given the depth of their rotation, loan him to any other team because he’d play regularly, and he would still have an entire season before becoming NBA eligible.

There’s only one path that would make sense if the idea is keeping him in Madrid’s youth program: build around his ball-handling skills. Hugo hasn’t been the primary ball-handler in his team lately, so if Madrid views him as a lead player for his future, probably the easiest way to test his potential managing this role would be in a category he already knows where mistakes wouldn’t mean high risks.